Monday, 24 April 2017

Cuddle Cloths

Taking stock. I have never felt guilty about having several projects on the go at once. I finish things sometimes, sometimes not. But nothing is 'wasted'. Even if a project doesn't physically become A Thing of Value, it has taught me or entertained me or soothed me. It has a purpose. I keep these half-stitched projects and take them out and study them. Or just cuddle them for a while and listen to their tales. They are my Cuddle Cloths. Some may Become Important. Others will remain unobtrusive, quietly sitting in a basket or draped over a chair. One day they may be Called. Or not.  No UFOs or WIPs here, those terms beg too many questions and place too many demands.

Here is a selection of my Cuddle Cloths.

My Mother's Day Bouquet Cloth. Two strips of silk into which I bundled the wilted flowers and leaves. Steamed for half an hour in a semi-used onion skin dyebath. I often have one of those sitting around. Left for a week, opened, rinsed, pressed, sandwiched up with a strip of walnut-dyed silk noil and kantha stitched. I put the last stitches in yesterday and felt sad and satisfied at once. It has no 'purpose'. It is too small for a scarf or shawl, too precious for a table runner, too long for a book wrap, too unassuming (and double-sided) to be hung on the wall. It is a Cuddle Cloth, no more, no less. It gives me pleasure and preserves the precious bunch of flowers from my precious daughter forever. If someone asks 'what is it FOR?', there's my answer.

This is the newest addition to the family. A piece of lichen-inspired embroidery on a scrap of old linen, gifted to me by a friend. This was begun on Friday during a workshop with the sublime Alice Fox where we looked at ways to stitch with found objects. Here are all my loose threads pulled from natural dyed cloths, kept because I can't bear to discard them. In among are some actual scraps of dried, dead lichen. I will not take live lichen (even that growing on dead wood may be alive). It grows too slowly and some is endangered. I am not expert enough to know which is prolific and which is rare so I leave it all and take only photos. But these small wisps were blowing free, completely dead and dried. Little openings in the threads invited holes. That is what I am working on at the moment, the holes. There will doubtless be seeding in the future. Possibly French knots. We will see. This is a Make-It-Up-As-I-Go-Along Cloth. I am enjoying stitching it.

This is my Going in Circles Cloth and with it, some Nine Patches from salvaged denim. For now, they sit together in a basket as if they may belong but they haven't yet been joined by stitch. They are living together first to see if it works out, before they tie the knot. Or not.

 The cloth itself needs more work. There are many more ways to make a circle with cloth and stitch to be explored.

My Fallen Leaves Cloth, begun in a day's stitching session with Caroline Bell, who showed me how to make the holes. I examine this daily, it sits over my office chair. I often feel the urge to stitch it but the spaces are nearly all filled and I am not yet ready for the Finish. I am saving it for One Day...

Some Sixteen Patches made from a selection of natural dyed cloths. Just Because Cloths. There are four, there may be more, or not. They may be joined into one big Sixty Four Patch and stitched some more. They are deliciously multi-textured, due to the different weights of cloth (linen, silk noil, old flannel sheet, Osnaburg, wool, recycled cotton shirting). They are also invitingly flat. Hand stitched seams, finger pressed open then stitched down. They create a new checkerboard cloth that invites a second layer for substance and then some more stitch. They are simple things, these four squares of squares, but they hold such Promise. While they wait, and tempt, they are Cuddle Cloths.

These cloths are from my Beach Bundle last February - Ten Turns of the Tide. I want them to become A Piece. To have Importance. Especially since I have recently been alerted to a suitable call to entry with a looming Deadline. But these cloths are mute. They tell me nothing of what they should be. I keep thinking of the ripples the tide makes in the sand. The relentless in and out, twice a day, without fail. But these thoughts won't translate into action. Yet.

If the Deadline is missed, there will be another.

Finally... My Over-Lap Quilt. 
This will always be a Cuddle Cloth, it is its destiny. I have trialed many possible layouts and with the opinions and advise from my Instagram community, I have decided on this one. I think today, I may begin to join these blocks. Then there will be more stitch, some circles no doubt. The moons in my Spiritcloth centres invite that. And making log cabins involves going around. So it's a theme. 

Also in here are little scraps of walnut dyed cloths that were gifted to me by a friend.
Those precious, thoughtful little gestures that mean so much.

I was discussing log cabins with another stitcher recently and was overheard by a woman - a talented artist but not familiar with textiles - who thought I was describing the construction of an actual log cabin. Wouldn't that be grand? To build your own actual cabin? Maybe one day. 

Meanwhile, I will work on my cloth and stitch version and it will shelter me a little. k3n xx

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My Over-Lap-Quilt

Some random thoughts on edges.. A raw edge has possibilities. It can soften, give a little of itself, fray. Its limits are blurred and yielding. Interesting how different cloths handle being torn. Some part easily, without regret and leave a neat row of even fringing. Others fight the rending and scar across the cloth where threads cling on to the last. Then leave long and short jagged thread tails. 

How to unite two strips of cloth  so they become one, seam-lessly? An overlapped edge creates a flatter cloth for stitching later. No seam-bump. No ditch to fall into. Just a gentle gradient to stroll up and slide down. Because the joining is only the beginning. Later comes the embellishing. Plying the needle over the edges, to and fro and around in circles. Uniting the torn parts into a whole-cloth again. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 😊 xx

Thursday, 6 April 2017


In my last post, I talked briefly about stitch and promised 'more later' so.....
I believe a fluid, intuitive hand stitch is distinctive and unique to a person, like hand writing.
The crux of the matter is in the 'fluid, intuitive' side of things. It's a hard thing to be. Like 'random' is the hardest 'pattern' to do. ( That's a design oxymoron right there).
Being self-conscious is difficult to avoid. Think about it. Conscious of self. How can you NOT be?

I want to stitch like I write. Not when I am doing my 'best' hand, in a card or a thank you letter for example. You know the kind. Find a posh pen, even practice in rough to get the wording right. Not like that. I want to stitch like I write when I am scribbling a note to the kids. Or writing a shopping list. When I was at school and had a new exercise book, the first few pages would be self-conscious neat. It wasn't until about page 7 that my real hand writing kicked in. That's how I want to stitch.
There are exercises one can do to discover one's 'stitch hand'. Stitch blindfold or in the dark. Done that while camping. Well, by tilley lamp which is pretty close with my poor old eyes. Stitch left handed (or right if you're a lefty). Stitch in different directions. Stitch from the back of a piece. Stitch like no one is listening. Does any of this work? Does it matter even? xx

PS note to self, my stitchabet includes:
Running stitch -
        In parallel lines
        In staggered lines
        Cross hatch
        Concentric circles
Seed stitch
I sometimes make myself do fancy embroidery stitches but it's like speaking French. I can do it well enough. I can express myself. But it doesn't come naturally. I expect I shall return to this. In due course. xx

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Being authentic

Recently I read this article and it resonated with me. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that my working practice has changed a lot over the past year or so. Or rather, many aspects have reverted to where I started years ago with old and repurposed cloth and hand stitching. I have rediscovered the pleasure of holding work in my two hands rather than using my sewing machine. Which ever way I look at it though, I have been experimenting, rediscovering old habits and discovering new ones. But I don't want to flounder around and I want my practice to be satisfying.

So as it's roughly a year since I turned at a crossroads (perhaps it was more a T junction, or a fork in the road), it seems like a good time to review 'where I'm to' as they say here in Somerset. So the article came along at the right time. Funny how that happens. After reading it,I made a list of the concepts I find important.

Authentic voice
Fluidity of practice
Being true to myself

But first let me back up a bit.

Around two years ago, I finished a series called Evolution - a Brief History of the Universe from the Big Bang to the Present Day. You can see the pieces here. The techniques I used, mostly with commercial fabrics and some of my own procion hand dyes were stitch and flip, fabric collage, confetti, a LOT of machine top stitching and free machine quilting, some hand stitch, lots of surface embellishment with silk waste, angelina fibres, sheer overlays, fabric confetti, beads etc, all designed and assembled using a technique I developed based on quilt as you go. That's a long list and the pieces reflect that. They are rich and vibrant and they tell a story. Whenever I exhibit them or give my talk based upon them, they are admired. I still take bookings for the workshop teaching people to make their own version. I am proud of them, I feel they are an impressive body of work.

Supernova from the series Evolution - A Brief History of the Universe from the Big Bang to the Present Day
 But finishing the series made me feel that I had 'done' all the techniques I learned and developed in the making of them. I don't want to do that stuff anymore. The series was a huge undertaking involving a lot of learning and research on the subject matter (after all, my inspiration was literally EVERYTHING) and I think it exhausted me, not physically but creatively. I made a couple more pieces for juried exhibitions which are now touring with SAQA Europe and the Contemporary Group of the Quilters Guild.

Pahoehoe - touring with the On The Edge exhibition
with the Contemporary Quilt Group of the
Quilters Guild of the British Isles

But I wanted a change. My home is full of my work. It covers the walls in all the rooms. There is older work rolled up under the bed. I have been very prolific. I wanted to take a more process-focused, considered approach. I wanted to return to my first love, hand stitching. Years ago, all my traditional quilts were hand pieced and hand quilted. Before I was lured by the possibilities of the sewing machine. I used to hand embroider, do English Paper Piecing and crazy patchwork. Now there is nothing wrong with the sewing machine or the work it produces. Teaching myself to do freehand machine quilting gave me a huge boost creatively. I didn't believe I was artistic, didn't think I could draw until I learned to 'draw' with the sewing machine needle. It is a great skill to have and has given me countless hours of pleasure. But over the past year or so, I have felt the need to slow down. Perhaps it's since I reached my half century? Who knows!

Anyway, to review I thought it would be good to itemise the things I wish to focus on, so I don't get distracted or diverted, so here goes. These are the practical how and whats. I don't think it suits me to specify a style or voice. Hopefully that will come through. I plan to review later, in the light of my list at the top.


Repurposed or vintage cloth wherever possible
Vintage threads ditto
Vintage lace ditto
All the above to be natural fibres
Modify my exisiting commercial fabrics and threads by overdyeing or 'ageing' with tea
Found objects, rust, plant materials for printing and dyeing

NB carefully consider purchases and consumption of new materials

Vintage cotton and linen - charity shop finds

Selection of vintage and naturally dyed threads


Eco printing and natural dyeing with rust, kitchen waste and plant materials.
Hand stitching (more below)
Working with nature eg the Cloth Cache project (see earlier posts)
Making 'useful' items as well as art pieces

Recycled cloth dyed with brown onion skins

That's a short list of techniques with some broad categories on it. I need to give more thought to how I want to work within those parameters.

It is a perpetual temptation to try new things and I have fallen foul of this in the past. But referring back to the article mentioned at the beginning, it can be a block to creativity I think. So I am going to make another list of the things I am currently doing and be ruthless about what I want to keep and what will side-lined for now. I'll come back to that. xx

Rust printed scrap of old linen stitched into a piece of wool blanket

Eco prints on silk and wool

Japanese boro inspired sample from recycled denim

Commercial fabrics 'aged' with walnut ink (thanks Nikki!)