Creating textile art with Katie Essam

I am so excited to share with you today an amazing day I had last Friday in the company of the very talented Katie Essam and my lovely friend Lucy Bishop (of Mrs Bishops Bakes and Banter blog).

As most of you are aware I love to learn and am always seeking ways to improve my craft skills, so when Lucy and I met the lovely textile artist Katie Essam, at the Handmade Fair last September, I was super excited to hear that she ran workshops and jumped at the chance to go on one.

Her work is amazing, combining a multitude of materials including paint, wool and paper as well as the more conventional fabric that is usually seen in free motion work. I just knew a workshop with Katie would be an wonderful experience and a great learning opportunity.

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An example of Katie’s wonderful work – a bespoke boot family (photo by Katie Essam)

Luckily for Lucy and I, Katie is based just up the road from us, in Watford, so on Friday morning we headed the short distance up the M1 excited for what lay ahead.  Upon arrival the super friendly Katie welcomed us into her lovely home and we quickly settled in her studio to practice some sketching with the machine.

The freedom that lowering the feed dogs and attaching an embroidery foot offers is so satisfying, it turns the needle into a drawing implement allowing a line to be drawn in whichever direction you fancy (a rather disconcerting experience at first but awesome once you get the hang of it).   Having done some free motion work previously I took this opportunity to practice creating a blackwork style picture , using an adult colouring card as inspiration for this.

 

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 A scribble, a doodle and an attempt at a fox – practise makes perfect

We soon moved onto making decisions about our final piece, which we would be working on for the rest of the day.  I  decided to focus on animals as my inspiration as I was keen to include some of the needle felting that I had seen in Katie’s work and she had recommended something furry if that was the case.   During the week I had spent a couple of evenings sketching British wildlife and on the day, with Katie’s expert opinion to help me, I settled on a pair of leaping hares as the focus for my final piece.

Now the fun really began as we were let in on the secrets behind Katie’s amazing work and encouraged to apply them to our own pieces.  What a great time both Lucy and I had playing with fabric and transforming our designs into wonderful pieces of art. Katie was such an amazing teacher, she had prepared examples of her techniques for us to refer to as well as a handout to take home (in both a written and visual format – thank goodness as I am such a visual learner with this sort of thing!).  She was also really patient and encouraging throughout the day as well as being a generally lovely person and a mean jacket potato chef (which we had for lunch to fuel our activities).

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My sketches,  inspired by the wildlife of Great Britain

 

I loved having the opportunity to learn from such a talented artist and although I had been on a free motion course previously I gained a host of new skills from Katie as well as being offered some handy tips to help me improve my overall sewing skills when creating pieces at home.   It was also lovely to see my super crafty friend Lucy learning a new skill whilst creating a beautiful and unsurprisingly biscuit/cake themed piece.

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Sneaky peaks of the process – from template to stitched pieces (back view) 

We both ended the day hand finishing our pieces in our own individual style, with my hares getting fluffy tummies, tails and hind quarters using some wool fibers and a few stitches as well as a touch of pink paint in their ears.  These final touches, accompanied by the techniques Katie had taught us, really brought the pieces to life and I know both Lucy and I were both super proud of our completed work and can’t thank Katie enough for sharing her knowledge and skills with us.

The amazing effect of paint and fibres to bring a piece to life (photos by Katie Essam) 

Close ups of my completed piece – love how much detail I was able to achieve

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So proud of my pair of leaping hares – can’t wait to frame them

(second image by Katie Essam)

I definitely urge anyone who wants to learn free motion embroidery to book onto a course with Katie (even if you are less local than we were – it’s worth travelling for). Her workshops are tailor-made to your level of skill and she is such a lovely person who throughout the day is on hand for help, encouragement and inspiration. If you want to know more visit her website here.

I can’t wait to start my next free motion piece at home, the day has taught me so much and is really going to have a massive impact on the quality of my work going forward. Keep your eyes peeled on my social media platforms over the next month or so as I will be sharing my progress as I create my first collection of pieces to sell – so exciting!!

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A button bonanza…

I’m not really the type of person to make new year resolutions as I think that anytime is a good time to make a change in your life for the better. However, I do view the new year as an exciting time of anticipation, wondering what the year ahead will hold and if my ongoing dreams and ambitions will be fulfilled.

This new year I am excited at the prospect of making my hobby into something more (and in turn hopefully fulfilling a long held ambition) as I look forward to creating some freehand machine embroidery pieces and offering a few for sale in a lovely local bookshop. I can’t wait to take this first step in creating a little business for myself and am so excited to be collaborating with another local businesswoman (can’t wait to tell you more in an upcoming post).

For me this new year is a perfect time for this journey to begin as in the few weeks prior to the Christmas festivities I was in a stitching frenzy, creating some super secret gifts for my family and friends. Sadly, due to the top secret nature of these items a blogging drought was imposed upon me and the only indication that I had not disappeared entirely was a few sneak peaks of some of the makes on Instagram.

The inspiration for all of my Christmas gift makes was a lovely collection of buttons that I picked up when I visited the Handmade Fair back in September.  Each of these was intended to represent an interest or hobby of the recipient or to reflect their style and home life.  They included a pair of miniature scissors for a fellow crafter friend, a collection of cat buttons for the feline fans in my life and a little hedgehog for my green-fingered father.

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I always find that my creative juices flow better when I have a great starting point and these buttons were a perfect example of this being the case with each one inspiring a collection of designs.  This paired with my wonderful fabric collection, which also happily grew in the run up to Christmas due to a very bountiful fabric swap, meant that I was super excited to start making the designs into a reality.

In a mad couple of weeks before Christmas every night and weekend was spent finalising designs, creating templates and choosing fabrics as well as the wonderful creation of the seven pieces destined for a place under my friends and families Christmas trees. I worked as usual to the wire (under pressure is always better isn’t it!?) finishing the final piece on the 23rd of December just before the madness of Christmas was due to begin.

As well as creating a collection of pieces for the most important people in my life this intense period of creativity, across a diverse range of designs, really helped to build my skills in freehand machine embroidery which I think will be super helpful going forward.  I feel like I am on a crafting journey every time I sit down to craft  and am so excited about what the next few months will bring and the things I will learn.

I’d like to finish with a picture of my sister receiving her gift, which was a representation of her adorable cats who my whole family have fallen in love with (including myself – Mrs Cat Allergy Central!). I think these pictures do not need any further explanation, they speak for themselves and are the reason I love making and creating.

#AutumnSurpriseProject – making a weekend more wonderful

November seems to have whizzed by this year and it is only now that I am finally getting round to putting pen to paper (or should that be fingers to keys) and reporting in with the general bloggersphere.

It has been a funny month, I have been struck down by lurgy for some of it and for the rest have been trying to catch up as well attempting to make a start to Christmas preparations.  I have felt like I have been chasing my tail for the most part and even as December draws ever nearer Novembers list is still way off being completed.

However, despite all this a bright beacon has shone in the form of the amazing #AutumnSurpriseProject.  This is a lovely initiative organized by Lucy Heath through her wonderful blog and Instagram profile @capturebylucy.

Autumnsurpriseproject titleAs soon as I heard about it I knew I had to take part as the idea of random acts of kindness is something which really appeals to me. I can think of nothing better than increasing the amount of happiness and positivity in the world.  The collective impact of this project, which has been repeated with the changing seasons, cannot be underestimated and Lucy should be very proud of what she has created.

I could not wait to get started planning my surprise gift package to send to my project partner, a lovely London based teacher whose Instagram profile revealed a keen sense of style and a love to travel.  In the fleeting spare moments I could grab this month I have thoroughly enjoyed selecting and creating items to send to my project partner which were in part inspired by her love of wildflowers, the colour grey and sausage dogs.

As you may expect I couldn’t resist adding a creative element to my package and used free motion embroidery to create a some wildflower inspired fabric covered buttons as well as a sausage dog themed mini-cushion. The buttons in particular were a challenge for me due to their miniature scale and the fact that I have never attempted flowers before. I’m quite chuffed with the result and especially enjoyed creating the personalized tags to present them on, giving me a chance to use my ‘sarah kate makes’ stamp bought for me by mum for my birthday in July.

IMG_20151116_221825For my non-handmade gifts I added a lovely fragrant candle (another of my project partners loves) and an amazing ‘moodle’ book which I loved so much I had to buy one for myself too.

The concept of a ‘moodle’ is a doodle with the power to change your mood and for me personally seems a much better option than the ever popular ‘colouring for mindfulness’ which unfortunately, due to my perfectionist tendencies, creates more frustration than calm. I, of course, chose the ‘happy’ themed ‘moodle’ book and can’t wait to fill it with positivity and hope my project partner enjoys  her moodling moments too.

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The date for the exchange of gifts to be sent by was last Sunday, the 22nd November and I could not wait to see what my package contained and to send my package to my lovely project partner.

Having picked up my package from the post office the day before it was with much anticipation and excitement that I opened the unassuming cardboard box to reveal a selection of beautifully wrapped gifts, each labelled with a Bali-themed tag, a holiday destination which was common to both me and my project partner.

I cannot believe how amazing the gifts I received were, such thought had been put into selecting them, it felt as if they had been bought by someone who had known me for years.   Each tag revealed the reason the gift had been included. The first was a handwritten recipe for a Balinese banana cake ‘because I love to bake’, next was some awesome fabric ‘because I like retro patterns’ and finally there were some cute ‘handmade with love’ buttons ‘because I like to make things for others’ as well as a gorgeous ribbon spindle ‘because sometimes things can look too pretty to use’ (a sentiment which I definitely agree with here).

Opening these wonderful gifts definitely added a huge dollop of delight to an otherwise quite dreary dull day and I can’t thank Lucy Heath and my project partner enough for their combined efforts in creating this happiness.  In a world where positivity and kindness to strangers can sometimes be hard to find, a simple act like this offers a glimmer of hope and as my project partner said when she received her package from me it can ‘restore our faith in human kindness’.

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Tales of a secret stitcher…

Things have been a little quiet on the blog front recently as I have been busy crafting away in secret making a special gift for my lovely husband to surprise him with on our anniversary this weekend.

As we were celebrating our second year of marriage I decided to put my stitching skills to good use and create some framed textile pieces, as the tradition for the second anniversary is to give cotton gifts. I have been mulling the designs over for these makes since I first learnt to use my sewing machine for freehand machine embroidery earlier in the year and decided I had to create something for this special occasion. I knew that I wanted them to represent special memories from our wedding day and honeymoon and spent a good while happily scanning through our wedding album and honeymoon pictures sketching a few ideas. I finally settled on three images as the basis for my makes – our wedding cake (which was actually made from cheese), an elephant (from our visit to a sanctuary whilst on our honeymoon) and finally a special place from our beautiful venue ‘The Barns Hotel’ in Bedford.

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Over the last couple of weeks I have beavered away creating these makes in secret whilst Mr B was at work, snatching a few hours here and there. Delving into my now bulging fabric stash, with its lovely variety of textures and colours, made me so happy. I was able to find the right selection of pieces to use which reflected the autumnal tones we had for our wedding theme as well as the tropical colours of Bali, our honeymoon destination. Selecting these took almost as much time as creating the final pieces themselves as I had a very clear idea of what I was looking for and wanted all three pieces to complement each other as well.

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wedding cake make

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I was really pleased with how all three pieces turned out but my favourite has to be the riverside gate. This is a special place from our wedding day as it brings back memories of the precious time after we got married when Mr B and I had a moment to ourselves and were able to enjoy each other’s company and take in the beauty of our location by river, it really was blissful.

Gate & photo

We celebrated our anniversary last Sunday and Mr B really loved his gifts, so much so that they were mounted on the wall almost as soon as they were out of the wrapping. They have found their home on the wall by our stairs which is perfect as we can enjoy them daily and it has certainly been putting a smile on my face to see them and remember the memories from these special moments in our life.

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It is probably not surprising that these are not my first wedding related makes, some of my first sewing machine projects were made in preparation for our special day. I created a set of superhero masks and capes for Mr B’s stag do  as well as making our wedding ring pillow which included using some of the beautiful lace from my wedding dress. I also decorated some pumps for our surprise lindy hop/charleston first dance and created a special knitted version of Mr B and I which I gave him on the morning of our wedding day. As with the anniversary makes, these all hold special memories and are now treasured keepsakes.

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Luckily, it’s not the end of my wedding related makes either, as my little sister is getting married next spring and I have already offered my stitching services to her. I also cannot wait to share with you our wedding scrapbook which me and my super talented artistic sister have been working on together over the last two years on the few days when we have both had days off  and neither of us has plans (much harder than you’d imagine!) but I’ll save all that for another time.

As you can probably tell talking about weddings is just about my favourite thing to do and I’d love to hear about any special wedding mementoes you have, especially if they were handmade by yourself or gifted to you by a crafty friend or relative.

And the Award Goes To…

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As a newbie blogger I don’t really expect a whole lot of people to be reading my blog apart from my close friends and family but recently I have been feeling really pleased as its reach has started to extend a little beyond that and even beyond my own British shores.  It is lovely to feel part of a supportive and welcoming group of people and I feel like I have already found that in the blogging community.

It was from this lovely group of people that my nomination for a Liebster Award recently came, this was a complete surprise and I was super excited when it happened, my thanks go whole-heartedly to my nominator Amy over at MakeAmyMake.

The Liebster Award is a way of bloggers recognising other bloggers, giving them a virtual ‘pat on the back’ for their efforts and recommending their blog to others.  It is a lovely concept which I am pleased to be part of and am happy to answer the questions Amy has set for me – perhaps you’ll get to know me a little better through them too.

If you had a “craft super-power” what would it be? If I had a craft-super power it would be to be able to extend the number of hours in the day (a kind of time-travel I suppose) so that not so many late nights were spent finishing a project!

What is your favourite time of year? My favourite time of year has to be the Autumn. The American poet William Cullen Bryant sums it up perfectly when he said it was ‘the year’s last, loveliest smile’ and it is through the wonderful array of colours and beautiful evening light that I find my happiness at this time of year. It is also a season which holds fond memories for me as it is when my husband and I chose to get married.

What was your favourite project and why? My favourite project so far has to be my ‘London Calling’ cushion, it is my first commissioned piece and I loved creating a bespoke item which I know will be treasured.

What one new technique would you like to learn and why? I would like to improve my free motion machine embroidery skills and as well as continuing to create pieces I am also hoping in the new year to attend a workshop with the super talented Katie Essam who I met recently at The Handmade Fair.

What’s your least favourite part of the creative process? I think cutting out pattern pieces is probably my least favourite part of a project as it requires a steady and precise hand which I do not always have.

What is your craft space like? Tiny, it currently is a combination of the dining room table and a couple of cupboards in the living room. I dream of an organised craft room which I hope will become a reality within the next year.

Do you have a favourite place? I am definitely a country girl, not a city slicker and anywhere that is green and where I can be close to nature is my favourite place. Whilst I can’t pick one place in particular I love to spend time walking in the woodland, strolling by the river or ambling round a local park.

Have you ever considered turning your hobby into a career? Definitely, I would love to be able to spend more time being creative and really enjoy creating pieces for others so making a career out of it would be an absolute dream.

Do you have a favourite blog, store or site? My favourite blog has to be ‘Mrs Bishop’s Bakes and Banter‘ a lifestyle blog written by the lovely Lucy Bishop, a fellow Bedfordian and my blogging inspiration. As a business/store, I have been really inspired by Ellie’s Beautiful Mess not only for it’s wonderful products but also for the way the super-talented Ellie has developed a strong brand and built her success in such an organic way.

If you had to choose a favourite fabric, what would you choose? I don’t think I have a favourite fabric as such but I am quite picky about the quality of materials I use so would probably say anything that is a joy to touch and is not made from a manufactured material would be high on my list.

What city do you think represents your style? Not sure it represents my style but after visiting last year I fell in love with San Francisco, it has such an awesomeness about it, the people were friendly, the lifestyle was outdoorsy and the landscape in both the city and along the coast line was beautiful – I can’t wait to return to sunny California.

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A lovely part of this award is that I now get to nominate some blogs that I love and which I urge you to also take a peek at as they are awesome.

My nominations are:

KitchenTableSewing – the lovely Janet is the person around who’s kitchen table I learnt to sew, her blog is a delight to read sharing a combination of life with her four beautiful girls, her own sewing adventures and what happens round her kitchen table where she teaches others to sew whilst serving her delicious homemade cakes!

Ellie’s Beautiful Mess – as I already mentioned Ellie is a business inspiration to me, her felty crafting business had humble beginnings but almost a year later has blossomed into something truly beautiful. Her recently started blog offers advice to any budding creative business people as she reflects on her experiences over the last year.

Red W Sews – like me Becca is a newbie to sewing and I am really enjoying following her progress and getting inspiration from the projects she undertakes. I have serious stitching envy over her recently made Grainline Morris blazer, you must take a look, it’s such a great make.

Liebster Award Rules

In order to be eligible, a nominee must:

  • Acknowledge the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominator has set for you
  • Nominate up to 11 blogs with less than 200 followers that you enjoy.
  • Set 11 questions for your nominated bloggers to answer.
  • Let the nominees know they have been nominated by going back to their blog and notifying them.

My questions for my nominated bloggers are:

  1. Why did you decide to start blogging?
  2. How long have you been creating/crafting for?
  3. Where do you get your inspiration from?
  4. What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
  5. What was the latest skill or technique that you learnt?
  6. What is your ‘secret weapon’ – a piece of kit you couldn’t live without that others may not know about (if you’re willing to share)?
  7. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not being creative?
  8. What is your ambition for the future (personal or creative)?
  9. If you could choose another era to live in what when would it be and why?
  10. Early bird or night owl?
  11. Starter or pudding?

All the fun of the fair…

Smiles, sunshine and super stitchers, this only just touches the surface of what can only be described as one of the best days of my crafting life so far.

All the fun of the fair

Decisions, decisions – so much to see, so little time x

After being the selected as the lucky winner on a giveaway post run by Melonberry Vintage on Instagram a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in possession of two complimentary entry tickets to The Handmade Fair 2015, the brainchild of everyone’s favourite crafter, the lovely Kirstie Allsopp. To paraphrase this year’s event annual it is ‘a celebration of learning new things, meeting like-minded creatives, indulging in passions and finding inspiration’. These words could not be more perfect in describing the day I spent with my lovely friend Lucy (of Mrs Bishop’s Bakes and Banter fame) whose passion for all things crafty is equal to mine.

The sun shone brightly and smiles were definitely firmly placed upon every person’s face throughout the day, as we explored the two shopping villages thoroughly and made the most of the day, upgrading our tickets and attending some additional sessions led by crafting experts. The first of these was a Grand Make run in conjunction with artcuts, where along with a tent full of fellow crafters we made a hanging wooden dove embellished with delicate stamping and sparkly decorations. It was a quick, simple make that had a delightful outcome and I have already decided that will make a perfect gift for someone special in the near future.

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My completed hanging dove – such a lovely make x

After pausing for a short refreshment stop we entered the ‘Super Theatre’, a big top style tent which immediately drew the eye with its fun red exterior and built excitement in all who were due to visit it’s mysterious interior in which we would get to be within a stone’s throw of the revered Kirstie. In our session of choice Kirstie was talking to the talented author and illustrator Lauren Child about her passion for doll’s houses and miniatures.   This was a great choice for both Lucy and I as it combined my own enjoyment of creative and intelligently illustrated children’s books and Lucy’s newly found passion for doll’s houses, which she has humorously been sharing recently over on her own blog.   It was a fascinating discussion which gave an insight into Lauren’s creative process, sharing her passion and wonder at using miniatures and the origins of her use of mixed media.  The focus was unsurprisingly on her version of ‘The Princess and the Pea’ in which the illustrations cleverly combine miniatures, paper dolls and mixed media backgrounds.  Kirstie and Lauren were joined by the amazingly talented miniaturist Pat Cutforth, a lady who has been Lauren’s own inspiration and mentor in the creation of all things miniature since her childhood.  It was such a pleasure and privilege to be privy to the secrets of someone’s creative process and to understand where their passion originated from.  It is so easy to forget that everyone was an amateur at some point and that their journey to success, with its own stumbling blocks, may not be so different to the creative path you are carving for yourself.  Both Lucy and I left the tent inspired, with our brains filled with the amazingness of creating tiny versions of real life and hoping that one day maybe we could learn a little bit from Pat too (luckily courses with her are available).

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The Super Theatre experience was amazing – such inspiring women x

The early start and busyness of the morning meant that quite an appetite had developed by lunchtime and we were ready to explore the food court located at the centre of the show. This boasted an impressive twenty caterers offering a wide range of cuisines for every taste and appetite. I opted for the traditional British tourist’s day out choice of a sausage sarnie which definitely hit the spot.  Whilst sitting on our chosen picnic bench, outside the delightful ‘Super Theatre’ big top, the atmosphere of the day was so apparent, the usual awkwardness that the British public generally has towards each other was completely washed away as our common interests seemed to make everyone who attended feel almost like familiar friends.   We shared our bench with a lovely mother and daughter couple who we chatted away to like old mates and were the reason, due to their eagle eyesight, I managed to get my copy of the adorable ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ book signed by the very understanding Lauren Child, who I think was just packing up ready to have her own lunch as I approached her.

Our learning journey came to its completion with a brilliant skills workshop, led by Caroline Preston, where we were taught to make an delicate origami butterfly as well as a pair of interslotting triangles for a larger sculpture being created by Caroline. As an origami amateur I was so pleased with my finished butterfly and give high praise to Caroline for her teaching, it was perfectly paced and pitched for us beginners with a satisfyingly complicated looking outcome. Caroline was also super friendly and clearly excited to have a tent full of people to share her expertise with.

Origami workshop HMF

Concentration and calmness descends upon the tent

as the Great British Paper Folders get to work!

With such an amazing day being had already it could only get better and the rest of our afternoon didn’t disappoint.  We did not know as we entered the shopping village that the most exciting part of the day was yet to come. After only a short stroll from our chosen entrance we found ourselves stunned into awed silence as we happened upon stand E4 – where the one and only Tilly stood before us. Like giggling school girls we approached the sewing superstar and chatted for a short while about her inspirational influence on novice sewers like ourselves, as well as sharing my thanks to her for pointing me in the direction of the wonderful Janome DKS100 which I purchased primarily based on her own recommendation (read more in my recent review).  My lasting impression of her would have to be a combination of her down-to-earth loveliness along with my surprise at how tiny she truly is!

Meeting Tilly

This actually happened, eeeeek!!!!

The rest of the afternoon passed in a flash of fabric induced happiness as we browsed both the shopping tents, chatting away to the ever friendly stall holders. This included the wonderful Katie Essam, a young textile artist whose free motion mixed media pieces were such an inspiration for a newbie like me, I shall most definitely be booking myself on one of her courses soon.  My budget for purchases was exceeded slightly but this is not something I feel at all guilty about, I figured where else am I going to find such a variety of quality sellers any time soon. My fabric stash is well and truly well stocked, material has been bought for a couple of patterns I have been waiting to make (Tilly’s Bettinne and easy PJ bottoms) as well as a huge array of scraps and bundles for my future free motion projects. A few notions later and I finished the day with only a few pennies left in my purse but brimming with ideas and excitement for future projects.

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My fabric stash – beauty and inspiration galore x

Before we knew it, sunset was fast approaching and it was time to say goodbye to The Handmade Fair. Like any memorable and happy day the time had passed too quickly and as we strolled past the gates of Hampton Court Palace on our way to the train station we vowed to return next year to do it all over again, perhaps over two days this time so we can fit in even more crafty experiences.

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AWESOME – definitely the write adjective for this day, good choice Lucy x

London Calling…

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With the kids back at school and the end of the holidays seemingly a distant memory (even though it was only a few short days ago) this week has had a strange feeling about it. Social media has been full of smiley faces in new school uniforms and shiny shoes as opposed to the busyness of holiday time where the smiles reflect the adventures being had at home and away.

The nervousness of a new term is something I am fully aware of as a primary school teacher. At some level all involved are nervous; the teacher who worries about settling their little charges in and making them feel secure and happy so that the exciting learning journey can being with gusto; the children whose natural sponge capacity and inquisitive nature can disappear into the background a little while they get used to their new surroundings, new routines and the new expectations put on them as they grow older; and last but by no means least the parents, nervous as they let their little ones hands go and send them into school to be someone else’s daily companion.

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Smiles on the first day back from my gorgeous niece and nephew x

The end of the summer for my sister in law and her two little ones has brought more nervousness than usual with worries about the new term being overshadowed by the impending surgery their mummy is about to undergo the following week.   After suffering for all of her adult life with the debilitating disease endometriosis she has made the difficult decision to undergo surgery to remove her womb and enjoy a future where she can be happy and pain free everyday with her ‘miracle’ children, who she never expected to be able to have.

For my gorgeous niece and nephew who have had a wonderful holiday with their mummy this nervousness is no surprise. Parents like teachers are in their eyes invincible, people who don’t get ill or need looking after by others.  I can relate to this feeling, as a child I remember feeling scared and worried every time my Mum had a migraine and had to lie down in a dark room without any disturbances, until it passed.  It was with the knowledge that these feeling would arise that my sister in law approached me during the summer break and commissioned me to create a free motion textile piece for her to share with her little ones before she goes in for her surgery.

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Seven weeks of smiles and adventures…

The theme of this piece was to be London and reflect some of their favourite places to visit particularly along Embankment. After a few quick sketches, a basic design was decided upon with the key features being the iconic and familiar London landmarks of the Eye, the Gherkin and the Houses of Parliament.  I was excited to begin this project, not only because the reason for its commission has so much meaning but also because the subject also reflects a part of London that is close to my heart and always at the top of the list when we head into the big smoke.

The real work for this piece began with turning my scrappy little sketch into a more defined and detailed drawing. As with my seaside inspired pieces from earlier in the summer, the finished piece would be a cushion and so this determined the size it.   It is at this stage that I really got a feeling for the design as I created a to-scale image from which I then made templates for the final textile piece.

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From scrappy initial sketch to detailed design

My excitement grew as I surrounded myself with my many fat quarter bundles and ever growing collection of fabric scraps from various projects. I am very much of the mind set of waste not, want not, keeping almost every last piece of fabric however small with the determination that one day they will be needed for a project.   Whilst happily sitting in this sewing squalor (thank goodness Mr B was at work and didn’t witness the creative chaos) I set about choosing fabrics for the individual features of the design. I had been trusted with choosing this aspect of the design without any further consultation and I had decided upon a mainly funky modern feel for the iconic buildings with a more muted tones for the river itself.  After a thorough rummage through my fabric collection I had found a good selection of materials which fitted this bill and was ready to begin the best part.

Sitting at my sewing machine ready to begin is probably the post nerve wracking part of the whole process as it is the moment when you are committing to the design and your fabric choices and there is no turning back. For me, as well, with only a few projects under my belt and with my skills still developing, the nerves are ever present as I hope that it will turn out how my imagination intended it to. The process of free motion embroidery also means that unpicking any mistakes is costly and time consuming which it is best to avoid.

As the piece progressed it organically took its own path, even as a self-confessed perfectionist and planner, I enjoy the fact that sometimes ideas develop whilst working on a project and this was certainly the case with this one.  After completing the Eye and Gherkin I began work on the Houses of Parliament. Apart from the grey fabric, I had not decided anything else about this part, but once the other two landmarks had been completed finishing Big Ben and detailing the buildings with blue and pink thread and fabric seemed like the obvious and only choice.

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Finally it was time to complete the river aspect of the design and although to an idle passer-by these features are just incidental in comparison to the main attractions already completed, these are some of the parts I am the proudest of.  I wanted even these features to be recognisable and had studied images of the railings and walls along the river and tried to include these in my design.  I probably spent almost as long completing the railings at the bottom as I did on both the Gherkin and the Eye put together. Each railing was completed individually, cutting the thread after each one!! Whilst being consumed in this repetitive process my reel of thread ran empty, thankfully I had some to replace it (a small miracle as I do not have many thread colours at present!).  The lamps on either bank followed and last but by no means least it was time to create the stick people.  Although stick people are probably one of the easiest things to draw, using a sewing machine to draw one is not quite so easy so it was with trepidation that I approached this task.  I initially only intended to have a family group on the top pathway but after practising on some scrap material and to my surprise finding that I was able to reproduce my little people I decided to create a busy riverside scene more reminiscent of the real thing, with wooden benches, a bicyclist and a mother pushing a pram along the bottom pathway. To be honest this is probably the part I am most proud of as it really brought it to life and added that little something I didn’t know it needed until I reached the end.

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Probably my favourite part of the piece x

Having reached the end of the free motion embroidery work, creating the cushion cover itself happened in a flash and the piece was complete, with a complementary London themed fabric from My Fabric House used as the back cover, a lucky find which really finished it off nicely.  Completing this piece has probably been some of the most satisfying sewing I have done to date, I love the process of designing a one of a kind piece and am learning to allow a piece to grow as it is being created. I have to admit I am sad to see it go but am happy to think that its recipients will get as much joy from it being theirs as I have from creating it. The fact that it will help to ease a difficult time in their lives and be a lasting reminder of their one of their favourite places, I couldn’t be happier to send it to its forever home.

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Finished and ready for its forever home xx

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