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.

Details/Close ups

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.

 

blackwork

 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!!

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.

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.

autumnal colours

wedding cake make

elephant

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.

mounting pictures

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.

wedding makes collage

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.

Wonderful Weekends – The Handmade Fair, Hampton Court

Meeting Tilly

Some weekends are for chilling in your pyjamas and watching your favourite movies, accompanied my whatever munchies you have to hand, these are nice enough and are definitely needed every once in a while. However, other weekends  exist for making memories, this can be due to an unexpected occurrence which sneaks up on you and gives you that smile on a Monday morning that everyone notices or it can be a planned occasion which you have been looking forward to for weeks. These weekends to me often not only offer memories to cherish but also inspiration and are a little reminder that life really is good.

Last weekend was one of these weekends and although I have already blogged about my experiences at The Handmade Fair in my last post, this was only half the story. I couldn’t mention everything I saw and experienced on this wonderful day and I’m not sure Mr B wants all my pictures to fill up our yearly photobook so I have decided to share them here.

I hope that there are many more reasons to share my #WonderfulWeekends – spreading some positivity and happiness can only make the world a better place x

floral collageCrochet cutenessinspiring women collage

sunshine, snacks and smiles

exhibitor inspirationWorkshop makesyellow and teal fabricNotionsfabric collage

Red tone fabrics

Inspiring sellers cards

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.

hanging dove collage

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).

super theatre collage

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

If at first you don’t succeed…

This week’s crafting has been mainly about taking note of the old adage described in the title of this post as I have been busy designing and making a range of mini-totes.

The story of these mini-totes starts with a slight obsession I have developed recently with fat quarter bundles. There is something so appealing about a set of complimentary fabrics bundled together ready to be made into whatever takes your fancy. These bundles can be bought quite cheaply from most places you’d normally get fabric and provide a perfect excuse for creating mini-makes (my favourite kind of make of all).

Fat quarter bundles

A selection of my fat quarter bundles

Whilst perusing my selection of fat quarter bundles one evening I had the idea to make a mini-tote based on the one I originally made when I learnt to sew. Having never adapted a pattern before I decided to dive straight in and resize the measurements so that they would fit a fat quarter piece of fabric. This took a bit of jiggery-pokery with the calculations (not my strong point) but eventually I came up with some measurements which would create a pattern which was about two-thirds the size of the original.

Adapting pattern

The original tote and pattern – with my added scribbles!

Feeling chuffed with myself for my lucky maths, I set about making the prototype mini-tote from some cute cat print  and a contrasting green interior fabric. The thing I really like about this pattern is that it is has a wide base so that it can sit flat and not fall over when it has items inside and the fact that it is lined which gives it durability as well making it visually appealing with the contrasting interior.

Adapting the pattern, cutting and sewing the fabric took me well into the early hours, however, it was worth staying up late as the prototype turned out surprisingly well. The only change which I decided I would make for mini-tote number two would be to widen the straps so their proportions matched the original version better.

Prototype tote

The prototype mini-tote

A perfect tester for my prototype was found in the form of my four year old niece who over the weekend ran it through it’s paces by filling it with all manner of girly items and taking it out and about with her.

Whilst discussing this first make with my sister in law I decided that as well as widening the straps I would add an internal pocket to fit small items into. The original pattern for the larger tote included an external pocket, however, due to the restrictions of trying to fit the pattern onto a fat quarter sized piece of fabric this was not possible on the scaled down version so, for this reason as well, an internal pocket also seemed a good idea for the mini version.

Prototype bag

Plenty of room for lots of girly bits x

The next day’s sewing involved designing and creating an internal pocket and adding this to mini-tote bag number two. By a happy accident, I was also able to create a small purse from a wrongly sized first attempt at a pocket (I forgot to add a seam allowance). The purse is definitely a work in progress and may be the next project I work on.

Steps to success

Creating mini-tote number two

mini tote 2 and purse

Completed mini-tote two and its matching purse

I have since gone on to make two more mini-totes from the same fat quarter bundle (and intend to make one more this weekend) as well as another purse, plus a pink and black version using some fabric from another fat quarter bundle.

Purse 2

A more grown up version of the mini-tote and matching purse

Mini totes

Which is your favourite mini-tote? 

I have really enjoyed making these mini-totes and feel proud of myself for managing to overcome some difficulties I faced and for successfully adapting a pattern (thanks goes to Janet at KitchenTableSewing for the original). My mini-tester certainly enjoyed using the prototype and has since become the recipient of the new improved version with internal pocket and matching purse, much to her delight.

Sun, Sand and Seaside Inspiration

I have recently returned from a wonderful week in Cornwall, staying at Trevornick Holiday Park. Whilst Mr B and I were away we enjoyed celebrating my Dad’s birthday with him. I was particularly looking forward to this day in our holiday as I couldn’t wait to give him my gift.

My Dad has recently bought a shiny new caravan and has been enjoying his retirement exploring the beautiful countryside of Great Britain having some very relaxed weekends away and short breaks. I therefore decided that a holiday/caravan themed present would be perfect for his birthday this year and after my wonderful time learning to free motion embroider with the lovely Cathy of Dear Emma Designs (read about it here), I have been itching to create more pieces of textile art and this seemed like the perfect reason.

Something I found I really enjoy with free motion embroidery is spending time designing and developing an idea before creating a piece. With my Dad’s presents I decided I was going to make two envelope cushion covers with free motion embroidery fronts, one with a seaside theme and the second with a caravan theme.

Seaside/Holiday themed cushions

Dad’s holiday themed birthday presents

For the first cushion I initially sketched a few ideas of seaside themed scenes before settling on a seagull based image. I then spent a lazy Saturday morning looking at pictures of seagulls on Google to get to know them better and used these initial sketches to create more stylised seagulls with a bit more character for my final design.

Although quite time consuming, it is so satisfying to build up the picture – taking time to choose the materials from my ever growing collection of scrap fabric, create templates to cut out the individual shapes and then finally layer and sew them with a variety of coloured threads.

Seagull cushion collage

The time consuming but so satisfying steps to creating the final piece

I am really pleased with the finished results and was so chuffed when I saw my Dad’s reaction when he received them. I know they have found a happy home in his caravan.

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                                 Dad’s reaction to my handmade presents made me so happy x

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The cushions in their new home

Our break away offered lots of inspiration for more creative pieces with a seaside theme. We enjoyed some beautiful sunny days exploring the wonders of Cornwall, visiting the stunning beaches and fishing villages and of course indulging in the obligatory cream teas and fish and chips.

Seaside inspiration collage

Sunny seaside inspiration from beautiful Cornwall 

Scones

Cornish or Devon style?

Fish and Chips

Nothing more delicious than freshly caught fish accompanied by chips – yummy!

When the sun was shining it truly felt like we could have been abroad, especially when we visited the amazing beach at Holywell Bay which was literally walking distance from the holiday park we were staying at.

Holywell Bay, Cornwall

Could be abroad with that sky and sea 

Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end and so after a lovely relaxing week we returned to the slightly less sunny Bedford. The only recompense for the post-holiday blues that will inevitably descend upon us is that my sewing machine is now close at hand ready for me to create some more seaside inspired pieces – I can’t wait!

Have your summer time jaunts given you crafty inspiration?

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