Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Somerset Stitch - New Beginnings

Easter is always a time for new beginnings for many.  Having spent the past few weeks 'spring cleaning' my stitching world, I think it is high time that I unveiled the results of my efforts so far.  When I started out on my Sowy Stitch adventures pretty much 4 years ago to the day, little did I imagine just quite where they would take me.  I have met many wonderfully creative and inspiring people and I have got to know my home county of Somerset a whole lot better.  I decided a little while back, that it is high time that I retitle my world of stitch to reflect more as it now is.  My new world of Somerset Stitch is very much work in progress and I'm sure will take me on a whole new set of creative and exciting adventures.  I would be delighted if you would join me on http://somersetstitch.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 30 March 2015

Stitching Spring Clean

It's that time of year to brush away the cobwebs of winter.  Suddenly those dusty corners become all important and once you start tackling, you start to notice more!  After starting early this year on my stitching storage, I've gone one step further - well actually a rather big step.  You may have noticed info I've posted suddenly disappearing from this site and if so, there is method in my spring clean madness.  I've decided that I need a little more than tackling my dusty IT corners and I'm going for a whole new room!  It could be a little while to get all the coats of paint on my new IT space and the furniture in place.  I'm enjoying looking at the emerging spring greenery whilst I work and I can't resist a little break now and then for creative stitching.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Somerset's Creative Coast Event

The Somerset coastline has amazed and inspired me hugely this past year and the wonders I have found have been many.  On my first outing to unchartered territory last spring, I was wowed by clouds of evening primrose as I strolled through the dunes at Berrow Sands.  How I could have missed out on so much creative inspiration for so many years is a bit of a mystery.  Still as I always say - better late than never!

This past month has brought a whole new set of wonders with the lowest tides in Somerset for 200 years.  This has provided a fabulous opportunity to look at rarely exposed coastline and that which is not normally seen.

My own most exciting find this month was on Porlock beach - this strawberry anemone.  Yes these really can be found in Somerset!  Had I waited until the tide came back and had an under water camera, I would have see a very impressive display.

The Somerset Wildlife Trust are hosting all manner of coastal events this year with excellent opportunities to find out lots about Somerset's curious coast.  I'm delighted to be taking part in their 'Somerset's Creative Coast Event' in Porlock this May.  Do come along and be inspired and stop by to see what I've been up to with my creative coastal stitching over the winter months.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Stitching 4 Somerset Coastal Days

Spring is in the air and I'm emerging early from winter hibernation!  As winters go in the UK, it has been pretty mild with some gloriously sunny days.  Even so, perhaps I'm tempting fate just a little casting off layers in early March!  Recently in Minehead for a new workshop at That Little Craft Shop my mind was very much on Somerset coastal days to come in 2015.

Ok I know that Somerset waters can be a touch muddy and brownish, but trust me there are stunning views to be found and yes the water can be blue too!
There are sandy beaches that go on for miles that you often don't have to share.
Plus there are rock formations in West Somerset that give the Dorset Jurassic Coast a serious run for their money!
All this thinking about beach days brought on a hand stitching session to make a pair of espadrilles after recent inspiration at a 'Prym' trade stand.  They are really easy to make and even buying the Prym bases, they are still economical enough to have multiple pairs!  I'm very much looking forward to bare legs and feet sometime soon to wear this pair.
And of course a sturdy bag is vital to carry all those 'must have' supplies on a beach day.  It struck me that my recently acquired Prym leather bag bottom and handles would make up a perfect beach bag.  Made with a furnishing offcut and a cotton remnant, this bag is also bargain make.
I'm sure that I'm not alone anticipating the promise of coastal days in the year ahead.  All I need now are some splendid sunny Somerset days and I'll be off.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Inspirational Prym Products

For all the tough blows that the recession dealt, a resurgence of learning crafts has to be one of the pluses that emerged from the ashes.  Not so many years ago, the decline of crafts felt like the end of was nigh for making with hands in the UK.  Just the book stands alone at a Craft Trade Show I attended this weekend shouted loud and clear that the fortunes for 'making' has massively changed.  There is no doubt that crafts are back in vogue and much to my joy, stitch sits firmly at the heart of this resurgence. 
As I'm sure you've noticed, the magazine aisle at your local supermarket gives testimony to just how popular stitch has become again.  I've had a number of my stitch projects published by Traplet Publications of recent years and so I popped by to see their stand.  I'm delighted to have a project included in one of their new 'Bookazines' - their last Bag, Beads & Brooches Bookazine was really successful and with 50 makes with full size patterns at £8.99 is excellent value for money.
Once you commit to a craft of any kind, it doesn't take long until storage becomes a burning issue!    Personally I'm a lover of natural fibre storage, however even I have to admit that there are occasions where plastic boxes come into their own - like transporting to textiles around in the UK winter!  My love of colour immediately drew me to the Really Useful Boxes stand with this seriously impressive display.  The next time I'm in need of plastic storage I'll be sure to check out their offerings.
I have a way of working a show which starts with me covering the entire offering at speed and venturing back to whatever stands catch my eye.  There was one stand for me at this particular show that shouted out too me and this was 'Prym'.  I'm a long standing advocate of Prym habadashery and even with my modest approach to purchasing, I have a fair few of their quality accessories in my tool arsenal.  Intrigued to by the workshop title 'Bag Bottoms', I secured the last ticket wondering quite what was I was about to be told.  As a minority UK stitcher who rarely partakes in the Great British Sewing Bee, it took me longer than most to recognise the workshop tutor Tamara Melvin who was a finalist in the 1st series!

Tamara introduced the workshop to Prym bag bottoms, which with their matching handles ensure a sturdy and easy bag make every time.  Even as a seasoned bag maker who likes to make from scratch, I was seriously impressed.  For anyone who hasn't made a bag before and wants to a simple design that looks professional, Prym handles and bag bottoms are an excellent place to start.  What a lucky girl I was to be given a complete set to try out.
The sky's the limit in terms of decoration to add a little something to this interesting design and I'm pondering as I type what my theme will be. 

The display that initially caught my attention on the Prym stand was these espadrilles.  I was transported back to my teenage years in an instant and the thought of designing my own pair this summer was very appealing.  What a creative and practical way to use up smaller pieces of fabric and I'm already anticipating great fun working with fellow Somerset stitchers to design theirs.

And if your stitch persuasion is more fibre related, you too could have a pair or espadrilles made by your own fair hand.  My kit is already on order and I will be offering espadrilles using the Prym soles up as a workshop project too - once it becomes time to bear my legs to the elements again that is!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Applique with Fusible Webbing

I was reminded at my first workshop at Poppy Patchwork in Westbury on Trym last weekend just how many different types of fusible webbing there are - between 8 stitchers, 4 different types were brought along for applique projects!  Fusible webbing may all look pretty much the same, however, like us humans it does require handling to fit with specific characteristics!

To be clear in case you don't know, fusible webbing is a glue product that adheres fabrics together - permanently - the latter word is important to keep in mind!  Most fusible webbing looks at first glance like greaseproof paper.  On closer inspection you will see that it has a rough side which is the glue - tricky to see sometimes and easier to feel with your finger tips.  The brand names on offer include 'Bondaweb', 'Heat'n'Bond', 'Misty Fuse' and 'Wonder Under'.  Also just to add to the confusion, large fabric shops often stock their own equivalent brand.

The aim for all types of fusible webbing is to get the glue off the paper onto the back of fabric using an iron.  When creating applique, this will be the back of your applique pieces.  Now I have an order of work that I have found to be the most effective for doing this and it goes as follows.  First of all draw the appliques shapes onto the paper side of the fusible webbing.  The most important point at this stage is that you must draw/trace a mirror image of your shape.  Also I strongly recommend that you leave a small gap between each of the shapes.

Next you press on the fusible webbing onto the reverse side of your chosen fabric, rough cutting out the shapes if necessary to make the best use of fabric.  Check before you press that you have the glue side down and ALWAYS place a sheet of baking parchment or greaseproof paper over the top.  Fusible fleece can be a devil to get off the bottom of an iron and worse still, if you don't notice it's there, you can permanently mark your work or your best dress when ironing next!  The webbing is adhered with a pressing, rather than an ironing action.  Start with a reasonably hot dry iron - sometimes it only takes a few seconds of heat and other times you may need to hold longer.  If that doesn't seem to work, up the heat a little if the fabric will take it.  And if that still fails, add in steam -  I generally only use steam as a last resort as this can pucker the paper backing and distort the shape.

Once the fusible webbing has stuck firm, you're ready to cut out your shape with a sharp pair of small scissors and then peel off the backing paper.  The obvious approach to this is to pick at one of the edges until the backing paper lifts.  This can work, but sometimes the paper is stuck fast and picking at the edge can make it fray.  My advice is to get yourself a pin and push it through the paper somewhere centrally on the shape until the paper lifts and tears a little.  Then feel with your fingers to determine if the glue has moved from the back of the paper to the back of the fabric.  If yes, tear the backing paper completely off and if no, press further with the iron until the glue transfers.

At last, time to press your shape into place on your fabric - remembering to get it in the right position first - it is very unlikely you will be able to peel off and reposition once the iron has melted the glue.  As before, always use greaseproof or baking parchment to lay over the top and start with a hot dry iron, adding extra heat and steam if necessary until the applique shape is firmly stuck. 

If during any part of this process the worse thing happens and you do get fusible web on your iron plate, stop to remove it as soon as possible.  Scraping the iron is not the way to go, as this damages the iron surface and my recommendation is to keep a tube of this excellent iron cleaner from Lakeland to hand - and use in a well ventilated room!

All's well that ends well and despite initial reservations by my students this weekend, all mastered using fusible webbing with ease.  Fusible webbing holds so fast that stitching is actually optional, although very much adds to the finish.  Fusible webbing is a great product to get to grips with for applique and all manner of other fabric uses.  Once you've mastered you will be sure to have at least one brand tucked away in your sewing arsenal.  Which  brings me to my final tip, don't hang on to this product too long as it can dry out and be less effective as it gets older - we all know about that! 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Textiles in Castle Cary Somerset

In the same way that it is vital for cooks to understand food sources, I believe this to be equally true for stitchers and textiles!  Sadly the opportunities to observe textile manufacturing first hand in the UK are few and far between.  I was therefore highly delighted to find a 180 year old working textile mill within 45 minutes of home and I and a group of fellow Somerset stitchers were off like a shot for a guided tour!

John Boyd Textiles has been weaving horsehair in Castle Cary Somerset since 1837 and now located at Higher Flax Mills, is one of the last remaining weavers of horsehair fabric.  Horsehair may sound a strange material for weaving and those without knowledge might reasonably anticipate a dull resultant textile.  I have every confidence after my visit this week that I can show otherwise.  For starters, just look at the colours that horsehair is woven in!

The stages to achieve this juicy selection are many, beginning with 4 years for a horse to grow a tail to full length.  After cutting, there are stringent cleaning processes to be applied and then like human hair, a generous dollop of conditioner is applied to bring out the shine!  The natural blond and dark brown hair is then woven as is, or is dyed over a week long process into one of many colours.  Threading the traditional loom was an art to behold in itself, be it with cotton, silk or flax to create warp threads upon which to weave the horsehair lengths.  This is the biggest difference to traditional weaving, in that the weft thread is not continuous and thus the fabric width is limited to the horsehair length.  The available array of fabric colours, patterns and textures are not limited and the results from combining warp threads with a horsehair weft are exciting and vibrant.

Original 'picker' looms are still used by John Boyd Textiles to each weave around 3 metres of horsehair fabric per day.  With weaving ancestors from the 1800s, I was transfixed as I watched the old looms in action, knowing that the scene I was beholding was akin to everyday life of great great grandparents.  Horsehair fabric started out as a functional and durable fabric that could be created using cheap resources and labour.  In times past, train and tram passengers would have used seats for many a year made with horsehair fabric.  John Boyd horsehair fabric is now exported world wide for high-end furnishings and wall coverings and examples of modern use can be seen in the Pump Rooms and The Georgian House in Bath.   Castle Cary Museum at the Market House also explains about the manufacturing history, although sadly not open until April.

Even on a blustery January day, there are other things in Castle Cary itself to occupy those with a discerning eye.  The beautiful mellow stone buildings of the town host what has to be the most charming selection of shops that I know of in Somerset.  Textile lovers will without a doubt be enchanted as my group was to visit 'Needful Things Interiors' on the High Street.

They stock a truly sumptuous and vibrant collection of interior fabrics to drool over.  The staff there were wonderfully friendly and much to my relief, highly tolerant of a group of very lively and enthusiastic lady stitchers descending on them for an hour!

So much excitement required some serious sustenance and Mother's Little Vintage Tea Room was a very fitting stop off for our nostalgic outing.  Delicious food, a demure waitress and surroundings that whisked you back in time made for a very enjoyable lunch experience.

I cannot speak highly enough of the businesses my group came into contact with on our outing to Castle Cary this week.  From the staff at John Boyd Textiles and shop owners in the town, all were genuinely friendly and helpful in a way that is so often lost in the modern world of business.  For a day out with interest, history, fun and heart, you will not beat a day out in Castle Cary Somerset and I strongly recommend making an opportunity to sample sometime soon.