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!!

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.

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.

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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.

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

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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.

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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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