April Showers

What a month it has been for extraordinary weather.  We expect rain in April to “bring forth May flowers”, but sleet, hail stones, and snow do nothing for delicate seedlings.  We’ve had to delay planting out the vegetables that are propagating in our utility room otherwise they would have been destroyed.

Meanwhile there has been progress with the community arts project, mostly in the form of meetings to develop ideas and plan workshops.  We’ve been collecting inspiration on Pinterest where we have a board called Tall Ships Project: A Voyage Through Blyth, its People and Places.  Sometimes our problem is having more ideas than can be managed in the time available.  We’ve been sampling activities ranging from making paper boats to sewing portholes. This is my first attempt at a porthole –

image    The idea of the porthole is that of a window onto the voyage of your life.  My images tell the story of how my parents met, my heritage in Irish linen, and my family.  I plan to sample a few more with different images and words, and possibly a map.



Time for an update

I have a habit of losing track of time.  It may be an age thing, it may be because I don’t go out to work.   Sometimes  it’s because of the dreaded MS fatigue.  Whatever the reason for it I forget to tend to this blog, then I suddenly discover that I haven’t published a post for over 2 months.  So here goes – a whistle stop tour of the last 2 months.

February started off reasonably well, however I did a silly thing when we went to have a look at my son’s first choice university for the day.  It involved a trip across to the west by car, which was fine.  When we got there I should have used my mobility scooter, but instead I thought I could manage with just my walking stick.  BIG mistake.  I spent the drive home exhausted and in pain.  My legs ached for the next week, and I had a recurrence of the dizziness and nausea that had ruined my Christmas Eve.  Sometimes we learn the hard way, and this was one of those times.  It took a lot of massage plus acupuncture to get me functioning again.  Most of February and the beginning of March were a write-off.  I did manage to submit my application for funding to the Arts Council, and I honestly think the stress of getting that in on time compounded the problem.

With help I managed to pull myself around long enough to get down to the Wyboston Lakes Hotel for the Stitch Retreat I’d been looking forward to for almost a year.  It was fantastic, and I learned so much from Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn.  If you get the opportunity to do a workshop with them grab it with both hands.  This is one of the samples I completed




I was extremely tired when I got home on the Monday evening, and spent most of Tuesday in bed.  I did manage to get up, washed and dressed to attend the Nortumberland Adult Learner Achievement Awards 2015/16 ceremony.  I knew that I had been nominated and shortlisted for an award, however it wasn’t until my name was read out on the night that I knew I had won in the Languages, Literature, Arts and Culture category.  I was amazed, and very proud to be a winner.


The following day things just got even better – I received notification from the Arts Council England that my application was successful, and they have awarded me the full amount I had applied for.  This means that my community arts project in Blyth can go ahead, culminating in an exhibition in August to coincide with the visit to the town of the Tall Ships Regatta in August.  I have three artists working with me to deliver the project, and for health reasons they will be delivering the majority of the workshops for me.  I know my limitations which is why I recruited a great team of likeminded artists so that the project will be a success.  We start off with a mentoring session on 4th April, from which the community workshops  can be developed.  We are all so excited to have Maggie Hickman Smith to mentor us that I think me might burst!  We’ve started batting ideas around and can’t wait to get things underway.

In the meantime I’ve been practising the layered texture technique I learned from Jan and Jean, and I’ve put together a mini photo tutorial on my Facebook page.  Here are the steps:




The best way to do this when you are experimenting  is by using very small squares, no bigger than 5cm x 5cm.  Jan and Jean were very clear about the need to try, test, and practise techniques before launching into a full size project.  The samples above are inspired by ice.  If you have any questions please contact me, and if you have a go I’d love to see what you make.

So that’s it, we’re all caught up now.  See you again in April.

What I did next: My learning from Donna’s FME Workshop

A few days ago I re-blogged Donna Cheshire’s post about the workshop she taught at Weave.  I was one of the lucky participants and learned a lot from the day.  At the end I did that thing so many of us do: I compared my work to everyone else’s and was disappointed in myself.  I was just about to cut it up and reconstruct it when I had a light bulb moment.  Instead of trying to change it, or make it better, I have displayed it on the wall of my studio.  That way when I look at it I’m reminded to push past my comfort zone.  When I was stitching on it during the workshop I fell into doing vermicelli stitching, an old technique I learned at college, probably due to muscle memory and staying with what I knew.  I can look at it now and think “What did Donna teach me?”  That way I’m inspired to try something different.

The main technique I took from the workshop was painting on craft vilene to create a background for stitching on.  Craft vilene is a great substrate for FME as it doesn’t need to be put in a hoop, so it gives much more freedom the for shapes and sizes of your stitched pieces.  The result of this light bulb moment is a crab for inclusion in my maquette for the Newbiggin Geneology Project, a piece based on Joan Cuthbert’s story of her family entitled “Inside the Tartan Shopping Bag”  I’ll share the full piece once Joan has seen it; for now here’s my edible crab.  I traced an outline, from an image I downloaded from Graphic Stock, onto craft vilene, and painted it the colour of the type edible crab you can catch in Northumberland.   I then FME stitched all over it.  I am pleased with the result and I hope you like it.





Freestyle Machine Embroidery – Reblogged from Donna Cheshire Textiles

I was lucky enough to participate in this workshop with Donna

Donna Cheshire Textiles

So, what a wonderful creative weekend this has been  (apart from writing this blog post as it keeps deciding to eat itself !)

Friday night was spent on another workshop introducing a new group of people to needle felting – more of that in a future post …but this is all about Saturday and Freestyle Machine Embroidery (FME)

My mission was to introduce a group of budding textile artists and designers to the thrill that is FME. My aim – to get them to try different approaches to FME and to consider how these could be used to further develop their own creative textile ‘handwriting’ – that is to use FME in a way that would enhance the content and meaning of their work as opposed to being just another process in their textile toolkit.

We were working at the fantastic Lynemouth Resource Centre, where a disused function room…

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Project Progress

Today I went to a meeting at Headway Arts in Blyth to discuss the possibility of working with them, and some other emerging artists, to create a Tall Ships project.  Fran and Allie were very positive about our ideas.  I need to focus mine down more tightly as it is in danger of mushrooming out of control. Luckily I have an idea of how to corral it!  I’m hoping to persuade some other artists to get involved and take ownership of working with some of  the groups that have expressed an interest in getting involved.  Now I have to look at the costs for inclusion in the funding bid, and create an artist’s impression of the project.  That’s the tricky bit because I can’t draw.  There’s going to be some physical, and some digital, cutting and pasting going on for next week.  Now I’m off to look at equipment prices on line.  Wish me luck.

A new month, and a new idea.

Yet again, time has slipped away from me.  It’s been almost a month since I last posted anything here, and I could have sworn it was only a couple of weeks!  Since my last post I’ve had a birthday, found a small rigid heddle loom for £10 in a charity shop, started on the Future Creatives Enterprise Programme, and had an idea.

I don’t know about you, but when I say the words “I’ve had an idea” to my other half I can hear his anxiety levels rise.  This time he liked the idea, and so I’m working on taking it from idea to reality, and I’m going to share it with you.  It was inspired by something that was mentioned during the initial information session about the Future Creatives workshops.  In August 2016 the Tall Ships Race is visiting Blyth, a small town in South East Northumberland.  This is a real coup for the town, and the county.  One of the other programme participants wants to do a yarn bombing project in Blyth to coincide with the Tall Ships visit, and this set the cogs in my brain turning.  The Future Creatives Programme is about giving emerging textile artists commercial skills, with help towards developing creative practice.  One of the aims of the project is to give participants the skills to take art into communities, particularly communities which wouldn’t normally engage with the arts.  So, I came up with the idea of working with community groups in Blyth to produce an exhibition coinciding with the Tall Ships Race, by making sails.  These sails will be stitched together from fabric which has  has words and images, created by members of the community, printed onto it.


In in order to get this idea off the ground I’m working with Jean Bell who manages the Briardale Community Centre in Cowpen, Blyth.  Lots of different groups of all ages use Briardale, including a pre-school, Girl Guides, woodworkers, and a craft group.  I want to collect the memories of older residents into stories, get small children to paint brightly coloured pictures, teach the Guides some embroidery, get the woodworkers to build masts, and generally get everyone involved in an aspect of the project that interests them.

We are holding a drop in session at the Briardale Community Centre on Saturday 3rd October from 11.00am until 1.00pm.  I’m hoping to get lots of people interested in getting involved.

contact prints on leggings: reblogged from Obovate Designs (TM)

Really informative post about ecoprinting on synthetic fabric.  Visit Obovate Designs blog for more about ecoprinting and dyeing.

Obovate Designs™

peach, eucalyptus, onions skins, sumac prints on a blend of nylon/spandex leggings

I was out last weekend to shop for some leggings. With luck, I also found some plain white tights. They are just perfect for this idea that I had in mind for some time. The tights were pre-washed and then contact printed with a mélange of botanical: peach, rose, eucalyptus, sumac, rue, oak, lemon, daisies, and onion skins. The results turned out fabulously and we also made a video to record the process.

The exciting moment for me was when I opened the first bundle, which revealed that the process I used had worked wonderfully. Below are pictures of the different types of plant materials used in this project.

peeling off a single peach leaf

green prints from peach leaf, and reddish orange from Eucalyptus

green, red, browns, yellow–the colors of autumn

bold colors from rose and Eucalyptus prints

rose and…

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Weaving Practice

I love weaving, I think it’s in my genes given that my maternal grandmother was a linen weaver in Northern Ireland.  I bought a Brinkley loom last year after doing a workshop with Eve Studd of Cornhill crafts, but I haven’t used it as often as I’d intended.  This year at Woolfest I came across Get Weaving.  They have produced a book, and a set of patterns, specifically for hand woven fabric.  I bought the book at Woolfest, then later I went on to their Etsy shop and bought a pattern.  I decided that I really needed some practice before I attempt to weave fabric to use in a garment.  I also had some hand dyed fleece, and some mixed fibre batts that I had created on my drum carder, which I wanted to try out on the loom.  One of the great things about the Brinkley loom is the range of materials that can be used in the weft.  I have posted about it on my old blog, and you can find those posts in the Archive.  This is the first piece I wove on my own loom using double knitting yarn in the warp, and chunky self patterning yarn in the weft.  image

When I decided to do some practising my son asked me what I was making, and it raised that question of things having to have a purpose.  In fact the piece I’ve just made doesn’t have a purpose, it is pure experimentation.  This reminded me of something I heard someone say, I can’t remember who unfortunately, but the gist of it was: don’t get hung up on “wasting” fabric, yarn, fibre, etc, as the only way to learn and become proficient is to try things.  So here is a series of photos of my experimental piece.  I’d love to know how many of you have the same issue about making things purely to learn from, and feeling guilty about wasting money, materials, etc.


Shop with The Thread Shed Studio

It’s now possible to buy my designs on a range of products, by clicking the links in the side bar, to my virtual shops.  I have designs on Spoonflower, Redbubble, and Spreadshirt.

On Spoonflower I have grouped designs into 4 coordinating collections; collection 5 are a set of individual stand alone designs.  I do intend to develop coordinates for each of them to sell in the shop, but that has to wait for the moment.  Collections 1 to 4 each have their own colour palette, so all of the fabrics in one collection match as they all use the same five colours.

There are a range of products on Redbubble and Spreadshirt, including phone cases, mugs, cushions, and even flip flops.  I’d love it if you could visit my shops and give me feedback on the designs.

Design challenges

I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I would love to develop my digital design skills, and it is my ambition to get funding for a decent computer with Adobe creative software.  In the mean time my personal challenge is to create commercially viable digital designs using the tools available free on the Colourlovers.com website.  I’m working on building a portfolio of designs that will prove I’m worth investing in.

In July the American print on demand company Spoonflower had an international free shipping day.  I’d been waiting for it, as I knew they have at least one per year.  Spoonflower enables designers to create a shop on their website selling fabric, gift wrap and wallpaper, but in order to sell my designs I had to order swatches.  Shipping costs from America to the UK are high, which is why I was waiting for the free offer.  I had 30 design swatches printed, which is the cheapest option.  I created  5 sets of designs, with 6 patterns in each set.  I chose 4 colour palettes and created 6 patterns in each.  Customers can buy each of the designs from one collection knowing that they will match.  The 5th set doesn’t have a unified palette, however I can now create more designs using the various colours in those patterns knowing what they look like in print.  You can find my shop by clicking on this link: The Thread Shed Studio on Spoonflower

I’m hoping to find a UK based print on demand service that works like Spoonflower to make my designs more accessible here.  There is a direct link from Colourlovers.com to Spoonflower which makes it really simple to upload my designs. As yet there isn’t a similar arrangement with a UK printer company.  Hopefully that will come.

Spoonflower also do weekly design challenges.  My entries haven’t won yet, however I will keep entering as I’d love to win one.  The most recent one I’ve entered is called Butterfly Coordinates, and calls for 4 coordinating designs based, obviously, on butterflies.  I’ve created my designs, and also uploaded them to my Redbubble shop, where they can be purchased on over 20 different products.  One of those products is a cushion (or pillow as it is known in the USA).  This is what my butterfly pattern would look like on 4 cushions.  I’d love your feedback on the design.  I will post details on how to vote in the Spoonflower challenge when voting opens later this month.image