Wednesday 30 July 2014

Plastic Fantastic: The marvels of melting

Beautiful butterfly collage

Yesterday I ran a melted plastic decorations workshop at The Hut, which is part of Brampton Community Centre. It was a bit of a wet and grey morning but this worked out well as the session was over subscribed so very busy, a few more than I anticipated but it kept me busy! Last year I ran a similar session at The Kirkgate Centre in Cockermouth as a drop in workshop. The session was for children and there was quite a wide age range. Because of this I'd planned two activities so that they could choose what was most suitable for them.

Arranging bits and pieces

Laying the pieces out

Another collage ready to melt

The first option was plastic bag collage. This involved collaging and then fusing pieces of plastic bags together to make pictures or abstract compositions. Some of the children made really complex collages and there were some really fun ideas.


Cat collage

The right trousers!

The second option was to crochet chains and then arrange the chains into shapes before melting. Because it was quite a large group it was difficult to have enough time help everyone with this but all the parents, grandparents and carers were really helpful and some of the children picked it up really well and made some really long chains!

Learning to crochet

Finger crochet

Chains arranged into a flower and melted

My main aim for the session was to give the children and their carers a fun and creative activity that they could experiment more with at home. As all that is needed are plastic bags, an iron and some baking parchment it is a cheap and easy thing to experiment but with a bit of skill and practice complex patterns and pieces can be produced. I've been melting plastic bags for about ten years now and I like the element of transformation and slightly unpredictable nature of it.

Fish Collage

Fish Collage #2

Monday 28 July 2014

Wedding Bits and Bobs

Celebratory Bird

It is once again the season of weddings and we've had two close together this year. Both of them were close friends and both incorporated a lot of handmade loveliness so it was only natural I suppose that somewhere along the line I would get drawn in! I always like working on personal commissions and special occasion pieces as it is nice to know where your work will end up and I like to think that the little bits that I make go to helping make the whole occasion even more special.

Little bags

Bead and charm detail

Bead and charm detail

For the first wedding the lovely bride had done almost all the handmade bits herself but asked me to make a couple of little purses for her bridesmaids to wear round their wrists to keep all their essentials in. I used satin fabrics in the wedding colour scheme and finished off the bags with some heart shaped beads and little key charms. I did have a cunning plan of using bangles for the handles but it all went a bit awry so instead I used pretty ribbon and made them into drawstring pouches.


Dress clips

Gathered jacket

I also replaced the buttons

The second wedding was very much a handmade affair with almost everything made by the couples friends and family. My contribution was altering the wedding dress, a lovely vintage piece with a lacy over jacket. I gathered up the jacket at the back to add a bit of structure and interest and made a corsage to finish it off. I also made some little clips so that the long dress could be (elegantly) hitched up for dancing and merry making!

Bird and Heart

Eye detail

Heart detail

As gifts for both couples I made bird cushions with hearts embroidered with their names and the date of the wedding. I forgot to take pictures of the first one but you get the idea from the second one! These birds are based on the one I made for another wedding commission earlier this year. Last, but not least, congratulations to both couples and may your lives together be happy and joyful.

Friday 25 July 2014

The Summer

The finished quilt

It is that crazy time of year again when I face the challenge of putting together The Heathlands Project Textile group quilt. Every year I say this is the last one but at the start of the week I found myself once again stitching like a crazy thing to get everything completed and sent off in time. It is, of course, all worth it in the end. The group puts so much time and effort into the project and they are so proud of the finished pieces and the fact that they are displayed down in Birmingham that soon the aching back and sore fingers don't seem to matter much!

Corner detail

Edge detail

However organised I am there is always a last minute rush as people want as much time as possible to get their contribution finished, which generally leaves me with minimal construction time and so sometimes the finish isn't quite what I would hope for. That said I'm always pleasantly surprised by how well the work of so many different people comes together to create a unique and beautiful piece of art. I always ask the guys to choose a theme and colour scheme at the start of the project so that there are common elements throughout everyone's work and the group are now quite used to working with each other.

Main panel (detail)

Character detail

For various reasons the group has been a bit disrupted this year but they have still managed to create a piece of work full of interest, skill and charm. I like all the little characters that have emerged in this piece; the group choose 'The Summer' as the title of the quilt and there are lots of beautiful flowers blooming across its surface and little animals hiding all around.

Border patch

Detail from main panel

The quilt consists of a main panel embellished with fabric pastels, appliqué and embroidery surrounded by batik and embroidered border patches. The quilting consists of cross stitches in the corners of the patches. All the fabrics were tie dyed by the group at the start of the project. I like running the quilt project with the group as it is a chance to try new techniques and for everyone to work together to create something special. The quilt will be on show at The Festival of Quilts down at the N.E.C in Birmingham in August after which we will find it a home at The Heathlands Project.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Responding to Pattern on Fabric

Framed Small Bird Embroidery

I ran an embroidery workshop at the weekend and, as I usually do, used it as an opportunity to try out a couple of new ideas and make some new samples and pieces. I often use my own drawings as a starting point for embroideries but one of the comments I frequently get in workshops is 'but I can't draw.' Now, I personally believe that everyone can draw, however, I do not want to put people off and if they have come to do an embroidery workshop it is only fair to ensure the focus is on that rather than drawing. So, I started looking at pattern in fabric and using that as a starting point. I had some lovely Ikea bird print fabric left over form a dress I made ages ago and decided to start experimenting with that.

Experimenting with threads and stitches



The fabric is white with line drawings of birds and some printed taupe areas. I began by colouring in some of the birds to act as a colour guide and a more interesting base to work on. I then experimented with different stitches to fill in the coloured areas and complete the birds.

More experimenting


French knots

During the workshop the participants wanted to try reverse appliqué so I started off another sample using this technique. I layered up some patterned fabrics and then put the bird fabric on top. I then began stitching around parts of the bird shapes and then cut the top layer back to reveal the patterns underneath. I'm pleased with how this piece is starting to look and am looking forward to doing a bit more work on it.

Reverse appliqué and embroidery bird

Stitch detail


I really enjoyed working these pieces, they are a lovely way to experiment with stitches and explore different thread, colour and stitch combinations. I am continuing to work on them and looking forward to seeing what new ideas they may spark.

Monday 21 July 2014

Exploring Embroidery and Appliqué Workshop

Appliqué and Embroidery experiments

I had a lovely day at The Hut on Saturday running an Embroidery and Appliqué workshop. Although there were only a few participants there was still a good atmosphere and as the numbers were low I was able to give each participant more of my time and attention and even do a bit of stitching myself.

Some of my samples

All set up and ready to stitch!

As I wasn't sure how much experience the participants would have I kept my planning for the workshop quite open so that I could easily adapt to what people wanted. I took a wide selection of samples for people to look at and asked if there was anything people particularly wanted to try. Reverse appliqué was a popular choice so that ended up being the main focus of the workshop.

Choosing, sorting, selecting, arranging

Exploring different options

I like my workshops to be relaxed, enjoyable and above all give people the chance to be creative so I encouraged everyone to experiment and try things out. Luckily the group were very open to trying new things and were really positive about giving things a go. As always I enjoyed seeing how each person came up with something so different even though we all had the same materials and starting point.

The first cut

Suffolk puffs

Stitch experiments

By the end of the day each of the participants had a lovely piece of work that although not necessarily complete was well on the way and everyone had tried something different. As I often do after sessions like this I felt tired but happy and full of ideas and enthusiasm for my subject.

Flower experiemnts

Suffolk puff detail

Reverse appliqué detail

Reverse Appliqué and embroidery piece

Reverse appliqué, appliqué and embroidery


One of the things that I've taken from this session from a professional point of view is that it would possibly be good to offer more specific workshops; appliqué is such a huge subject area that it could be easily broken down further allowing people chance to develop more specialised skills. For example, one session could focus on reverse appliqué and another on shadow appliqué. And as for embroidery you could spend moths or even years on just one stitch!

My sample piece