The start of the bluebells

I’ve (we’ve) had a lovely week, both of us have had birthdays. I now have a golden oldie for a husband, but he reckons 78 r.p.m. is far too fast for him! And I’m now sweet 16, the sweet is pushing it a bit! Not something I’ve ever been!

Lots of long walks in the woods for me, whatever the weather, what you have to do with a dog (see below!). Sitting outside in the sunshine with friends bringing birthday presents, luckily the first one brought cake, so there was cake to share with the impromptu visitors. Yes, it was cold, but we were well wrapped up and it was well worth it to see them all.

We’ve had the first proper meal with our son and his wife since Christmas Day. We’ve missed their craziness and banter. After we’d eaten, I was told that my / our present was in the back of the car. I was handed a dog lead with a little shaggy dog attached, and told her name was Nelly (our Golden Retriever was called Nellie). My response was ‘you’re joking’. Miles has been trying to persuade us to have another dog for a dozen or so years, even before we lost Truffle, our black Labrador, that we’d decided was our last dog.

It hasn’t stopped him trying to change our minds over the years, coming up with lots of arguments for, and tying me in knots about what he reckoned were illogical or not valid reasons that I’d responded with. I did think I was being wound up and that it was theirs. Many times he’s asked ‘what percentage of a dog do we want?’ in the hope of having one himself, and us looking after it when he was away, either for work or on holiday. Zero, has always been my answer.

They had only collected her that morning, but he said they had met her several times. She got out of the car a little apprehensively and slightly nervous. She was a lockdown puppy, and there had also been a little terrier who had tried to bite him, so they didn’t choose that one. She was not really used to being on a lead, where she was from she didn’t need one and she would stay with her owner, but she needed to be on a lead until she was familiar with us all and to know the places where she was being walked.

We needed to be patient and go at her speed to walk along the pavement and get to the woods, and she was not sure about the traffic and the pedestrians, but seemed quite happy, calm and well-behaved. No obvious reason for anyone to want to give her up.

While we were walking I quizzed him about where she had come from, why she needed rescuing, who had had her, why they wanted / needed to get rid of her, etc. Several times I was aware he couldn’t give me an answer, or evaded the question, or changed the subject, all of which made me suspicious. If she was theirs I felt sure he would have wanted the information to the things I was asking.

I’d insisted that he held her lead, she was at least a little used to him, but did hold it myself for a short time, once she was more comfortable and confident with us all. It was a lovely, bright afternoon if very cold, and good to walk in the woods with them.

She was quite happy with Colin when we got back, going to him for fuss and attention. Neither of us was really convinced that she was for us. Miles knows that a dog is not just for Christmas or birthdays, and is a long-term, serious commitment. He knows we don’t want the tie of another dog, but kept repeating that she wasn’t theirs.

We were both very relieved at the end of the day to find that she was one of his colleagues’ dog, and that they were in on the joke. Cruel on the dog, no. Miles and Lera will look after her when the friends go away, and it will be better for her in the long term if she knows them and feels safe and secure with them.

Wound up? A little, we were both very relieved to see her go, and would have enjoyed her more if we’d known she was only a visitor! He assured me at the end of the day that he’d not lied to us, just evaded the truth and been very careful about what he’d said. A couple of friends suggested we should have called his bluff and pretended that we wanted to keep her, but that would only have given him reason to think he really could present us with a dog. Bluff and double bluff.

It will no doubt become another of the stories of crazy presents from him and now them: Lera is just as bad as him!

I haven’t done much stitching, but have finally finished ‘Nanna and me’. It’s been on the arm of my chair ever since. It feels nice, very tactile as textiles often are, often difficult not to touch them at exhibitions etc., so I tend to walk round them with my hands in my pockets to remind myself not to touch, quilts especially.

Finished at last

I’ve scanned a load of photos from our 1999 trip to America, relatively few to choose from as it was before we had a digital camera, but plenty picked out anyway. So the quilt is progressing, just nothing more to see yet.

Below is a lovely quiet, still place for a drink on one of our less regular walks. The birds were singing away, and coming down very close for a drink. I love the reflections in the water. This walk was also when I saw the first bluebells of the year.

And I saw these incredible bracket fungi, the centre of which looks like the inside of bones, or coral. Stitch project? Crochet? Lace?

Bracket fungi on the top of a tree stump
This was on the side of the same stump

My little fix of green on the kitchen table is coming out, a beech branch broken off in the wind a week or two ago. The one from a month ago is still not showing any green, but the buds are still getting fatter. The leaves are so delicate and fine, they look like pleated silk. Yes, there are two tiny wooden eggs peaking through from the back. But Lera’s Russian Easter is not until the 2 May, so I’m leaving them out until then.

Section of ‘My first quilt’

Several WIP’s have surfaced this week and have moved along a little. The first, ‘Nanna and me’, is almost there. I just wasn’t sure how to finish the edge, blanket stitch or some sort of binding. In the search for the memory quilt sashing fabric, a bag with the remaining fabric from the slow stitch memory cloth came to light. It had the sleeves in the patterned fabrics from Nanna’s dresses that she had made into pinafore dresses, the fabric from mine and my Aunty’s dresses that had been made in the 60’s, and a square of the olive green muslin.

I tried the patterned fabrics folded over to give the effect of binding, and they were all too dominant, also on the thick side to have on both sides. The muslin looked good, but I didn’t think it was big enough, only 18cm by 16cm, the memory cloth is 35cm by 32cm. But after folding it in half, and half, and half again, I realised if I cut it carefully into 2cm strips it would just work.

Muslin binding

I’ve folded it over the edge and used a simple running stitch to anchor it down on both sides. I have started off-centre, so that the joins wouldn’t be in the middle of each side and more tricky on the corners. It is soft and pliable enough to ease round the corners rather than a mitre, which gives a nice soft, rounded corner. It would have been finished but I had a migraine yesterday and didn’t feel at all like stitching.

I have made some progress on the memory quilt, I eventually found the remaining sashing and green for the saguaros. I found the backing fabric and the wadding first!

The backing fabric has been washed and had a good blow outside, unlikely to have lost any or much colour, but has probably shrunk a little.

Fabric and wadding for ‘My first quilt’

Having to search for the sashing was probably a good thing, as it gave me time to reassess how to finish the front. I had intended to do a large appliqué saguaro in each corner, but the lettering (EASTER 1999) across the bottom edge goes almost to the corner and it would have looked too ‘tight’. I think I’m just going to do outlines of the saguaros up the sides to balance the lettering of the top and bottom.

I have decided to add some things to the back, either so it is reversible or that some of the memories are hidden on the back. We have a box file of leaflets, etc., of some of the places we visited during our stay, which I have started scanning and preparing for printing on to fabric. There are also photographs, but I’ve not picked out which ones to use yet. The diary Colin wrote each day has disappeared into the ether, we’ve had it since Christmas, so most frustrating. It’ll turn up when we are looking for something else!

I’ve also found a sample that I did for our first grandson’s quilt, which will get added to the page in the quilt book, a teddy and a label. It’s a teddy if you look carefully, first impression is random zigzag stitches with poor tension!

It was based on the border they chose for the nursery, with six teddies. I did an outline of each one, and zigzag stitched them. It was horrible on the eyes and gave me a migraine. The rest of the quilt was fun to do though.

Nursery border

The left hand page shows anther idea for the layout of the teddies, but decided six were enough, I didn’t want another migraine.

Left hand page, alternative layout of the bears

The left-hand bear had the blue flower added after Jack was born.

I’m not sure if a label ever got put on the back. If one was, I hope the ‘t’ got crossed (see below). Jack was three weeks early, so I ended up finishing the quilt the day after he was born and doing the hand stitching round the edge in the car on the way for our first peek.

Not sure if one of these ever got attached to the back.
My first quilt

There have been a few challenges this week. The first was to myself, to finish my green redwork, and I managed to finish stitching the last egg late last night. Well, the ‘shells’ were finished last week, so it was a case of ‘decorating’ them. Only one was finished (French knots), two were partly done (tiny seeding and cross stitches), and both were a challenge to find matching thread. That leaves two to finish and five whole ones to do.

It is a very different beast from what I would do now. I have learnt so much since I started it, but I didn’t want to unpick my earlier work. It’s interesting to see the progress I have made. Firstly the French knots and the cross stitches don’t show up well on the beige linen background, and unfortunately they are next to each other, so I couldn’t balance them across the piece. I didn’t want to do the others so light, to contrast better with the background, having used stronger, brighter greens.

I’ve added tiny triangles, basically three little running stitches, single chain stitches, lazy daisy flowers, bigger seeding and straight stitch ‘flowers’. The partly finished ones, I think I have matched the thread or pretty close. Note to self, do not take all the thread for another project! Or make a note of what it is, brand and number, and how many strands of thread were used!

Finished, apart from needing a wash and press.

I’ll wash and press it before I put it away with the Easter decorations. For now, it’s on the kitchen table with a broken-off branch of beech I picked up in the woods nearly two weeks ago. I put it in a little vase and kept it topped up with water. The buds are fattening nicely, and before they open much more I need to put the tiny painted wooden eggs on it.

Fattening beech buds
The vase sits just right in the centre of the eggs.

The Grasby Easter lockdown challenge #9 nearly didn’t get done. The Grasby group hopefully will have an exhibition this year, we were all working on it for last year, but of course it didn’t happen.

We had a deadline of the 31st March to finish our final piece, so I have been working away at that, which is now finished. Phew! Lots of experimentation and working out how I was going to execute it, but got there with a day or two to spare. The pieces we do for Grasby are not shown until they are exhibited, so watch this space for details. This took precedence over the lockdown challenge.

We had all had #9 in a pretty envelope which arrived towards the end of February, with a tiny fretwork egg on a mauve ribbon and the request to create something, anything on the theme of Easter – Pagan or Religious, using the colour of the ribbon. I opened it and read the instructions several times, but put it away not wanting to get side-tracked from my main piece. I had a few big ideas for the challenge, but not time to do them by the time the main piece was due.

But after last week’s painted ‘Fun-ky chickens’, and as I looked at the instructions yet again, it suddenly occurred that I could do a stitched ‘Fun-ky chicken’. I had the perfect little white plastic oval frame, nearly egg shaped, and the right size complimentary yellow piece of felt for the background. I couldn’t find the googly eyes that were my first thought (found them since!), but think the beads work better anyway: a handful of mauve and purple threads and I was off.

It was a quick piece, but at least I have managed to do all of the Grasby challenges. And Colin came up with the perfect title for it “Which came first?” (chicken or egg).

“Which came first?”

The lockdown challenges are all on Facebook under Grasby Embroiderers and some earlier work that has been exhibited too.

The final challenge(s) is one by a friend. Earlier in the week when the sun shone and it was warm and sunny, and we could finally meet up in gardens, I was showing Sally, a non-stitching friend, how she could make a patchwork cushion. I’d got out my quilt book, with photos of my work and how I’ve tackled some of my quilts. The first job (another one!) is to up-date it, photos need finding and printing, fabric samples and sketches, ideas gathering…… it is a useful resource and record of some of my work.

The second is to finish ‘my first quilt’. It was started in 1999, a memory quilt of an Easter visit to our dear late American friend Dottie in Tucson, Arizona. The sixteen patterned fabrics were chosen and bought in Michael’s, an art and craft hypermarket unlike anything we had in England at the time. A bigger, better Hobbycraft-style shop. Dottie’s niece Ginny took Miles and myself there, having dropped Colin at a ‘record shop’. We were there for literally hours, and I still felt I’d only scratched the surface of the place. I spent quite a lot too, but was sure Colin would have spent just as much or more in the record shop! I was not wrong.

We had nearly finished our shopping when I spotted a memory quilt hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t like quilts at this time, could see no point in cutting fabric into pieces and then stitching them back together! Most of what I had seen before this was a mish-mash of fabrics, hexagons hand-stitched together, and I was not impressed. But this memory quilt was done in beautiful, brightly patterned fabrics, carefully selected to make a coherent whole.

I was blown away by the idea of making one to commemorate our holiday of a life-time in America. We had fun choosing the fabrics to represent various aspects of the holiday; lots of Mexican food, including chillis, a trip to Old Tucson, Easter eggs, humming-birds, flowers, saguaro cacti, road signs, medical instruments (Dottie ended up in hospital for a couple of days with pneumonia while we were there), iguanas (we saw lots, and Ginny loved them), frogs to represent a friend of Dottie’s who also took us out for the day.

I bought eight plain brightly coloured fabrics to go with the patterns once we were home, and spent many hours playing with pieces of coloured paper working out which to put together, to make what I later found were traditional 9 square blocks. If only I’d known, I would have saved myself a lot of time. I even did triangles and have no idea how I worked out how to make them the right size to fit with the squares. Trial and error, probably.

I eventually finished the blocks and wanted sashing to represent the landscape, desert and saguaro cacti growing everywhere like we have trees here. So the sashing was a dull beige, with saguaros on the squares to make the intersections.

I then made one inch squares to make the lettering to say TUCSON at the top, and EASTER 1999 at the bottom, all paper-pieced together, with triangles to make the ‘R’s’.

I did blog about it long, long ago before the lettering was all stitched down, but I haven’t touched it since. Sally’s challenge to me is to finish it, having asked how long it would take me. But I’m not going to commit myself to the time scale!

‘My first quilt’ started in 1999.

I couldn’t get at it to show her, but have now managed to get it out. Now I need to find the fabric to do the saguaros on the corners.

Happy Easter to you all, green eggs have less calories than chocolate ones!

Test piece in sketch book

My art classes this week were just what we all need at the moment, a bit of fun. In normal times we meet once a week. Mags used to do three classes each week, but since November these have become two Zoom classes, which you can dip into and out of, and some folk are juggling them around work. They are usually in blocks of six, basically following the academic year, and week six is a less formal session. We have fun and play with something new or different.

Most weeks I have done both sessions, which has been good as it has meant I’ve painted and drawn more. This week it’s meant two sessions of fun, and in the second one the outcomes were more successful. We were painting colourful, fun-ky chickens, working with clean, bright colours, lots of water and very loosely, letting the paint move freely on the paper.

It was a good chance to try colour combinations that you don’t usually use, experimenting and exploring how they work together, pushing your comfort zone.

The only bit that was drawn in first was the beak and eyes, the rest flicking a rigour brush with lots of paint on, then adding more water so the colours mingle. Fun.

In the first session the first one looked almost demonic (self portrait?); lockdown craziness, and mad hair days; the third one, done in the second session, is more composed and the collar almost elegant!

Left to right in order of attempts

It’s the eyes that make a big difference, definitely something to work on, but practice will help. I love the ruff on this one, would certainly keep your neck warm!

Love the collar!

I also did an orange ostrich, back to my comfort zone colour-wise, with yellows and oranges. I did do a quick pencil outline of the basic shapes on this one. The proportions, and head and legs aren’t right, but the brush strokes on the body are improving.

Crazy ostrich

This is a technique that I can see other uses for; it could be used for a crazy hat in a fashion illustration, a flower head, fun to play with the brush strokes and colour combinations.

Upside down ostrich body

I’ve had several long walks this week, trying to fill my craving for green. It’s certainly coming, and there has been less wind, and a bit more warmth for a few days. I’ve noticed on several trees that the moss has dried out, and is separating almost into layers, gaps in it where you can see the tree trunk, no sign of it on the ground around. Has it blown away, or are the birds taking it to line their nests?

Moss drying out into layers
Detail of moss layers

Another bit of fun I’ve had this week coming back from my walk, is a quick go on the swing that has been attached to the big, old weeping beech near the entrance to the woods. It feels like a bit of freedom with the wind in your hair.

What wasn’t funny was finding the broken-off miniature daffodils that the Broughton Women’s Institute planted to celebrate its Centenary, carefully in the shape of “2018”. They have been a lovely show for several weeks as you come into the village or walk past. Some had been picked the length of the stem and just strewn across the grass, not even taken home to enjoy. But even worse was the load that had been pinched off at the top of the stem and scattered around. I ended up walking back to them, picking a handful of the ground and bringing them home to float on a rose bowl of water. Some are slightly damaged but have been a lovely splash of colour on the kitchen table for a few days.

Broken-off miniature daffodils
Miniature daffodils in rose bowl on kitchen table

On a more positive note I have finished the outlines of the eggs on my green Redwork. It is at least useable now, even if the eggs still need decorating. I have got out (but not yet put up) our Easter decorations. We often spend Easter with our German or Spanish friends and they celebrate from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, rather than the long Easter weekend that we have here. Lots of happy memories of fun, friends and food tied up with these decorations.

WIP, but the eggs are all outlined now.
Green water-colour paint and samples

It’s got to the time of year when I start to crave green. The days are getting longer, and a few things are beginning to come up in the garden, splashes of colour around; the crocuses, the miniature daffodils, the bigger ones just starting to come out, but not much green as yet.

I’ve had a few long walks in the local woods over the last few weeks. Things haven’t moved on very much, the cold winds have slowed everything down again, but I spotted the fresh green of the hawthorn earlier in the week.


It took me a long time before I realised how much my colour palette is affected by what I see around me, and I am craving green. The cyclical effect of nature influences and inspires my work, but at the moment it feels dull and harder to find. It’s small patches of colour, often hidden, close to the ground for protection, violets and primroses opening up when the sun shines.

The violets are almost hidden amongst the primroses.

I lot of the photos I have taken over several weeks have been lichens and mosses, greens and yellow greens, it’s that fix of green I’m after, the bright splash of colour amongst the grey.

Cushion of moss

I’ve searched out green paint and green threads, earlier work done in green, both stitchery and painterly, green jumpers. Once it surrounds me outdoors my palette will broaden once more. This piece of Kantha work done on the brown background feels about the right balance of brown to green at the moment, but I want it to reverse.

Kantha stitch

This is an old swatch of my White Nights water-colour paints that I did to test out each colour and how it diluted with water. It shows the graduation from almost neat paint to almost water.

White nights water-colour paint

The swatch below shows the variety of greens that you can achieve with just a few yellows and blues in various proportions; it’s almost endless. Once you have more than one yellow or blue it increases even more.

Mixes of green

Lots of varying shades of green, using the paint in different ways: wet paper, strong colour, watered paint, dry brush to give a variety of tones and textures.

Detail showing variations of tones

Something like this could be used as a background to start stitching mosses and lichens into. The watercolour paper is heavy enough to stitch, but you do have to consider carefully where you want your stitches, because it is not forgiving – once the needle has pierced through it leaves a hole.

Detail of painting

A selection of fabrics and threads, coloured canvas (Inktense pencils), and scrim (water-colour paint) that I am gathering ready for some stitching, along with an increasing number of photos.

BUT, I am going to finish a few other things before I start this new project, including the green redwork for Easter. The threads are now with it.

Threads found, ready to finish for Easter!
Positive and negative shapes

Over the last few weeks I have taken a lot of photos of lichen and mosses. It’s not a new subject to me. The colours, patterns and textures fascinate me. Over the winter they are often the brightest colours, especially in the woods, my go-to place for a walk. But yesterday the car had to go for a service, so while it was being done we walked around the lake across the road from the garage.

We had an array of different weather in just over an hour. It started off cold, windy, grey and damp, the wind whipping up the water; this was useful, as we had been painting water in my painting classes this week (not very successfully, I hasten to add).

Choppy water
Dull, grey and windy.

It then started lashing down with rain, followed by hail bouncing off the ground. We were pretty wet within a couple of minutes in spite of being well wrapped-up. Ten minutes later we had sunshine and a glorious blue sky. Early April showers? The buds are beginning to fatten on the trees, and the pussy willow and gorse are coming out. By the time we’d got back to the garage we’d dried out.

The sun shone on this lovely lichen-covered tree, not something I usually see, because in the woods it’s difficult to find lichen with the sun on it.

Sun on the lichen

These radiating lines where a branch has been cut off remind me of gills on fungi, another subject of many photos.

The radiating lines look like gills on mushrooms.

The wind dropped, the lake was much less ruffled and reflected the fabulous blue of the sky. We think the birds that look so tiny are cormorants, but I couldn’t zoom in enough to get a clearer picture. It needs another walk on another day to try and capture them, with the camera rather than just my phone.

View from the other side of the lake.

While I was waiting for the water to dry(!), I found this painting of lichen on a fence-post that I started in a class before lockdown, so started working in to it a little. The photos were taken at Cleethorpes, when I was on a 6-session workshop with Jan Dowson several years ago.

Old WIP painting. and photos of lichen on a fence-post.

The lichen was watercolour paint on some sort of texture medium underneath (Mags can’t remember what we used either). It’s all a bit monochrome, so I’ve added some more darks and some bright yellow, and added more contrast on the fence-post.

Nearly finished
More darks and yellow added

The series of pieces that I started in Jan’s workshop were paint and ink on paper or canvas, and I then stitched into them. The one below was laced around a real branch.

Laced around a real branch.
Detail of one of the pieces from Jan’s workshop

The recent photos have sparked some new ideas that I am keen and excited to explore. The positive and negative shapes, and the dark and bright colours in the top photo could start some messy play with paint, then some stitching.

From the left, silk?, silk velvet?, cotton velvet, heavier cotton velvet

I was looking for these sumptuous fabrics: velvets, silk, and fine cotton; the purple velvet, fine silk, I think; the red’s velvet; in the middle, fine cotton, the one on the right slightly heavier. Now I’ve found them, I’m doing a little procrastinating about them for the moment, not sure which colour to opt for, nor quite how to execute my ideas. The ideas are percolating for a while.

I found a few other projects at various stages of completion while I was looking. We did the Bayeux stitch project at Scunthorpe Embroiderers Guild several years ago. Predictably, I went off piste and used my own design, a simple wave pattern. It has been loosened on the frame after working on it each time. The purple wool could be just the thread if I opt for the purple velvet, but the box of yarns for it seems to have disappeared into the black hole!

Bayeux stitch

The project itself isn’t really grabbing me at the moment, but it would be useful to find the wool. It was the first time I’d done Bayeux stitch and I did enjoy doing it, so could happily continue sometime. I can picture the box it’s in, but can’t spot it around.

Close-up of Bayeux stitch

This made me wonder where the tambouring wave design on a long frame could be. This was far too big to lose, but I’ve not spotted it while tidying and organising my sewing stash. Reassuringly, I found it immediately, stacked with other large frames near the CD collection on the corridor bit of the landing, not my domain, in fact actively discouraged from going down there.

A small group of us did a workshop on tambouring with Alison Larkin, a couple of years ago, a completely new technique to all of us. The section on the bottom right shows my first attempts. I really enjoyed doing it. Chain stitch is one of my go-to stitches, and this gives the same effect but much quicker, once you’ve got the hang of it. The wave design below the red headed pin was practising curves. I’m not sure if this was the first drawing of it, directly on to the fabric with a water soluble pen, or whether it was a sketch or doodle on paper before this. Whichever, I liked it, and have used it since.


The frame had originally been made for painting silk scarves, but has been re-purposed for stretching the length of fine cotton lawn to use the same wave design. The lawn has been zig-zag stitched on to strips of old cotton sheeting to make it fit the frame, but also to be able to pull it drum-tight on the frame. The waves were drawn on a larger scale, directly on to the lawn with water soluble pen, but it’s been hidden away for so long that it’s disappeared. I need to re-draw it before I can continue, probably just as well, because I also need to re-familiarise myself with the technique.

Line of tambouring

Specifically for this piece, I bought a music stand like Alison’s for my Christmas present to myself in 2018, but it remained in the box until a couple of weeks ago when I did the knitted lace cushion. It’s set up in a sunny spot in front of the lounge window to encourage me to use it for larger projects. On this lawn the shadows are distracting, but could have some interesting results.

Distracting shadows

I also found a nearly finished redwork project, again from Scunthorpe Guild many, many years ago. No, your eyes are not deceiving you, I did mine in green to go in our dining room, but so often we have been away in Barcelona at Easter with our Spanish friend, or Langen with our German ones, that it has never got finished. We’ll be at home this year, so I really will get it done. The first step on this is the fun bit of choosing colours, the threads are no longer with it. The light is good enough to do it now!

Inside package brought by the Postie.

The Postie delivered a lovely squishy package containing the above fabrics. What to do with them? I fairly quickly recalled in an old Stitch magazine an image of triangular shaped vessels which I have long meant to attempt.

I managed not to distract myself with looking through the old magazines, just the covers, as I knew there was an image on the front cover; it was issue 39, February / March 2006. It was a piece done by Helen Cowan.

Towers of Flowers by Helen Cowan

I found some more threads and ribbons I could snip up to add to the mix, same colour palette but varying textures and thicknesses. Not all ended up been used, including the water-colour piece: another project sometime.

Bits of ribbon and threads, and a piece of water-colour play I added to the mix.

I did start following the instructions and tried out different widths of triangle, settling on the narrower one, it looked more elegant. I then drew round my template on to the pelmet vilene.

Trying out size and proportions of isosceles triangles in card.
Inktense pencils

I used Inktense pencils, doodling directly on to damp pelmet vilene. It didn’t spread quite as I expected, but in this case it didn’t matter as it was going to be pretty much hidden by the snippets of fabric. Once it was dry I ironed on slightly bigger triangles of bond-a-web.

Inktense pencils on pelmet vilene

Working on the ironing board, I laid the triangles on the Teflon sheet so that they wouldn’t need moving once the snippets were in place. Then the snipping began, bits of the fabric and threads until most of the background was hidden. I ironed it as a sandwich between the Teflon sheet with an old iron, it’s too easy to wreck your good iron!!

Adding snippets of fabric.
More snipping
Threads of various thickness added

Not all the pieces were stuck down, so I sprinkled on some bonding granules before adding the chiffon scarf, and ironing again in the Teflon sandwich.

Layer of chiffon scarf ironed on

A section of the flowery fabric had iron-on vilene added to the wrong side and I “fussy-cut” them out while talking to friends on-line. There wouldn’t have been so many otherwise.

Fussy-cut flowers on iron-on vilene

I wanted the backs to be coloured, but not patchy, so applied the Inktense pencil with a wet brush, taking the colour directly from the end of the pencil. Some inevitably gets on to the wood of the pencil, but goes the next time it’s sharpened. They reminded me of the sugar flowers you can put on cakes, but didn’t fancy trying them, pretty as they looked.

Painted on the back with Inktense pencils
They look like sugar flowers

I stitched the bigger flowers just in the centres with French knots, and the little heart-shaped pieces just at the bottom, with a tiny stab stitch, and making sure I was not too close to the edge. I didn’t want the zig-zag to catch them down.

Flowers stitched on with French knots and tiny stab stitches

I cut the triangles out and laid them on various options of fabric for the lining, and decided on the bottom one, a warmer, darker purple that toned well, but gave more contrast.

Auditioning backing fabric
The warmest, deepest purple

This is where I really went off piste with the instructions, it needed another later of pelmet vilene, and more bond-a-web, and I could only find enough bond-a-web (in the black hole with the calico) to cover one more set of triangles and that was only just. So I decided the best solution was to put the pink face down on the Teflon sheet, patchwork the bond-a-web on the back and lay the ironed purple fabric on top. It worked, but I was concerned it would move as I put the purple down.

Backing attached with bond-a-web

I wanted to do satin stitch round the edges of each piece and decided to do a short, wide-apart stitch to make sure the front was well anchored to the back. I then discovered that I could change the stitch width on satin stitch with the speed control! I’ve only had the machine about 15 years!

Close-up of first row of wide-apart satin stitch

I then cut them all out before doing another row, wider and closer together, on all three pieces and the base. I didn’t understand the instructions at this point, as they talked about a square base, but I just cut an equilateral triangle at the beginning and did the same at the sides, but with less snipping on it.

Cut out ready to add another row of satin stitch

I forgot to take photos at this stage, but just butted the sides one at a time up to the base triangle and did a really wide satin stitch over both pieces. The instructions had said to hand stitch them together, and the sides, but the base folded up beautifully and I reckoned that if I butted the sides carefully together I could machine stitch from part way down to the bottom, narrowing the satin stitch at the very bottom to almost a straight stitch. It worked, with a bit of folding and manipulation for all three sides.

I then added three beads to the apex of each triangle, and curled them down.

It holds a little secret inside. When you peep in, you can see I’ve put the fancy side inside, rather than the purple lining. The fancy side at the base would only have been hidden!

As usual you can see the responses from the rest of the group on the Grasby Embroiderers Facebook page.

Coloured inks for my cartridge pen

This week I have been playing and experimenting with a few painting techniques. It’s a good way to develop and move your work on in new directions, like capturing transient things with the camera, such as snow and ice changing as the temperature fluctuated a few degrees during the day, then completely disappearing almost overnight.

I only spotted the icicles on this corrugated roof as it was almost dark on my way home last Friday after a walk in the woods. I didn’t manage to get back on Saturday morning when the light was good.


By Sunday morning all that was left was ice on each of the corrugations. The interesting parts were the ends, each one very different, making fantastic organic shapes, ideal for doodling shapes and practising shading. Yet to do!


I’d zoomed in close to get the details and patterns in the ice. The one on the left looks like the exploding fireworks we saw on New Years Eve, but in grey-scale. By Monday morning everything looked grey-scale, a dull, damp, grey morning. The snow and ice had brought blue skies and sunny days, which gave us longer feeling days with the daylight lasting longer.

I have written my “morning pages”* in coloured ink with a cartridge pen for several years, until this recent book that was such horrible scratchy paper that I resorted to Biro. I have finally finished it, so now I’ve gone back to proper ink.

*3 pages of longhand advocated by Julia Cameron in “The artist’s way”.

I could go back to my cartridge pen. It was almost empty, but loads of colour came out as I ran it under the tap, so I used the lovely orange ink for the first three pages of my new book. It felt so good to write with my ink pen again, smooth and flowing. I had intended to use the bottle of teal ink to tone with the turquoise of the cover, but the orange is complementary and was a bit of sunshine. I dipped it in water a couple of times to keep it going until I’d finished writing, gradually getting thinner and paler, giving an ombré effect.

When I put it in a tub of water for a couple of hours, to wash out the orange before refilling it with teal, I came back to find this sunny image.

Washing out my cartridge pen

I have a selection of different coloured inks, which I change to suit my mood, the season, the cover of the book. The tiny bottles themselves are beautiful. But my favourite Leaf Green I could only find in a big bottle, so I’m saving that until spring really is springing, not just the little glimmer that we’ve had for a few hours here and there this week, between the wind and the heavy rain.

Mags Bradley’s “Pleasurable painting” watercolour class (that I have been doing for a long time), started up on Zoom in November. There were three sessions when we went in person, limited to a maximum of 10 because of space in the room for the Tuesday sessions at the Caistor Art and Heritage Centre. The Thursday session was in Cleethorpes. Now there are two sessions a week which are an amalgamation of the three classes, and you can do either or both. Most weeks I have done both. It’s good to have a bit of interaction with people, but also it motivates me to paint more. Classes used to be in six-week blocks, more or less following the academic year. Week 6 used to be a “wild or experimental” session, playing with new media or different techniques, anything goes, so these were often my favourite sessions.

We had a week 6 session this week, so two play days: cellophane, muslin, ink, granulation fluid, salt, and a hairdryer, as well as the usual watercolours. Fun, fun, fun. Mags gave a demonstration at the start of each session and a bit of guidance, then we were set free.

I had a couple of pieces of watercolour paper masked off, but also some torn edged pieces to play with. It can be a bit messy so I set up one end of the kitchen table with a plastic tablecloth and some of my toys.

I did loads in Tuesday’s session, some possible backgrounds for stitching into later, some possibly pieces in their own right with a bit more work added.

Tuesday’s session
Nearly dry
I can see a little house on the left in the bottom and middle ones.

On Thursday’s session I had a bit more idea of how things would turn out, so worked with more intention, but still playful and responding to what was happening. The first one almost has the appearance of a collagraph, and I was really pleased with the textural effects.

The second one was a bit wishy-washy after it had dried; I liked the texture though.

I went back into it with more paint and it started looking like peacock feathers, so I fetched some out for reference. I love the vibrant, iridescent colours. I wasn’t trying to reproduce it, just capture some of its beauty and the feel of it.

Peacock feather eye
Love the colours, work in progress

It’s almost finished, left to dry fully before I assess what it still needs, maybe a touch of gold.

Almost finished

Lots of ideas have been generated over the week, some for projects that I hadn’t been sure where to go with. Buttonhole stitch suddenly leapt into my mind in the middle of the night, so off for more experimentation. /

Carpet middle from the scrap store in Scunthorpe.

There must be a way of drawing a large accurate circle, but I’ve yet to find it. Maybe you can buy a large pair of compasses like the ones teachers used in maths on blackboards in the “olden days”! I suddenly remembered a large carpet middle I acquired from the scrap store years ago with the intention of making a stool / sewing box on casters…… one day! It was the perfect size, and I could even see to centre the knitted lace, before cutting the fabric. I drew round the outside with tailor’s chalk, which gave me a seam allowance too.

Fairly round!
Cut to size

I couldn’t find a zip the right colour and size in my stash; either the right colour, but too big or too small, or the right size and bright pink or turquoise. Although the zip should not be seen I opted to do an envelope fold (correct term?). Looking how I’d done the heart stitched one below, I found I’d used a pre-programmed heart machine stitch on the fold. Was there a suitable stitch to echo the knitting? Yes!

Pre-programmed machine stitch

I hardly ever use these, but they always remind me of my nanna and her early domestic fancy machine in the mid 60’s. My petticoats (made from old sheets, cotton in the summer and flannelette in the winter) always had this type of fancy stitch around the neck, armholes and hem in subtle colours.

The edges of the fold were stitched to enclose the raw edges. I then laid the top and bottom of the back together, with the overlap positioned before drawing round and cutting it out.

Back of cushion with envelope fold done

Also from the scrap store had come a huge reel of burgundy piping cord, which I had been going to use on my stained-glass window quilt, but didn’t in the end. I think, if memory serves me well, I paid £2 for it. I’ve no idea how much is on it, yards and yards (OK, metres and metres). It was time to challenge myself again, a first for me, I’ve never put piping or cording on a cushion. A quick look at YouTube for instructions seemed a good idea.

Does that say 74 metres on the top?

Quite useful, but it needed a little test piece since it was on the bias. The YouTube omitted to say that what you could see was the piping cord placed on the R.S (right side) of one piece and stitched on, before adding the other piece and re-stitching the whole lot together. So I carefully put the bias cording on top of the two pieces R.S together, zipper foot on, needle in the right position, ready to roll.

Colin could then hear cries of “fool, fool”. Of course, the piping was on the inside when you turn the R.S out! Fortunately, this was only the test piece.

Another tip from YouTube was that on bought basis cording you can sometimes see the stitching, so it recommended making your own. Yes, you could. So it needed another test piece, having unpicked the stitching on the bias cord, which was definitely worth doing. So I unpicked the stitching on a long enough length to go all the way round the cushion.

I then carefully stitched round and the bobbin thread ran out just before I completed the circle. So annoying, why does the thread run out just before the end? It happens when you hand stitch too.

I realised that I’d got the piping in between the wrong layers of the envelope fold on the side where the thread had run out, so it turned out a happy accident, less to unpick. Also I needed to join / butt / splice the ends of the cord together. My patience had run out, and so had the daylight, such as it had been all day. So leave it until tomorrow, in spite of literally a few inches to stitch.

Piping cord in, not quite close enough at the top
Wrong layer at the bottom

It was good that I’d left it the day before! It was a fiddly bit, and I decided to splice rather than butt, as it can move in use. Once I’d spliced the cord, I carefully pinned through all the layers, stitched through, went to cut the threads at the end only to realise I’d not re-threaded the bobbin. More cries of “fool, fool”. Once it was stitched I could see in places it was stitched too far away from the cord in places, so it needed another row of stitches closer to the cord. Much better.

Sorting out were the join goes

Although once it was turned through and the cushion pad in, I realised it was a bit wavy, the seam needed clipping.

Wavy edge

It certainly made a big difference, but still not sitting quite right. It may improve with use and a bit of bashing, if not I’ll need to go back and unpick the first row of stitching.


It’s now in my little reading corner, which I never get to use, always being too busy doing other things. I should make the most of it while lockdown lasts. It’s like my dream of lying in the hammock under the wisteria, I rarely make time for that, not that it’s very appealing on snowy February days.

In situ