Friday, 20 May 2016

FOOTNOTE : My 'Mrs.Christie Mice'

Footnote ; My ‘Mrs.Christie Mice’

I have written a little footnote about the mice I went on to sew simply because I recall so fondly this first project. It makes me smile more than anything now because at the time Trellis Stitch used for the mice in Mrs Christies original presented such a mystery that I had to abandon it in favour of Stem Stitch! I remember reading and re-reading her instructions and just not understanding them at all! What’s more a friend and I spent an entire afternoon trying to find modern instructions within the books I had for sale in my shop (my own library wasn’t as vast as it is now!) to no avail. What’s more my friend was just as baffled
Mrs.Christies version now at the V&A
Ten years on, and it is the first time I have considered that first piece. I smile and think back to those days before the internet as a mainstream part of our lives and then it occurs to me to give it a whirl through Google. A quick search on Pinterest and to my utter delight there is a colour picture of the original now housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum! At the time I worked from the black and white plate below and was rather delighted that my colours were not at all dissimilar! I remember those notorious pages 59 and 60 of Samplers & Stitches : ‘TRELLIS STITCH, Figures 87-89. – Though nowadays an almost unknown stitch, Trellis is unusually attractive.’ …I don’t think it actually crossed my mind at the time that if it was unknown in 1920, I hadn’t a cat-in-hells chance of finding it in 2006 never mind by such limited means! However rather joyfully a quick Google throws up several You Tube videos and dozens of examples of workings!

The Plate that started it all!

Despite having never embroidered in my life, part of me at the time felt that I had rather ‘cheated’ using Stem Stitch but I look at it now and am pretty chuffed that the shading all seems to point in the right direction never mind the fact that I was using Pearsalls silk which was probably one of the most impudent threads a novice could use, so perhaps I shouldn’t beat myself up too much!.......

Embroidery Heroines 2 : Mrs Grace (Archibald) Christie

Embroidery Heroines : Mrs Grace (Archibald) Christie

I have to confess, until the age of 36 I had only made clothes, enjoyed Needlepoint and was recently introduced to Cross Stitch. It was only after opening my needlework shop and meeting some very clever embroiderers that I decided that I simply could not miss out! I was introduced to the local Embroiderers group who were holding an exhibition that year and in fact it was an off shoot of this organisation comprising of a group of rather fearsome elderly ladies who I really have to thank for encouraging me to sew something in the first place. A serendipitous trip to my favourite second hand book shop resulted in picking up a book by a Mrs. Archibald Christie called ‘Samplers & Stitches’. It looked a little austere and the pictures were black and white but the diagrams looked easy to follow..…and this was the real seller…..I loved the wee line drawings of little animals accompanied by sewing paraphernalia between each of the chapters!....Then the black & white plate between pp.58 and pp.59 of mice (a rodent for which I have a particular partiality) saw my fate sealed ….that was to be my first attempt at embroidery!

Grace Christies’ father, Rev. James Chadburn , was a congregation preacher in Poplar and as well as being active in many London artistic activities, became the founder in 1900 of The Central School of Arts and Crafts (later to become Central St.Martins.). At the same time Grace married an architect who was Professor of Design at the college whose ‘Traditional methods of pattern designing’ was published in 1929.

Meanwhile Grace taught at The Royal School of Arts & Crafts  but whilst she rubbed shoulders with many born of the Arts & Craft Movement including William Morris’s daughter, May, she had very specific ideas about embroidery as an Art which did not necessarily conform to the latest designs of the movement just mentioned. It is hardly surprising therefore that  given her artistic pedigree and marriage. Grace was to become one of the most significant proponents of embroidery at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

For Grace ‘The best kind of work is that which appeals to the intelligence as well as the eye, which is another way of saying there should be evidence of mind upon the material’ (p.31 Embroidery & Tapestry Weaving 1906). For her, earlier works should be hunted down in museums and studied for colour co-ordination, stitch techniques and subject matter but not slavishly copied. She believed that simple outlines and designs could be taken from historical works and freshly worked but insisted that subjects should be ‘interesting’ as well as ‘attractive’.

I went on to collect her earlier book ‘Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving’ from 1906 (her first publication) and realised ‘Samplers and Stitches’, was an updated version published in 1920 and explored the application of stitches within simple sampler pieces. I am also lucky enough to own a rare bound copy of her run of ‘Needle & Thread’ magazines published in 1914 in association with the silk manufacturer Pearsall’s. Grace in no way disrespects simple, rough-hewn ‘homely’ works as she calls them, but insists that all women should be given the tools to strive for the best creations possible. Indeed she has no high notions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ embroidery such as was argued for Fine Art and just books of the era bare out, she was a great advocate of bringing as many practical sewn items into the home as possible! What she wanted was women to think of each piece of embroidery they undertook as a virtuoso piece of work; a studied, thoughtful design of their own making translated intelligently into a beautiful, balanced and colour coordinated sewn piece.  

Neither was she expecting perfection – far from it! ‘…character , gesture , grace, colour’ matter more than ‘perspective, light and shade or modelling of form’ which she branded as ‘misdirected energy’! Given I am spending hours over an interpretation of wild roses and honeysuckle, each petal of which is taking more than an hour  to complete, this made me smile! Whilst she admitted the observance of nature was a thing of merit, she dubbed it ‘commonplace realism’ because she saw it lacking imagination!

The Stitch Glossaries in her books are a fascinating insight into the development of stitch ‘groupings’ and of stitches themselves. I have scoured the pages for the official name of the ‘Knotted Stitch’ on p.124 of ‘Embroidery & Tapestry Weaving’ and by 1920 the same diagram in ‘Samplers & Stitches’ is called ‘Coral Stitch’! Yet her stitch directions are more than just pictures and instructions ; they incorporate usage, their basis in history and differing workings which may – or may not – be as effective. Hers are not only the practice, but theory of stitches written in a day when books were read properly rather than glanced over to get the quickest result.

Grace Christie could not be more different from Erica Wilson. Grace, who died in 1953 was about study, design, discipline and being the very best practitioner possible whilst Erica who’s career started in the mid 1950’s was about getting Embroidery out there to a new age of Embroiderers. Hers was spontaneous, non-prescriptive and informal but her own talents were no doubt both influenced and guided by Grace as one of the first true scholars of embroidery. She inspired many women through her teaching who would go on to write books just as she had done and put forward new ideas and methods of working which continue to keep Embroidery alive and fresh in the 21st century.  Likewise historians still admire the extensive research she did on medieval embroidery and her works can still be studied at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. For me personally….I have everything to thank her for.

FOOTNOTE : I have written a Footnote about my first piece of embroidery inspired by Mrs. Christie as a separate entry. I do hope you enjoy it! .....

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

My Embroidery Heroines : Erica Wilson.

Embroidery Heroines : Erica Wilson.

Recently I have been delighted to re-claim my needlework library which has been in boxes for a couple of years but a few books were too precious to ever be consigned to a box and have been my constant and trusted reference throughout my sewing career. Strangely however, it has  only been in their unpacking  as a whole, that I have looked back at the importance of those books which had been spared the burial, and sewing authoresses  with whom I had built a relationship over pages and through the assistance of stitch diagrams and decided that I would dedicate a couple of Blog articles to them.

Erica Wilson has been my inspiration from the start. I picked up my first of her books, ‘Erica on Embroidery’(first pub. 1975 when I was just 5!) in a charity shop. Her large, clear stitch diagrams, and easy explanations became the foundation of my own kits and as a newcomer to the art back then, so she taught me to understand exactly what was needed to help and inspire other new embroiderers.

Born in 1928 in Tidworth, Wiltshire(a place I know so well!), Erica was born into an itinerant high ranking army lifestyle and after spending her infant years in Bermuda, returned to be raised in England and Scotland. It is Erica’s far sighted mother we have to thank for seeing her daughters aptitude with a needle and so it was that Erica became a star graduate from The Royal School of Needlework. During her time afterwards as a teacher there, she accepted an offer to set up a needlework school in Millbrook, New York. She flew off in 1954 and what was meant to be a year, turned into a marriage to an equally talented designer of furniture, Vladimir Kagan, in 1957. Amid a life of bohemian creativity with her books numbering on the best sellers lists, several shops, regular columns and a BBC television series,  she raised 3 children and lived and worked next to Vladimir in the same upper Park Avenue apartment in New York for over 40 years before her death in 2011 at the age of 83.

I had never found any of this out until now and was intrigued to find her television appearances on You Tube! It was the oddest of experiences; she looked younger than her 40 plus years, tall, elegantly dressed, perfectly coiffured hair and with a still impeccable aristocratic English accent combined with the odd charming American word or terminology. I found her mesmerising; Oh! That I could manoeuvre a lap frame with such poise and grace! Yet as she was in the flesh, so are her books.  There is, or rather, was, nothing of ‘stiffness’ about her. Her mind-set, for all her formality of breeding or training was that if you have a piece of cloth – any cloth – and a piece of thread – any thread – and a needle, then you have the capability to sew.

I get the impression that Erica saw her riches of her enormous success as a happy accident. Her passion to translate what can be a very exacting and formal art, into a widespread pleasure for anyone to undertake, came in an era when bold colours and large designs could be worked and adapted with much less convention. She made Embroidery popular but not crass or tacky and she encouraged those she touched via her books or on the television to be their own designer. Her books are full of love ; love of her family (her  children frequently feature as both models and anecdotes , and her work is often combined with her husband’s amazing furniture), love of history, art and nature inspired in her designs, love of design and pattern, and love of her art and her wish to bring it to everyone. She never mentions specific brands of thread and fabric can be an old bit of ticking, pillow case or pair of jeans. Her embroidery is utterly egalitarian which given it is regularly quoted that she and her husband saw themselves in later years as ‘old hippies’ makes me think the  ethics were always there!  


Further research brought me to the last of Erica’s shops which still remains in Nantucket and is run by her daughter, Vanessa. Her other daughter, Jessica is a jewellery designer and her son, Illya is an artist. Sadly Vladimir passed away just this month. The Facebook (links via page for the shop is full of charming pictures and tributes to Erica and it is lovely that not just me, but all new generations of  embroiderers can find out about this remarkable lady – who knows – we may one day see her books re-published.

Her books can be found on Ebay and Etsy although her newer books from the 80’s are generally only available in America.

Crewel Embroidery 1962

The craft of Crewel Embroidery 1971

The craft of Silk and Gold thread Embroidery 1973

Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book 1973

Erica on Embroidery (Alsocalled  NeedlePlay)1975

Ask Erica : About the ABC’s of Embroidery  1977

16 Needlepoint designs from the new world of plastic canvas 1977

More Needleplay 1979

Erica Wilson’s Needlework to Wear 1982

Erica Wilson’s Smocking 1983

Erica Wilson’s Children’s World 1983

Erica Wilson’s Knitting Book 1988

Erica Wilsons Brides Book 1989

Erica Wilsons Needlepoint 1995

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off : Part 3 : Making the Kissing Ball

The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off  :

Part 3 : Making the Kissing Ball 

The Basics.

Finished Kissing Ball
This is a basic overview of how to make a Kissing Ball. There are not set colours or indeed, type of fabric and you may blow the patterns up to a bigger size should you wish to do so. I used some silk fabric remnants, 5 colours of silk thread and vintage pearl beads that I had in my vast collection. I used a sharp embroidery needle and a long, thin beading needle.
 An embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut makes sewing a bit easier. This can be a simple, round hand-held budget one. They comprise of two rings, an inner one and an outer one in-between which you capture your fabric. The outer ring is then tightened with a screw and nut and the fabric pulled taut.
 If you are handy (or lucky enough to have a handy woodworking Hubby!) four lengths of wood glued together to make a square frame is also good. The fabric can be pinned tightly onto it with drawing pins. (Also check out Siesta Interlocking Bar Frames! They are fantastic for this type of project and very cheap!)

Transferring the design.

Print off the above templates and shrink according you the size you wish, making sure both designs arethe same. Mine were about 5 inches – so quite small. Trace the design onto your fabric using a fine pencil. Most silk and linen is quite fine and see-through but you can also use a commercial light box (available cheaply at craft shops or on line), or place the fabric and template on a glass table with a light shining from underneath to light up the lines of the template. Taping to a glass window also works but is a bit tricky.

The solid line of each panel is the inner line within which you sew the design and is folded and sewn along when putting the ball together later. The broken line is the outer line over which the pattern is cut once all the panels are sewn.

I did not back my fabric with calico as is customary when embroidering.

 To Start and Finish your threads.

For tiny pieces like this I don’t mess about with waste knots….use a simple knot at the end of the thread and trim off the end of the thread from the knot. When the thread runs out, finish your threads by neatly finishing through your stitches at the back.

Sewing the patterns.

Please forgive my lack of stitch direction chart ; it takes an  inordinate amount of time I simply don’t have to produce the charts like those in my kits, so further investigation on You Tube and a good stitch book will give clarity to my instructions here on the Blog. I do apologise for this. I hope that you may follow much from the pictures I show.

I have simply used Stem Stitch for stems, Silk Shading within all the solid parts of the designs such a ribbons and petals, and French Knots within the centre of the flowers. The black and white pictures of the original designs give an idea of light and shade and where to change your threads from light to dark shades or visa versa. I used a single strand of embroidery thread throughout and I also had to use a magnifier so you may wish to work in a bigger scale! Because of the tiny nature of the design, I did not Split Stitch the edges of the Shaded areas as is customary, however if you decide to work on a larger scale, use 2 strands for your Stem Stitch and French Knots and Split Stitch the edges of all the areas you work your Silk Shading as you would normally.

A note on Silk Shading.

Silk Shading is very much an art form and because of the tiny nature of the design, many formal rules have gone out of the window! The main thing is to work the way you see fit and in a manner which gives you the results you want.

Start each leaf from the base at the stem towards the tip following the curve of the leaf. Each flower petal is worked in the direction of the numbers of a clock ie. the stitches on the top petal stand upright and as each petal moves around, so does the stitch direction. There is nothing wrong by marking the direction of the stitches with a pencil. Ribbons are the same ; work around the curve of the ribbon.

Make your stitches as random and blended as possible, splitting into the threads that you work over with your needle by a good two thirds of their length so you aren’t making any nasty ‘ridges’ of sudden colour.

Work the stitches at the edges over the outlines and ‘tuck’ them behind each other to give a nice fluid outline.

A note on French Knots

Here you have the advantage if you have been taught via my kits, but I will add the note that you only use one wrap – despite what books tell you! I have shaded the centre of the flowers with both dark and light yellow.

A Note on Stem Stitch

Keep these tiny and neat, tucking each stitch behind one another.

Adding Beads.

I used old pearls but as long as the outline of the pattern is covered, you could use sequins or just sew them with Satin Stitch using a gold thread.

Making a Twisted Cord.

You can use a lovely velvet ribbon as a holder but a cord is very easy to make as follows….Using some rayon (shiney) crochet thread or matching silk, place about 5 full strands (containing 6 threads)together measuring around 60-70cm. Catch them all together and holding each set of ends in each hand, twist them together. Try not to let go of them! When they become tight and are about to knot, fold them together by taking them all in one hand and using the other to pull the cord straight. Let the threads go loose whilst still holding the ends and they will spiral together and form a cord. Tie a knot in the end to the desired length.

Sewing Together and Finishing.

When you have finished, cut around the dotted outlines ready to sew together!

This is the trickiest part but once you get the hang of the stitch, you will find it really easy. The Stitch used to sew the panels  together is called Ladder Stitch and it is a wonderful stitch to learn as it is incredibly versatile and used in Box Making and any situation where panels need to be sewn together without the stitches showing.

 Each panel is sewn together along the solid line which surrounds the design. Both Silk and linen is lovely and soft and creases nicely in order to follow the shape and sew the ladder Stitch. Pick up two panels  and fold the outer fabric of each inwards to the solid line and press it firmly between your finger and thumb .Place them together, right sides outermost making sure the tip of each segment lines up exactly together …...

 Ladder Stitch
1. Secure a knot in the bottom of the thread and with panel edges pinched together, bring the needle up through the crease at the tip of the panel nearest to you

2. Pull the thread through towards you and on the crease of the opposite panel take a tiny stitch along the crease pointing towards the line of the seam.

3.Pull the thread through lightly and come back placing the needle into the crease nearest to you again. Don’t pull the stitch at this stage.

4.Keep creasing the panels along the curve of the line with finger and thumb and carry on taking tiny stitches in the creases from each side alternately.

5. Every couple of centimetres pull the thread down to pull the stitches together and close the seam. Magic!

6. When you get to the end of the panel, pick up the next one, fold along the line and match to the tip of the next folded edge and repeat the Ladder Stitch down the next seam.

7. As the ball forms, at about 2.5 cm before finishing the final panel, fill the ball with toy stuffing (and  or scented pot pouri). Pack it well to get a good solid ball shape.

8. Continue closing the seam with Ladder Stitch but just before the top where all the panels  meet at the top, take the cord, or ribbon, fold and place the knotted ends into the top of the ball and finish the last few stitches, catching the thread through the cord or ribbon to secure it. The looped cord or ribbon should be nice and central.

Original Kissing Balls - See Explanation in Part 2

Friday, 25 March 2016

The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off : Part 2 : Sewing back in time.

The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off  :
Part 2 : Sewing back in time.

Just to Re-Cap
My choice of project really came down to wanting to make something that  whilst able to stay true to 18th century techniques , threads and stitches, could be understood in a practical way today. The glorious (and somewhat more hygienic) paper tissue have rendered handkerchiefs superfluous and most of the splendid embroidered items of choice from TLM are now rendered outmoded or impractical, much as I would adore to teeter around in embroidered shoes! Some weeks ago I purchased an embroidery book of the 1880’s and thought what a pity it was that so many of its projects had been so diluted over time. Disregarding fashion items, there were fire screens, table covers, mantle covers, chair covers and every impossibly laced and over embellished receptacle possible for the sitting room, parlour, study, nursery and bedroom known to man. In fact you could safely say that no surface was safe from the possibility of being embroidered, beaded or crocheted.

 I decided on a Kissing Ball for a no more intelligent  reason than because its oval segments fitted the patterns I chose from  the embroidered shoes!  Strictly speaking  the zeal of the Puritans between the 16th and 18th centuries eradicated decorations until the somewhat more jovial Victorians resurrected the art of celebratory symbolism that Kissing Balls evoked. Balls of foliage were soon translated into stitch (along with everything else, it seems!) and became wedding trinkets. Formerly made from left over pieces of lace and beads and given to a bride, they are undergoing something of a renaissance today.

Light and Sight

Strip away the front kitchens and back bathrooms of my savagely converted Victorian mansion house, and you reveal the tell-tale signs of a home built before the illumination of electricity.  The majestic open hall and staircase curling upwards, with vast stairway and landing windows would have been doused in light on a day like today (not to mention the long gone stained glass from the front door and hall window coating the walls and tiled floors with colour).The buildings South fa├žade has vast  floor to ceiling bay windows in front  of which both my dogs are currently  reclining in the sun. Although this house was built a little under a century after TLM was in publication, the principle is the same; that before I had undertaken my Kissing Ball, I had taken for granted the limitations of natural day light (especially during the short, gloomy winder days). Having kept the designs to just a little bigger than the original at 3 inches or so, I was ever mindful of how on earth ladies completed their work with merely the aid of a large window or a candle! I would have been utterly bereft without my daylight lamp!

 Developments in optics really didn’t spring to life until The Enlightenment when newspapers were becoming more widespread. Spectacles were handmade and certainly within the reach of our wealthy ladies but yet again the rise of industrial processes meant that by the 1830’s they could be purchased readily form travelling Hawkers and opticians alike. Conversely the female readership of TLM may have been susceptible to the vagaries of fashion and may have preferred to squint! The silk shading technique which I chose to use was regarded at the time as one of the most accomplished of embroidery techniques, and much praised however it was by no means an unusual one or one reserved for professional embroiderers. What’s more plainer White Work or Tambour Work which was also popular at the time was just as hard on the eye and would have required just as much visual clarity. From captivating trips to the Bath Museum of Costume in my home county, hours on-line perusing sewn items of the time and recently revolutionizing my own vision with my first pair of glasses for close work, I find the achievements of 18th century embroiderers frankly astonishing.

Leisure time.

My time spent sewing did not fill long hours of refined leisure. My time was pre-planned, squirreled away from daily commitments of business.  They were not sunny and peaceful hours with the audibility of simply the birds singing in the garden, the wisp of wind through the trees or rain on a window pain or the cheerful voices of (equally refined) companions. Save for the noise of servants or the trot of hooves to blight their peace, the upper class ladies of TLM sat and sewed unencumbered with the time restraints of us 21st century woman and noise of the modern world. I sat sewing to the sound of constant passing traffic, the siren, next doors damn hedge trimmer, overhead aeroplanes, road works , a radio being played too loud. I paused for the text messages, the sales notifications and the people demanding my immediate attention. The Facebook updates, the Twitter updates, the BBC news updates and the Etsy Updates.

I paused to take photographs to upload to Social Media within seconds for thousands of people around the world to Twitter about and share on Facebook. From the quiet, solitary pursuit of the 18th century embroiderer, here in the 21st century I am a paradoxical mix of solitary yet social embroiderer with the ability to share my work within huge circles remotely through a mobile phone just a bit bigger than my hand.

I did wonder though if the joy of sewing was the same now as it might have been between the 1770’s and 1830’s? Though wealthy ladies were educated, suitable feminine disciplines were as restricted as dress corsets and leisure was a social status full of the restrictions of rank and good breeding. Sewing may have been seen by more ambitious lady as a sedentary, passive chore. These days, despite having less of it, leisure is roughly speaking associated with time for pleasurable things we choose to undertake. Many relate their experience of embroidery to nostalgic memories of their mothers and grandmothers.

Between the times that TLM was being published, a massive revolution in industry was taking place which made materials such as needles an everyday tool rather than prized gift. By the end of the 1800’s needlework was mainstream for girls who were educated at schools and books and paper were a part of everyday life for the masses. As TLM discontinued, other women’s publications and those dedicated to needlework alone became available to the new and aspiring Middle Classes and continued to become available to every class of woman.

Embroidery is no longer the preserve of the wealthy and leisured and as the success of the Stitch-Off shows, it is as popular as it has ever been. Although so much time and so many advances in industry, technology and social demographics have taken place, the physical act of embroidering has not changed a single bit. Although some techniques such as transferring patterns have adapted over time, frames, threads and materials have hardly changed. Likewise although institutions such as The Royal School of Needlework formalised   their procedure, stitches have remained the same both in colour theory and practice.

Our dress, manners, and surroundings may be very different from the ladies sewing between the 1770’s and 1830’s but essentially the art of embroidery is the manipulation of threads and stitches to transform the plain outline of a pattern into a unique masterpiece and this is as true now for the participants of the Stitch Off as it has been since needle first touched cloth and so it will be for future generations.  

Next Time : The Kissing Ball Workshop : Patterns & How to make

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off : Part 1 : Sewing back in time.

The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off
Part 1 : Sewing back in time.
At the start of the year I came across a wonderful project at Kent University’s English department being led by Dr. Jennie Batchelor. The Lady’s Magazine (pub 1770-1818) Project, funded for two years by The Leverhulme Trust ,  seeks to index and understand the genre of early women’s periodicals
From this The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off  was born ; a project I found irresistible to take part in given my passion for women’s history (I read Humanities with the OU and am a ‘MA wannabe’!) and have a personal assortment of historic domestic journals and magazines on subjects from birth control and smoking to letter writing and housekeeping.
Jennie Presented five patterns from 1796 and another three from 1775 were kindly shared by Radio 3 presenter, Penny Gore all ranging from gown and cravat designs to waistcoat, handkerchief and shoe patterns, giving modern day embroiderers the unique opportunity to interpret them as they wished.
Although I wanted to work in traditional materials , rather than actually replicating the 18th Century using a large trestle frame, wearing a corset or working in natural light, I wanted to compare myself sewing under modern day domestic circumstances. Given I can’t time travel, and I am not a proper historian I can only make rough guesses  as to the differences I observed and hope that those more qualified than me will see more obvious analysis that my limited academic knowledge has missed! More than anything this is a needlework blog, and in order to keep things light, I may not be as detailed in my facts or assumptions, so do forgive me if you are one of the interested academics reading this and please do feel free to place your thoughts in the comments below for all to read that I may be redeemed!  I will refer to The Lady’s Magazine throughout as ‘TLM’ for speed!
Where to start?
I chose the shoe patterns and after much chopping and changing, settled on their shapes being perfect to translate into a ‘Kissing Ball’*, having designed and made a similar fabric globe last Christmas.
That  TLM was a magazine for women is obvious however in a pre-industrial age when paper was expensive, transport links limited and literacy only partial, we may correctly assume that it was a publication for the educated, wealthy and cosmopolitan lady with leisure  and cultivation to  dawdle at the piano or take up her needle.  Many original patterns from TLM sadly do not survive and neither can we know how many were actually sewn, or perhaps, given their means, handed over to the professional embroiderer given these patterns were probably disseminated as the fashionable ‘must have’ designs of the moment.
We take it for granted that we are bombarded with print, and our portable hand held devices are jammed with wi-fi printable images every second of the day! One of the very reasons so  few patterns from TLM have not lasted was from the limitation of their ability to be traced or replicated. They were offered as ‘Pull Outs’ which if not easily traceable upon through fine muslin or gauze,  were rendered fragile by using  the  ‘Prick & Pounce’ method, whereby tiny holes were pricked over the outline of the pattern and dried ink, wine or ground Cuttle fish were rubbed into the holes using a roll if felt or soft cloth resulting in the reproduction of the pattern through the holes. By comparison, I printed the patterns from my computer, enlarged them, traced them onto clear acetate with my indelible pen, scanned the patterns on the acetate onto my computer, resized them and printed them off onto tracing paper ready to iron onto my silk! This process took all of 30 minutes and has made the individual trade of pattern copier which existed in the 18th Century long redundant.
Tools of the Trade
Next come the materials. These have changed very little but remember at the time of TLM we are talking pre-Industrial Revolution ; Needles have not strayed in shape but rather than being the prized handmade objects, often given as gifts are now massed produced and cheap to purchase. So too with then precious fabrics such as silk. Although still a luxury fabric, mine was just a couple of pieces screwed up with a pile in a box, totally taken for granted! Mass produced silk from India and China make it an affordable surface upon which to embroider as well as wear.
For the purposes of research I tried to find silk threads locally but not one was to be had! So it was that a hop on my computer, a few clicks in and out of my favourite on-line sewing shop, and a day’s wait secured me some silks although the colour shades  on my screen were not  as precise the ones which turned up and occasioned a moments disappointment! Silk threads however, though can be very cheap if purchased from India, are still quite a luxury and only a few places still sell a large range. These days we have dazzling, cheap Stranded Cottons and amazing silk substitutes which make the use of silk in needlework much scarcer. Together with my French silks I used Pearsall’s silk which started here in the UK in 1795, about midway through TLM publication but sadly no longer with us today.
Rather than working sedately at a large embroidery floor standing frame or Tambour Hoop (round from ‘Tambourine’) on a frame, usual at the time of our publication, I used a frame of four interlocking bars and I attached my silk with drawing pins which sat in my hand.  Here I mention an interesting point about ladylike posture. Large skirts and corsets made feminine  manoeuvrability  pretty limited and to be honest, given I find floor frames quite uncomfortable to get my arm over the top, I wince at the effort  whilst wearing  a laced corset. Ladies of course had to sit nicely to look like models of virtuous modesty and no doubt any  ambitious mama of the time would be utterly appalled at me sprawled out on a bed sporting leggings, a saggy jumper and my partners socks let alone my pajamas at 5pm on a Sunday! However, this is the 21st Century and that is how I roll! they say these days…..

Part 2 : Next Wednesday……..

For more details and to have a go yourself, visit the following link or find the lady's Magazine Project on Twitter and Facebook   


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Hints & Tips on teaching needlework and craft classes for the nervous!

The very first time I taught a class I was so nervous, I spent most of the hour before sat on the loo! It was 2008 and the downturn had hit and it was a case of ‘do or die’ for my shop. I had done training with my staff in corporate retail but this was different. People were paying to have my knowledge. They were depending on me for an enjoyable time. I had tried to find advice and look for books which might impart any words of wisdom on my plight but none seemed to be there…was there such a thing as an ‘Idiots guide to teaching’?... Consequently with the first 6 willing victims and a whole load of nerves, I launched into what was to become my very favourite part of having a needlework shop. As my self-confidence grew and my loyal following escalated, my courses became a critical source of revenue and pretty much saved the business. So it is, that for any shy retailers, WI & craft groups, craft therapists, or keen exponents of the art this post is for you…….concerning hints and tips on holding a needlework class…….
For the benefit of this piece ‘Pupils’  can be ‘Girls’, ‘Ladies’, ‘Poppets’ , ‘Darlings’ , ‘Chicklets’ or whatever you fancy!!
If you aren’t any of the following ; Don’t take a class!
Patient. One of the phrases you’ll hear the most is ‘I’m really stupid’ or ‘You’ll need loads of patience with me’ . If you don’t want the joy of seeing the least confident person around your table shine, then don’t bother.

Organised. In deed and thought. I’ll talk more about physical organisation later, but you must be mentally organised and keep your pupils on track with the task amid conversation.

Unshockable. If you are too sensitive to listen to conversation about sex, the menopause, men, and the best brand of vibrator, then stop reading now.

Observant. Of those who lack confidence and of uncomfortable conversations.

Discrete. What get said in class stays in class.

Planning Your Class.
  • Keep it simple!
  • Keep it achievable within the time. It is all about expectations, value for money and making  your pupils feel as if they have achieved something solid.  If the quicker s pupils finish, they can buy another kit /materials and start another!
  • Make sure you provide nice clear instructions
  • Plan and time your class
  • Make sure your pupils have a list of things to bring or extra materials on their booking form.
First Off – Get Organised.
First of all organise yourself and your table. I used to do this the night before. At each place at the table I would place:
  • 8 inch hoops that clamp to the table.
  • A bookstand for instructions/kit to stand on.
  • A tray made of the top of an ice cream tub, inlayed with velvet which is perfect for beads and needles and keeps threads etc. tidy.
  • I would keep spare scissors & unpickers  in a jar in the middle of the table and all materials were within the kits which I would prop on the book stand.
  • Wet Wipes ; really handy to keep hands clean.
  • On Stand By you should have: A bin, clip on magnifiers and good daylight lamps. A safe ironing board and iron. Remember of course you’ll need relevant extension leads and sockets. A book of stitches for Left Handers is also great, as is a stash of reference books relevant to the subject being taught.
  • Your own notes & timings
Before a class.
  • Before a class, arrive early and get some ‘you’ time. Have a good breakfast and go over your notes. It doesn’t matter what else you don’t know, know your stuff for what your pupils are paying for!
  • Set up your teas and coffees. The biggest asset for me were thermal jugs; Just fill ‘em and leave ‘em. Have a notepad & pen to the ready to take milk and sugar details. This will save you loads of messing around and you can keep them for lunch and tea time.
  • Double check your table for items missing.
  • Have a timed plan to the ready and make sure everyone has a coffee, lunch and tea break to rest eyes.
  • It is really great if you can have a docile spouse or easily bribed teenager to help out during the day to do the washing up in between! Keep your help designated and don’t be tempted to take any help from your group. It makes things crowded, pulls you off track and gives the appearance of having favourites.
As your pupils arrive…
  • Be there to greet them and take coats. Some will be nervous! A hug never hurts if they are the huggable type!
  • A nice cup of coffee always helps to break the ice and if you aren’t good at remembering names, get stickers! Introduce your pupils to each other and if you have any newbies, let other newbies know they aren’t the only one!
  • Introduce yourself if you need to but don’t go into your life history! They are there already and you don’t need to prove anything other than you can teach them what they are there to learn!
  • Say what your pupils will be doing, give a timeframe and describe the materials you will be using and what you want to aim to have done buy the end of the day.
  • Most of all SMILE, and you can get away with anything!...

Tips to having a Smashing day
  • Manage Expectations and do not expect perfection. Remember why your pupils are there. All will be there to learn, but they are also there to get away from the kids or the annoying husband. Some are there because they are single and look forward to the social interaction with likeminded people more than the learning. They all have different backgrounds, different demands placed on them and you must be able to manage feelings with care. Remember you are providing so much more than a sewing class. You are providing a safe haven for a few hours where your pupils can have a bit of ‘me’ time.
  • Keep conversation light and upbeat, don’t let a single person dominate it (unless they are amusing and clearly adored by the rest!) and be prepared to Butt In! Sometimes confidences will be disclosed and you may hear some quite sad stories, but remember too, you are not a therapist either and you are not there to take responsibility for the woes of the world ; just make them better for a while. Try and Keep control of conversation so that it is not to the detriment of the teaching and if topics of death or illness or you see others are not comfortable with a subject, then change it!!
  • Keep moving around the table and stay on your feet! You should be able to judge those who are experienced and confident and those who aren’t and so give more time to the slower pupils without neglecting the others. This is absolutely essential as once behind, they feel stupid, pressured and suddenly their day can unravel very quickly!! Always praise and encourage every second! ‘No you are not stupid; I’m here to teach you!
  • Don’t over-praise those who are confident and talented to the detriment of the newbies! At the end of the day you can say how gorgeous their work was.
  • If someone finds a way of doing something easier than you have shown them, then that’s fine! If the results are the same and they are happy, that’s great!
  • If you are asked a question and you don’t know it, don’t blag it!! Openly ask if anyone else knows the answer and go and look it up! I would always photocopy/print off the page where I’d found the answer to the query  and hand it to the enquirer. You’ve learned something new and you’ve shown you value their questions!

Dealing with ‘Tricky’people!
A negative or disruptive person can RUIN the day, not only for you, but for the rest of your pupils and it is really important to know how to deal with them.  If I sound harsh, remember I write this from the point of view of a business woman whose first priority is to those who have paid good money to learn and have a nice day.
Negative pupils can induce mutiny and will generally try to pass their pessimism on to the less confident pupils. Those who moan about being  ill can make everyone else around them feel bad or worried for them and know-all’s who pick holes in everything you are doing  take time away from the others in the class and make for a bad atmosphere.
This has happened to me about twice and my experience is that my pupils have been nothing but supportive and sympathetic and you usually find that stronger personalities within a group will often sort out the situation for you! However remember!....
This is YOUR course and YOU call the shots! You are perfectly entitled to suggest that they might like to go home or that they may be ‘a bit too advanced’ for your course. There are wonderful things called Cabs.
At the end of the day…get out the cake!
By the end of the day, eyes are getting tired so try and aim the finish for about 3.30 or 4pm. A lovely way to finish the day is with everyone tidying away their things and placing their completed work on the table to photograph. Get the tea and cake out so that everyone can wind down and have a group discussion about what each pupil has learned and what they will take away from the course.
Don’t be offended if they have just come to socialise – If everyone leaves happy, then you’ve done your job well!
Most of all HOME TIME IS HOME TIME!!!!! Much as you don’t want to be rude, once the course has officially finished, it is time for you to wind down, tidy up, and take some notes about the day. Think about what went well and perhaps what didn’t go so well and learn from it next time.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of saying goodbye to a crew of cheerful ladies who have sewn, laughed, eaten cake and learned a new skill. And for all those who ever said ‘Well she’s not formally trained, you know’, I can honestly say that at least I brought the joy of needlework to many, and a bit of esteem and self-belief  to those who needed it.