A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Weekly Stitching

Linda McLaughlin here to tell you about my weekly stitching projects. One of the benefits of doing my daily stitching is that I keep getting ideas for other stitching projects. I keep a list of these ideas and review them when I'm getting ready to start a new one.  At the end of 2012 I realized that some of my ideas were not ideal for daily stitching, I knew that it would take much more time than the simple quick stitching that I do daily.

The 2013 weekly stitching project grew out of an idea to use some of my vintage linen collection. Here's how it looks finished.

-The fabric is vintage linen and cotton napkins that were divided into three piles and dyed either rose, teal or yellow. 
- Each dyed piece was then clamped with a pair of plexiglass shapes, either a circle ,square or triangle and then over dyed in one of the opposite  colors.
- Each one has a piece of flannel fused to the back, this gives the fabric a bit more stability when stitching and also gives the stitches a bit more dimension. I do not use a hoop when I stitch.
-The stitching is all done with pearl cotton thread, most of it  #5 weight. Some of the threads were dyed with the fabrics, others are commercial threads.
-I finished each piece by pillow casing a cotton fabric to the back. The fabric was ice dyed with the leftover dyes from doing the linens. This is a sample of the backs.

- Each back has the week it was done written on it.
- I only used seven simple stitches to do all 52 weeks. Frequently I would combine different stitches in a block, here's how often those stitches show up.
    - Straight stitch /running stitch, 32 weeks
    - French knots and variations , 33 weeks
    - Fly stitch and variations, 23 weeks
    - Blanket stitch and variations, 13 weeks
    - Chain / lazy daisy stitch, 11 weeks
    - Cross Stitch, 6 weeks
    - Couching, 5 weeks

Although I've used the same stitches over and over each individual piece is different. Here are a few of my favorites from the group.

You can see all of them here.

My 2014 weekly stitching is called The Weekly Leaf. Each week I use various surface design techniques on hand dyed fabric or muslin to get a leaf image. So far I've stenciled, gelli-printed, done rubbings, solvent transfers, stamped and drawn a leaf. After I get the image on the fabric its time for the stitching.  Unlike my daily stitching that I do first thing going into the studio, my weekly stitching sits in a bowl by my big comfy chair in the living room so that I can work on it in the evenings when the tv is on. I average between four to six hours on each one.  Here's a few that I've done so far this year.

Here are all twelve.

So far the only stitches I've used are;  french knots, stem and straight stitch.  
You can see all of them here.

I hope that I've inspired some of you to try doing some regular hand stitching. I've enjoyed sharing my hand stitching projects with you this month, at least once a week I do a blog post with the current finished pieces, please stop by and check them out. http://notesfromstudiob.blogspot .com/

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Techniques, tools, materials

Penny Gold again here, with my last guest post.  Many thanks to Beata and the other guest bloggers for all of this month's posts!

I know I appreciate hearing about specific techniques, tools, and materials used by others, so I thought I'd share some of my own favorites here.

Stitching without a hoop or frame:  Learning to quilt without a hoop or frame made a big difference to me.  I like hand-stitching to be portable, so didn't want to be tied to a frame, and even a hoop is awkward to carry around.  I learning the method I now use from Suzanne Marshall.  I have not seen it described in her books, which focus on applique, but this Youtube video shows the method I learned from her.  The key thing is that most of the movement is in your left hand, moving the fabric up and down, rather than in your right hand that holds the needle (reverse for lefties).  One key thing that the video doesn't show:  When stitching in the center of a larger work, with too much fabric to gather in your hand and still keep your thumb on top of the work, you can move your left hand underneath the work and grab a kind of pocket of the fabric near where you're stitching.  You can see a photo of what I mean here (Suzanne Marshall) and here (Tonya Ricucci).

Stitching in limited stints:  For the first few years that I was doing hand-quilting and hand applique, I would stitch for an hour or more at a time.  I started developing hand pain, then numbness, and also a ganglion cyst on my wrist.  I was reassured that the cyst was not dangerous, just ugly, and I could live with that, but the pain and numbness were troubling.  I learned a number of hand and wrist exercises through physical therapy, and that helped a great deal.  But I was also instructed to stitch for shorter stretches of time.  It was hard to cut back, but I knew that keeping hand function was important!  So, I started timing my stints of handwork to the length of one side of an LP record, treating myself to listening to some old albums while I sewed.  I continue to limit myself to about 20 minutes of hand-sewing a day.  It is a little island of quiet for me.  The work goes slowly, but it progresses steadily.  I have accepted the slow pace, knowing that the work still will eventually be complete.  Here's a link to a substantial piece on hand health for stitchers.  It focuses on arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome; my issue was repetitive strain injury.

Threading multiple needles at once:  The part I like least in hand-sewing is having to thread the needle time and again.  I find this annoys me less if I get multiple needles lined up with thread at the end of a session, so I'm all set to go when I sit down to sew.  This also serves as another way for me to time a limited stint--sewing 6 needles is, for me, about 20 minutes.

TOOLS & MATERIALS (needles & thread):
When handquilting with thin quilting thread, I've used a size 8 or 9 between needle, with most any make satisfactory.  But I've had more trouble finding a needle I like for doing bigger stitching, with heavier thread or multiple strands of thread.  I like a needle thin enough to go through the fabric easily, with a big enough eye that I can thread it without a needle-threader, and a comfortable length (not too long).   The two brands/size of needles detailed below fit all three criteria when I'm using DMC embroidery floss, up to three strands.  In my current project, I'm using one strand of 20/2 pearl cotton from Halcyon yarns, recommended to me by a weaving friend as a thread that dyes well (as I was dyeing thread to match the fabric).  The roundness of this thread (as opposed to embroidery thread, which seems flat) prevents it from easily going through the eye of the needle, so I've reconciled myself to using a needle threader with this thread.  I did try a needle with a larger eye, but since the whole needle was larger, it was a lot more difficult to push through the fabric.

Mary Arden Embroidery needles--in a packet of assorted needles ranging from size 5 to 10, there seem to be three sizes.  I use the middle size.  I bought them at Colonial Needle.
John James Embroidery needles in a dusky pink "pebble."  I also use the middle size needle in this pack.

I would be very interested to hear about what type of needle you prefer to use--please leave a comment (or e-mail me directly) if you have one you like!

And here's Beth Berman's great tutorial on dyeing thread, including how to make up the skeins from a larger ball/cone of thread, and how to take individual threads off the dyed skein.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Expanding the repertoire: loops, lumps and loose threads

Helen Parrott was a tutor at CQ Summer School when I did a workshop with Jo Budd  and I could readily  have done her course,  enjoying conversations over dinner.  My copy of 'Mark-making in textile art'  is well thumbed now, it's an absorbing and stimulating read covering not just techniques but thoughtful insights into artists practice and taking things further. I've nearly completed a piece using some red Japanese shibori .  Besides extending the original stitch marks of the shibori, I've been having great fun experimenting with loops and knots  following suggestions in the  book. I love the graphic quality, like quirky calligraphy,  and the shadows cast add to the effect.

It's been good to experiment again, having  got into a bit of a rhythmic rut with  my lines of parallel stitches.
 Reading other hand stitchers blogs has also given me some ideas on expanding my repertoire. Among my favourites are Jude Hill, Judy Martin ,  Christine Mauersberger Dijanne CevaalOlga NorrisHeather CameronTiggy Rawling Alice Fox   and recent discovery Helen Terry.

 Although not an embroiderer like my mum , I can, with a bit of practice do French Knots and cross stitch and like the textures they provide. But perhaps I have to think about it too much, it's hard to be random and irregular.
 Taking part in the 'Take It Further' challenge  a few years ago, I embraced the opportunities to be a bit more adventurous, like using  huge tacks to represent  how I was barely  holding myself together at the time.
 Most recently, having seen Dorothy Caldwells'  pieces from  her time in Australia with their pigments rubbed over heavy large stitches, I've been  exploring stitches of doubled stranded cotton with acrylic paints. I'm learning to love stranded cotton for all the reasons I've hated stitching with it in the past: the way it separates out into the individual threads. I've even added to the stash of threads, sitting unloved for years, that I  inherited from my mum.  
This post completes my journey  in hand stitch from heirloom quilting  for function through to experimental mark-making. Hope you've enjoyed reading about it as much as I've enjoyed putting these posts together. I'll be back in September with some posts  and tutorials on combining stitch and acrylic paints - I do hope you'll join me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Unconscious Side

Mags Ramsay here again.  

 Last Sunday I was acting as  steward at the Knit and Stitch  show at Olympia for a display  of 70  contemporary quilts. So many people could not resist the temptation to touch the quilts and in particular to look at the backs. That's where I came in with my white gloves, and when it was quiet, I took the opportunity to look on my own account! Some were disappointing -especially when they'd put another layer on the back to cover things up  but there were some delightful surprises!
Ever since reading Roberta Horton's book 'The Fabric Makes the Quilt'  ( still one of my favourites),  I've tried to 'up-the ante' for backs.  When I made  my quilt ' Creation Myth'  following a lot of her principles, I used the  black and white  fabrics and prints that didn't quite make the front in the backing cloth  ( above). I love the excitement of the random placement of stitches when seen from the back.  
Likewise in my most recent piece 'Red Remnants' (below) I like the sculptural quality of the red 'darning' marks on the rough twill backing fabric,  looking almost like a roadmap.

 The  'marks' I most use are  lines of parallel vertical stitches  (as seen in detail of 'Indigo Mine'  above) - made by coming up close to where the needle is pushed in rather than by taking a long stitch at the back.   It uses far less thread and creates a different texture ( less obvious ridges).  I find it easier  to vary the length  and spacing of the stitch . It probably a  proper name that the embroiderers among you will know!

When I  was attempting daily art projects last year using  used colour catchers,  stitching into them then taking rubbings of them,  you can see clearly how the stitch is made as the rubbings show front and back at the same time.
 As several  people have already said, the 'blind stitching' exercise carried out in Dorothy Caldwell's 'Human Marks'  was a very valuable  experience, the marks made while blindfolded exciting and energetic. In itself the product was pretty ugly so I didn't want to put it in the book I made in the class but wanted to have some record of it included. So again I did rubbings with crayons  on colour catchers and cotton organza and capturing  the stitches on the back as well , a different picture again.  
 The trouble is , the  more you stitch, the more even and accomplished your stitching is.  It becomes increasingly difficult to make a random unconscious stitch even on the back.  I don't notice that much difference between the front and back of the kantha stitching I did in that class

 So I'm continuing to  try different methods and threads to see if I can increase the variety of my stitching . Like sewing on paper, analysing the marks made with a pen ,then trying to copy that  in stitch. Or working with very thick threads and seeing what they do. More on expanding the repertoire in my last post.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Hello everyone! It's Erica Spinks here again with my final post for this month's celebration of hand stitching.. If you missed my other two posts, you can read them here and here.

This time I am sharing a couple of my small layered pieces from my Fragments series.

Last year, I started a Traveller's Blanket online course with Dijanne Cevaal. We were required to hand-dye three layers of fabric - light muslin for the top, cotton flannel for the centre and cotton for the backing. These pieces were then sandwiched and hand stitched.

Although I still haven't finished my blanket, I have taken some smaller pieces of my hand-dyed fabrics and created these two works. The three layers are so soft that my needle slips through easily.

For Fragments 1, I layered the cloth and cut a rough heart-shaped piece from the top layer. I tucked a small piece of a checked fabric into one side of the heart and secured it with cross stitches (kisses!) along the centre edge.

Using various threads, I used running stitch to sew through all layers. After fraying the edges of the muslin, I used a Derwent Inktense block with water to add some pink colour. (Have you tried these Inktense blocks? They are brilliant - it's just like using watercolours!)

Here's a closer photo of part of the piece. You can see the shadow that the tucked-under piece of checked fabric makes - it provides another subtle colour change.

I'm very comfortable with frayed edges - I love the extra texture they add to a textile work. Do you feel differently?

For Fragments 2, I added some freehand-cut, vertical strips of organza that I have screen printed with black and gold paint. Across the top, there's a strip of the plain organza.

There are a lot of subtle shadows on this piece. You can see through the organza, so the colours of the muslin come through. Sections of the muslin are only partially dyed, so more of the centre flannel layer (the green) shows through, too.

In this detail photo, you can see the effect of the variegated thread - stronger colour in some places but fading away in others. This is stitched with my favourite WonderFil Tutti 50wt variegated thread. 

Thank you for reading my guest posts. Hand stitching is an important part of my creative life. If you don't already hand stitch, I hope you might give it a go. You may become just as addicted to it as I am!

I'd love you to visit my pages! My blog is Creative Dabbling.
My Facebook pages are Creative Dabbling and Textile Tidings.
Please pop over and say hello.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Making it your own

In 2011 I was lucky enough to get a place on the Contemporary Quilt Summer School workshop with Jo Budd  She was a very generous and thoughtful teacher and a learnt a lot about the techniques she uses  to  construct her fabrics but more importantly  how she goes about  composing  her abstract pieces from these. The final session on stitching was a bit rushed but she demonstrated how she uses long stitches at the back and tiny, almost invisible, stitches on the front to make subtle alterations to the texture of the fabric.

'Summer Rain' by Jo Budd

With some of the fabrics I produced on the workshop ( I produced loads!)  I put together some of my favourites in purples that spoke of the sea , placing them on a canvas backing as Jo often does. I did start to attempt to stitch using her methods ( I own  a small piece of hers  ‘Summer Rain’ which I could refer to ) and canvas is certainly easy to stitch through even if it does fray too easily  but I like my stitching visible! I took it as a sewing project while I was on holiday in Weymouth overlooking Portland and I feel I stitched memories of the big skies into it.

My  main focus of the workshop ‘Microcosm to Macrocosm ‘ was producing different fabrics using as inspiration  a stick I found on the towpath of the Thames going into work, attempting to capture its colours and textures. Jo helped me with the composition, moving different components around to create the start of a more balanced piece. But I wasn’t happy with the idea of using canvas as the backing , that was her method not mine,  and I wanted to use something  coloured where I could layer and integrate the fabrics to suggest the layers of peeling paint.  

I  like to ‘repurpose’ old quilts  so I  used an old red and sprigged floral strippy coverlet and  painted sections with acrylic paints (partly to stick down some the fraying fabric). It had already been quilted with chevrons and I added further hand stitching both to attach the layers of printed fabrics and to integrate them with the background cloth.  It was so therapeutic, not thinking too much but responding to the fabrics, it was difficult to know when to stop!

I’ve since made 3 further pieces from that 1 quilt, using almost every last scrap. ‘Nautical Dawn’ is about to go to Prague as part of CQ Horizons exhibition  and the  2 ‘Connection’ pieces will at Minerva Arts from  July to September ( meet the artist On  20 July).

The rough back of homespun twill with its unconscious marks contrasts with the bright colours of the front with carefully blended threads - the currents and eddies swirling beneath the surface. I’ll be talking more about backs and the ‘unconscious side’ in my next post.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Hello again everyone.....it's Mary Stori with my final guest post.

Today I'm going to share a technique that has become helpful to me when preparing my small Nuno or other wet felted wall art pieces for sale.  These little guys can be difficult to hang.  Using a traditional fabric sleeve with a wood dowel is generally too bulky.    
Instead I cut a 2"-3" square from felted wool and sub-cut into 2 triangles.  These are hand sewn to the top two corners.  Additionally, I provide a 1/8", or 3/8" diameter metal rod. (Found a most big box home improvement stores.)  It's cut to the appropriate width.  I smooth the sharp edges with a grinding wheel. 

However, there are times when after all the stitching is completed......I'm still trying to deciding whether a horizontal or vertical orientation is best.  In that case I add additional triangles to the other corners which allows the buyer to decide their preference.  The following is an example of one such piece.

CARNIVAL  10" X 7"
Artist Nuno felted wool, hand embroidered and bead embellished.

It's been a such pleasure to reveal some of the tricks I share with my students!!  Please visit my blog from time to time and say howdy!

Mary Stori
web:   www.marystori.com
Blog:  www.marystori.blogspot.com
NEW SHOP BLOG:  www.marystorishop.blogspot.com
Author:  "Beading Basics", "All-in-One Beading Buddy", DVD -  "Mary Stori Teaches You Beading on Fabric", and "Embellishing With Felted Wool"
2004 Professional Teacher of the Year
Bernina Artisan

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


It's Mary Stori back to share another trick I use to help my beading time go more smoothly.
You may be familiar with a 'bead mat'.....which I believe is nothing more than the material a Vellux blanket is made from.  For our purposes it's been cut into sections and resold at bead distributors or bead shops.  It's such a great product and one that will keep your beads from rolling around, making it faster and easier to pick them up with the needle.  Very useful when working at a table.
However, I rarely bead sitting at a table.  Instead, I'm plunked down on our denim couch....feet up on an old oak coffee table, bright light over my left shoulder, with the  big screen within easy view.  I used to place my bead mat on a shallow jelly roll pan, which acted as a lap board....but it got awfully cumbersome.  One day I came up with the idea of securing the bead mat in a small wood embroidery hoop.  PERFECT.....when the thread is long I can bring the needle to the hoop, when it's shorter...I can bring the hoop to the needle!
I also switched out the large, hard/cold metal pan in favor of a padded cutting mat.  The soft side sits on my lap, while the hard side acts as surface on which to rest my Q-snap frame.  The number and variety of beads used to create the wall quilt below is a good example of the importance of keeping the beads under control!
Heirloom Blush  8" x 12"
Artist hand-dyed and felted wool, hand embroidered and bead embellished.

So, if you prefer the comfort of a soft chair, you might want to give my method a try.  If you have helpful beading tricks, please share them!  I'll be back with one more post before I say goodbye and thank you for joining me.

Mary Stori

Author:  "Beading Basics", "All-in-One Beading Buddy", DVD -  "Mary Stori Teaches You Beading on Fabric", and "Embellishing With Felted Wool"
2004 Professional Teacher of the Year
Bernina Artisan