Which canvas are you?

Do you enjoy personality tests?

We’ve all experienced them at one time or another, whether serious ones when applying for jobs (INFJ* if you’re interested), or the marginally less serious ones in personal-development books, online-dating, dieting, and of course the entirely spurious ones in countless magazine features – they crop up all over the place.

For some reason, when I was fishing through my stash of canvas the other day, I couldn’t help thinking that our preferred choice of canvas might well be an indicator of our personality.

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– straight-forward, upright, focussed, likes sticking rigidly to the rules…

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– needs a bit of structure, but bends the rules a little from time to time – prefers having some flexible of space to work in…

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– pretends to conform, but actually quite a rebel, frequently moving off in different directions…

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– entirely unpredictable, potential anarchist…

Yep, use them all – what does that tell you?

Happy stitching!

*Myers-Briggs test.

Show and Tell…

As promised, here are a few pictures I took at the Artists’ Network Bedfordshire’s exhibition last weekend. This was the first time I’ve ever shown any of my stitched tapestries to anyone ‘outside‘.


You’ll no doubt remember my problems with getting anything from the ‘stitched‘ state, to the ‘showable‘ state over the years. The brilliant thing about having the opportunity to show at this exhibition, was being gently forced to face up to the issue and find a solution.

Thanks to Kathy (Of Gardens, Grandmothers and Gleanings), blogging about the The Eye of The Needle exhibition at the Ashmolean, I went over to Oxford and saw how the Feller Collection had mounted some of their fragments of needlework, using calico stretched over a canvas frame, with the needlework stitched to the calico. Ta Dah! At last, a way to do it that seemed sympathetic with my pieces and achievable without too much difficulty.

Here’s my table with Firmament, Hedonism and Brian.


So what did I learn over the weekend?

IMAG7479I discovered how good it feels to be part of a group of like minded people. Making art in many forms is a largely solitary existence, so getting together with other people was a wonderfully uplifting experience. It’s wonderful to find kindred spirits out there! And as you can see, they’re a talented and versatile lot around here.


I also learned that people are very interested in how we make our pieces. I hadn’t anticipated how chatty visitors would be, and it was quite an eye-opener to realise that complete strangers might actually want to know more about the process and the inspiration behind our work. I also discovered how much I enjoy talking about my stitching (I do hope I didn’t bore for England, but once I got going, I found I loved explaining all about it).

So my first foray into the real world was a very happy experience, and now I know that I can do it, I’m sure I’ll be doing it again.




Mid-month update…

Plodding on, and on…

The end isn’t in sight – yet – but I think I must be over half way by now….IMAG3856I ripped it out of the frame this morning to take a quick picture while the sun made a rare appearance. 

The giant clips I bought a few weeks ago are a tremendous hit. If you are working to a pattern, or have worked out in detail exactly which colour you want where, then it might be possible to roll up the canvas on a traditional frame and just work the parts that are visible as you get to them, but that’s not the way I like to do it. I’ve realised that I stitch in much the same way that I paint – so I need to be able to see the whole design all the time (or near as damn it).  This is much easier to do with the new clips, because they’re so easy to put on and off – they also cope well with the extra thickness of the stitched areas – my old clips (the ones that came with the frame), simply ping off as soon as the canvas gets too thick.

Working with a lot of 4ply knitting wools in this piece has made me start to plot what I’m going to do next. I’ve completely fallen in love with the texture and the stitch definition of these wools, they are a dream to sew with and ideal for the tiny hole size in the linen scrim that I’m using. So I’ll be on the look-out over the coming weeks for the colours I’ll be using on the next piece. I haven’t quite got as far as a proper plan, but the little grey cells are certainly having fun.

Happy stitching!



IMAG3286The word of the week here is WAITING….

Perhaps that should be anticipating.

I’m waiting for some new crewel threads to arrive for the current project – I’d sorted out the yarns I was going to use for the rest of it, but the tapestry wools were just proving too thick for the scrim – not fun to deal with, so I’ve ordered a selection of solid colours to complement the delicious 4-plys I’m already using.

My excitement at embroidery actually making it to the TV last week, has set me off feeling experimental – so I’m also waiting for a delivery of different canvas materials – I want to see what I can do with some alternative base fabrics – well it’s good to flex those creative muscles from time to time. I know I’m never going to be a proper embroiderer, but give me a piece of loose-weave canvas and well – who knows…

I’m also waiting for some extra long and strong bulldog clips to arrive – these will – I hope – make it easier to clip the thicker parts of the worked canvas to the frame (this is what passes as technical stuff around here) – suffice to say, the air can get quite blue around me when the plastic clips ping off the frame, leaving the canvas floppy and recalcitrant – I’m pinning great hopes on these new clips.

And a BTW – I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new field guide to mushrooms (readers at Mostly Motley will remember) – found the recommended title online second-hand and a bargain to boot – thank you Catherine.

In the meantime, happy stitching.







Celtic swirl creeping along…

It’s impossible to photograph anything here in natural daylight, as someone/thing has turned off the sun – we haven’t seen anything remotely bright in the sky for days now – and I’m getting moderately fed-up with it, arrrgh!

Okay, rant over – ish.

So anyway, (deep breath), moving on, just to say that there is some progress on the Celtic Swirl tapestry.

celtic swirl wip 1

Having gone back to the hessian (burlap), for this one, I’m finding that although the stitches cover more quickly than in the last scrim piece, I’m having to stop and start a lot, moving the canvas around in my frame.

I know it’s not the way it’s normally done, but I just don’t like the idea of having the design rolled away so I can’t see it  as you would on a traditional frame – I need to be able to see the whole design as I’m working, so I use a large square clip-on plastic frame – great, but it slows me down a little.

(I have considered making a much bigger frame, especially now that I have the floor stand, but I’m not convinced it would suit the ways I like to work, and would probably end up with a saggy middle – never a good thing!).

I treated myself to a handful of balls of knitting cotton last week – mostly Rowan Cotton Glace. I needed to find something that stitches up with a sheen, but without having to buy hundreds of embroidery skeins. The best thing I ever found was Debbie Bliss Pure Silk, but my local retailer has stopped stocking it. I might have to trawl Webland to find some more.

But I’m happy with the Rowan cotton – it stitches well and has a reasonable sheen, it also comes in the shades I wanted – something that’s not always easy to find. I never realised before I got heavily into needlepoint art, how much painters take for granted the ability to be able to go out and choose the colours they want off the shelf and then go home and mix up precisely what they want – we have to hope that we can find the shades we want, in a yarn that suits and at a price we can afford.

Yep, I think the day when I bite the bullet and try dyeing, might not be all that far away…

Anyway, the Celtic Swirl is definitely in progress – just don’t hold your breath.

Happy stitching.

On the starting blocks…

Not the Caribbean, Sandwood Bay, Sutherland.

It’s been a wonderful summer. I discovered years ago, that trying to work when the girls are at home just isn’t an option for me. Rather than worry about it, I now give up all ideas of stitching while the schools are out and instead try hard to give the girls a good time.

They’re growing up so fast. I don’t have to be chief entertainments officer anymore, they pretty much decide their own schedules these days, but they certainly do need a taxi service, and too often, they also need the Bank of Mum on hand.

So for the last five or six weeks, there’s been nothing happening on the canvas.

But up there in the brain, all kinds of ideas have been spiralling around.

Balvenie Castle

While we were in Scotland, we visited Balvenie Castle. It’s a beautiful gem which I’m sure gets missed by a lot of people because it nestles beside the Glenfiddich Distillery – a great tourist attraction (and well worth the visit).

There’s a distillery hiding behind the trees

But the castle has wonderful stone work, which has really made me tingle with desire to somehow recreate the colours and textures of the stone.

It was a very hot morning when we were there, so I sat in the shade, staring up at the masonry, whilst breathing in the delightful aroma from the distillery – and mulled over the stitching possibilities.

It’s on my list for the autumn.

Although I haven’t been sewing, I’ve had a bit of a go at sorting out the canvases. This autumn I’m going to give linen scrim a go. The hessian that I’ve been experimenting with is very enjoyable in lots of ways, but the hairiness plays havoc with my nose and I’m a tad concerned that I might be allergic to it – the eczema on my hands improves a lot when I stop using it.

I’ve just ordered a few metres of scrim, so when it arrives, I’ll have a little play and see how it feels.

The texture and weave of the canvas has become much more important to me over recent months and I realise that I tend to respond better to more pliable substrates.

I’ll keep you posted.

I’m craving some nice new yarns to sew with. Can anyone recommend sources of wools, silks, cottons or anything else that’s a bit out of the ordinary? I feel a trawl around the internet might be in order, but how much more lovely it would be have a shop nearby where I could touch and feel in person.

So, gearing up again now. Should be back in action soon.

Happy stitching.

Tipping the balance and planning next steps…

In which the shell inspired needlepoint heads for the finishing line and I start to think about the next piece.

Remember this?

I started trying out hessian as a needlepoint canvas, back in February. For the 10oz hessian, I sketched out a design roughly inspired be the shape and colour textures found in some shells.

Since I finished the Tree on the 7.5oz hessian, I’ve been back to the shell piece.

Every large tapestry I work, goes through development stages. In the beginning, every stitch stands alone, putting just a small area of yarn into the canvas. The unstitched area vastly out measures the stitched sections.

Then, gradually, sometimes achingly slowly, patches of stitching start to acquire their own texture – they become something promising, firm, solid.

And then, if you are prepared to stick at it, there comes the delicious moment, when you realise that the piece has acquired a life of its own – it suddenly possesses its own energy and you know for sure that you will fill every square in the canvas and that when you do, it will have knitted together to make something strong.

It feels like a kind of alchemy that transforms simple strands of wool and weak loose canvas, into something that firm and resolute.

This is the stage of stitching I love the most. Every new stitch, binds the whole together more and more. I’m seized by an urgency to see what it will finally look like. I get grumpy if I can’t find time to put in the missing stitches and I start turning down visits to the pub so I can stay in and sew instead.

I’ve just reached that stage with the shell piece.


You know what it’s like when you’ve been absorbed in a really good book and you can see that it’s coming to the end and although you want to know the ending, you also begin to wonder what you can possibly read next to fill the gap.

Well, I’ve found that with tapestry sewing, I need to have the next piece ready for me to start as soon as I finish the last one.

The shell is a big piece – roughly 45cm x 80cm – so the next one will be smaller. I need to have a rest from the big ones for a few weeks.

I’ve also decided to use up the white canvas, so I’ve spent the morning sketching out a new tapestry.

Stained glass continues to send trigger messages to my brain – I think that’s where this came from.

So I can see what I’ll be up to for the coming days.

Happy stiching etc.

Trying Out The Hessian

The girls are back at school this week, so at last, there’s an opportunity to start work on the new hessian.

Tree Design on 7.5oz Hessian

The first piece I’ve used, is the 7.5oz hessian. This has a very large hole and irregular weave. After I’d painted in some design guides, I ended up hemming the edges because it was already starting to fray.

Then I tried stitching it for a couple of hours.

I soon found that tent stitch didn’t work at all well. I think the size and unevenness of the weave made it pull up in a rather unpleasing way.

I unpicked it and instead, I started using some random running stitches to try and give it a bit more structure. That works reasonably well on the background, and I then tried randomly tent stitching into the vertical running stitch lines, which also felt quite effective.

I’m not sure yet though how to approach the tree itself. It needs more thought and probably some experimentation. The canvas is very light-weight, but will need a lot of stitching over – it seems to cry out for texture. I might even go into town and see if the knitting shop has any wool that might lend itself.

On the plus side, working with such big holes makes fast progress, so although it’s a big piece, if I can decide how to work it, it shouldn’t take too long.


This morning, I had the uncontrollable urge to tent stitch something – well it’s been a week!

So, I took out the 10oz hessian, and had a go at putting a design together.

Shell inspired 10oz hessian

I decided to hem it straight away, before I got into the sewing; this stuff really frays badly and as I can’t easily put it in a frame, I thought I’d give it a sporting chance and roll up the edges.

So, this is what I came up with.

I had a look in the box of colours and chose an assortment of paler colours to try out with this.

The colour palette - possibly.

I might change my mind when I get into the sewing, but I’m a bit tired of blues and purples at the moment.

I’ve got quite a few things to do today, (must buy more eggs for pancakes) – but hopefully I’ll get on with it this evening

Still Making Progress

Still making progress on the tapestry. Are you offended if I call it a tapestry? I know that technically it’s a piece of needlepoint, but I was brought up calling it tapestry and it’s a hard habit to kick. Plus, tapestry is easy to say, whereas needlepoint sounds more like a verb than a noun to me, whatever the dictionary says.

the early days…

Anyway, this is what it’s looking like today. Please forgive the light – it’s November and I live in a north facing house.

November 2011 – the end is in sight

There are still some juicy bits to do, but most of the large sections are in place now. The canvas is warping as you can see, but this is no problem, I’m sure I can stretch it when it’s finished, and considering the canvas is upholstery canvas, I’m very pleased with the way it’s held up.

I started this piece without too much attachment, but I’ve really fallen in love with it. I think the fact that it’s soft to handle, and the way it’s acquired a texture as I’ve worked it, have produced a tactile quality I haven’t felt before from standard needlepoint canvas.

It’s also far too big and thick now to fit into any frame that I have, so I’ve been stitching it in my hands, and draped across my legs most of the time, which I suppose helps you get close to the feeling of the piece.

Anyway, this was the last of the upholstery canvas I bought from the local car boot sale. I had a cursory look on the internet to see if I could source any more, but no luck. Does anyone know where I could get offcuts? I’ve become rather attached to this stuff and would like to explore it further.

Meditation piece completed.

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Well the piece of tapestry that I’ve been working on as my meditation piece is now finished.

I’ve really enjoyed the process with this piece. I think that knowing right from the start that the nature of the canvas would produce quirky and uneven stitches has helped me by removing any imperative to keep it going anywhere in particular.

All along, the feel of the canvas (a piece of upholstery canvas), has been one of my favourite things. Although I am now ready to go back to regular weave, and even probably willing to go back to a frame, the freedom to sew as the piece draped over me was very liberating.

During the working of this piece, I have experimented with Appleton threads and with a few from Renaissance Dying. The addition of these subtle colours to my yarn palette has sent my mind off into new realms. Now that I realise that it is possible to find the type of shades that I particularly want to use, I feel much happier to work on some ideas that would have been too restrictive with the yarns available to me locally.

I do wish it was possible to see the range of Appleton’s wools somewhere near to home – the nearest stockist, although helpful, only has some of the colours and keeps all of them in the stockroom, so you have to tell them the shades you want and then hope they have them.

I’ve been buying the missing shades that I wanted online, which is fine, but I really appreciate being able to see them in the flesh. I know I could buy shade cards, but even then, it’s not always easy to see how one colour might respond to another. I’ve started to dream up a little shop of my own. Who knows, maybe one day.

I’ve experimented a little here with variations and combinations of colours. Some I like and will want to do more with, others aren’t so appealing.

I’ve no idea now what to do with this piece itself. I expect for the time-being at least it will go, rolled up, into the bag I normally put everything into when it’s finished.