Monday, April 16, 2018


It is not easy to draw or paint something that does not interest you, is it?  Mandalas are one of those non-interest subjects with me.  I think that, because they were really BIG when I was a teenager, I saw a little too much of them.  And the symmetrical ones drive me crazy, the repetitive areas, the tediousness of making sure things match from one section to another, and that the circle is perfect drawn and mathematically divided.  I lose the will to live just thinking through all that.

But today I made one, and I used the only medium I knew that would allow me to find my way through to the end: stitching.  Not perfectly circular.  Not evenly divided.  Just a bit of stitching in a somewhat circle that says the winter is over, last night's storm was a true spring tantrum, and that maybe a mandala is not such a boring thing after all.

Old dogs and new tricks?

Friday, October 6, 2017

More falling leaves!

I couldn't let it go at simple leaf shapes-- the table decoration project simply took a different turn when it ended, and the leaves assumed a life of their own.  The leaves were like stepping stones, each leading to the next.

These are some of the last ones.  The fabrics are recycled clothing pieces and a few old fabrics that have been around since my son was living at home (!).  The main vein of the last leaf is a hand-wrapped cord.  I make these loosely-wrapped and colorful cords while watching the British Mysteries.  In two nights of mysteries, it's amazing what can be achieved!


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Autumn Leaves

It is still a bit green here; autumn is more a state of mind than a reality, at present.

But to hurry the season along I have made almost a dozen leaves.  They are for the EGA chapter meeting, to be used as door prizes next week.  Peggy is making the other half of the project.  These are to be table decorations that Carol will put together with her genius for decorating.

The leaves are decorated with straight stitches and machine stitch, backed with synthetic felt (because when I cut into wool felt my allergies rose immediately and my eyes began to swell).

The surface of these leaves is hand-painted or dyed linen:

The leaf above has quite an orderly arrangement of straight stitches, but the green one below has scattered seed stitches in an assortment of autumn colors:

Here a little patterning:

The left side of this leaf was cut from a piece of cotton print, the right side is chocolate linen with commercially-printed cotton held in place with machine stitching:

Free-motion machine stitch on dyed linen:

And a pair of stout leaves:

The last one was cut from a piece of cotton I found in a Thrift Store, a gathered skirt with miles of swirling lines-- the same print in the spotted leaf, above.  I found the shape of a leaf in the swirls and stitched with tiny back stitches to attach it to the linen:

I do not have photographs of the others, but they are all made of this same simplicity, simple shapes, simple stitches.


Monday, September 18, 2017

The sample that galloped off

This was to be a sample of simplicity.  A few angular shapes stitched to some background.  But it simply wouldn't stop.  One thing led to another.  And then I started patching the shape to make it square-ish.  And I covered up the striped triangle (center left) with something rust-colored because the stripes were All Wrong.  Which called for stitches on top to keep it in place.

Then, when I was about to toss it into the "Reminders of things to never do again" box, I saw a scrap of Ultrasuede lying on the embroidery table, and there was a lightbulb moment.  I dug out lots of earth colors from my (entire) drawer of these wonderful scraps, and before I knew it, I was stitching them on top of what I'd already done.  At the end of this stitching frenzy, the "sample" was finally finished.  But, did it match the brief?  In no way.  I was so discouraged that I just moved on to the next set of instructions and hoped I could do better with it.

In the end, this one that galloped off, completely out of control, was my favorite.  Catherine Russell commented that it looked like a map, and her comment made me realize how map-making has become such an important part of my personal imagery.  Ways into things, ways around things, ways across things.  How wonderful if today's world could be bridged by women stitching little blocks through the morass.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sun, Rain

This piece is about 6" square (-ish), with a surface of silk and very loosely woven muslin.  It is stitched in different types of silk, most of which I dyed.

The theme is a response to the September weather.  It was stitched during the Texture and Pattern class with Sue Stone, and felt wonderfully freeing to do it completely in straight stitches.

Yellow Blouse

Here I have combined my loves of stitch and creating clothing that is just a little on the edge of whatever is called normal.  O.K.  "Funky."  In a collage, around 6" square.  Silk and linen, the blouse in black cotton floss, one or two strands.

I learned to sew from my mother, and this was all part of the woman's education she felt was important to her daughters.  It is a skill for which I am grateful on a daily basis.  A Woman's Work.

I am practicing creating stitched patterns on plain fabric on a human scale by making myself a vest for the fall/winter, using pieces from recycled clothing and lots of stitch.  If I finish this in my lifetime, I will post pictures and details of its construction.  Working in patches of color can be interesting, it gives some definition to the space to be stitched.  And I've found that if I want loosely-spaced straight stitches, I can turn the fabric over and stitch lines of Buttonhole Stitch on the "wrong" side, and the "right" side (which now holds the back of the stitch) has all sorts of interesting lines on it.  There are moments when the vest looks as if it is on its way to being reversible . . .  I write this sidebar because the vest and its slightly different embellishment is inspired by this stitched collage of a yellow blouse.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Winter and Spring

Two pieces finished, the "Spring" only this afternoon, "Winter" last spring.  For some reason, stitching seasonal pieces in their proper season is not easy for me.

The spring trees are treated playfully, each almost circular foliate set on even more improbable trunks.  Layered, both appliqué and the stitches.

Winter, the older piece, is a more thoughtful treatment of the bare trunks, in somber shades of grey, white and grey-brown.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Another piece from Sue's class.

I am very proud of the blouse.  The appliqué started life as a very plain fabric:

I used straight stitches in two colors to add some interest to this fabric, and the result is below:

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

So many ideas, so little time!!!

Much has been afoot in Studio 508 of late.  In June I began Sue Stone's "Exploring Texture and Pattern" on-line course.  If you ever want to go deeply into a study of the simplest of stitches, to analyze what you've done, how you can improve it, how it might fit into future work, this could be something for you to investigate.

From the course, some wellspring of creativity has been tapped (no; wellspring sounds so tame and patient, but you get the idea), and I have samples in stacks (literally dozens) and several pieces done or in progress.  I have also followed paths not really part of the course, but I kept asking questions as I evaluated the work and found these solutions . . .  More about that another time.  The online group is very supportive of one another, very kind.  I think that really makes a difference.

Not surprisingly, my penchant for sewing funky clothing has been tweaked.  The last blouse I made is completely reversible because I bound all the seams.  And I am ready to cut out a pair of Diane Erickson-designed pants with the most interesting lower edges . . .  She has a book on sixty ideas for pockets that just came in the mail to me   And then there is Jane Dunnewold's Finding a Visual Language to be studied, or should I open Creative Strength Training first?  All these decisions, while bowls of bright thread wait for their play-date on my embroidery table.

Fortunately, I am beginning to understand the MIT theory of organizing the day (Most Important Thing), and I don't enter the studio empty-handed anymore; my list is clutched tightly in hand, and though I still chase a few shiny objects along the way, I am not in full chase mode most days.  When everything is quiet, when I need a moment to reflect, I take a box of Thrift Store clothing and begin to unpick the seams.  That is almost as zen-like as sewing long lines of stitches.

This from the on-going class-- a piece of fabric strip weaving, where I took a leap of faith and decided to use re-cycled sari ribbon strips.  The entire process became a nightmare, because nothing wanted to lie flat, to stay where it was pinned, and only densely-packed stitches saved the day here.

Life can still race along in the fast lane, even for a retiree!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Ethan's Flag

Ethan simply cannot resist a chance to operate machinery, particularly when it has dangerous needles in it . . .  it's a guy thing, even if he is only a little guy now.

He made a piece for his parents for the fourth of July, and this is a little corner of it that I love.  Notice that on the postage-stamp sized piece of blue wool he has made 50 straight stitches.  And the proper number of red and white stripes.

Happy Fourth of July, U.S.!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stitch Sampling

This article from is a nice read if you have ever wondered about the value of sampling stitches or techniques before you start a project.

Sampling can be addictive.  It's all about the "What ifs" that keep popping up as you try one thing, then make some small alteration to the process or color or thread weight and try it again.  Even better is when you let one idea link to another and another . . .

The reward of all this curiosity spread across small pieces of fabric is that the samples are making your own encyclopedia of stitch and technique ideas as they begin to fill a box or a bin.  Notebooks with cloth pages (the holes are made with buttonholes) hold mine.  I've even used Pellon as a page, which keeps the pages from folding over in the thick binders.

If you searched the dark corners of your own studio space, how many samples could you collect?  Enough to fill your own ring-binder notebook?  Maybe two notebooks?  My favorite ones are where I start out a little loose and not so nice, but as the stitching continues, I can see the improvement I make.  Seeing where you came from is often a great teacher.  And mistakes might be the best teacher of all, because we learn more from mistakes than doing things perfectly the first time.

Don't forget other fabric techniques-- Felting experiments can lead to a new direction in wet or dry felting.  Fabric manipulation gives texture, whether perfectly or imperfectly worked.  What about painted Lutradur or Bond-A-Web, heat-manipulated surfaces . . .

Take a moment to read the article about sampling as a creative process.  It might be the impetus you need to start your next project!

Sunday, February 5, 2017


One of life's little pleasures is to have a bag of scraps for stitch:  scraps from dressmaking, from domestic stitch for the home, from quilting-- even a bag of old clothes from the back of the closet (my own or others') or pieces sourced from thrift shops.  These are not precious fabrics in the sense of my having spent a small fortune shopping in fine fabric shops for them.  They are fabrics with a history, some still holding the memory of others' hands in the making or their having been worn for years and finally given up because they've shrunk.  Yes, shrunk.  That's what clothes do in the dark at the back of the closet, they hang there, neglected for a season or two, and this neglect sets off a naughty shrinking behavior.  Not that I change sizes, of course.  It's all the attitude of the clothes.

Most of my clothes are linen, cotton, or a few silks, which are exactly the fabrics I love to sew with.  I avoid synthetics because they do not breathe and can be hot and cloying, even in the cold months.  Early in the autumn, in a closet-clearing excursion, I came across a blouse of a creamy silk broadcloth I'd made when my son was still in college.  It was very simple, straight-cut, elbow-length sleeves, with shell buttons.  The thing that made it special was that one of the sleeves had been painted with silk paints using gutta to draw a butterfly. In soft pastels, the narrow channels of cream were the perfect venue for straight stitches, and it was drawn so close-up that the shapes look more abstract than realistic.

I took the blouse to the studio and laid it on the worktable preparatory to cutting it up.  But I simply could not do it.  I could not chop into that silk.  I can still remember my Mother's surprised pleasure at the odd symmetry the one decorated sleeve made, her handling the hems and smiling over the buttons.  I put the scissors down, and carefully folded it over.  Back to the closet it went.

Then I went to a bag of old linen clothes I'd been keeping to take apart on a rainy day when nothing was stirring in the creative right side of my brain.  Some of these were from friends (the FreeStylers do amazing cloth and thread and bead swaps), some from my closet.  I love this part of preparing fabrics for stitch:  unpicking the seams.  I remember a pale green linen suit I wore until I no longer looked presentable in it.  Going behind the linings and into the facings was an education in dressmaking.  Those lined jackets do not normally have serged seams the way unlined clothes do, and they come apart easily.

It would be much easier to simply rip into the clothes, but picking out the stitches is very meditative.  Piece by piece the green linen began to pile up, and when I was done, I took everything to the ironing board and began to iron the curling edges.  Some of the pieces will be overdyed when I set up the dye kitchen in the basement in the next few months.  Others will be used as they are, the spring green forming part of the edges or backgrounds for new pieces.

A friend gave me some "closet goodies" to organize for the group, so I am in "unpicking" heaven for the next week or so.  There is even a tangle of thread to be sorted-- my granddaughter and I love this process.  Seeing the strands emerge as they are teased from a bundle of knots and loops is so rewarding-- and meditative.  We each try to see how long the thread can be before it has to be clipped.  Bethy is remarkable for her patience and very long strands of thread.

And in this way, the winter is passing.  Snow and ice the first of the year, and today balmy temperatures and spring storms.  The strawberry plants have put out blossoms, the bulbs are coming up--   I hardly know what clothes will fit this flurry of changing weather, if it is a false spring or a truncated winter.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Once lost, but found

I had computer woes this morning, and while frantically going through files I came across this-- once lost, but now found.  A card for Jordan.  Our computers are amazing little creatures, seemingly possessing para-normal abilities to sense when they should let us find something nice in the early hours of the morning.  Despite all the scrambling and angst about the lost Keynote presentation, thank you, dear Mac, for this gift.  And for opening the window to the "new" storage for Keynote files.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

December in the studio

Daylight has been in short supply lately, and in the abbreviated light, I have contracted my thinking to small scale as a doorway into some larger ideas to explore in 2017.  My favorite way of doing this is with a bowl of scraps, a smaller one of threads, and an overflowing pincushion.  Through the movement of fabrics from the bowl to the flat workspace, there never seems to be a reduction in little scraps.  All magic, I'm sure.

This project was originally meant to be a line and shape study, not really to draw in color elements, but the pull of color is very strong, even when working in palm size.  Last month, in anticipation of this project, I made a book to corral these ideas in one place rather than falling back on my usual practice of stuffing things into plastic bags and relying on the Good Fairy Of The Studio to retrieve them for me.  Rather than pages of paper however, it is a book of pockets made with Lutradur.  I've found that Pellon medium-weight interfacings also make good pockets.

This colorful character uses hand and machine stitch.  I like the precision of machine stitches in combination with the looser hand stitch.  Additionally, there is something so mysterious about vintage fabrics captured under a translucent fabric, something that calls up old times and faces.  Here we can almost see a vehicle for transport to those times, one with many windows, many doors . . .

These verticals are my personal view of winter, grim and textural.  Not that grim is always negative, of course.  This piece is a return to that style of using the blocks of fabric as a foundation for stitch:

Because I am drawn to neutrals with textural interest, these two appeal to me for their simplicity and single, uncomplicated imagery:

Monday, November 28, 2016


If I have a favorite studio item, it is my sketchbooks.  They are filled with ideas, creative rumblings of things realized, or things only half-formed.  Ways of remembering, of re-thinking old ideas through the lens of many more years of learning until the old becomes new.  Though they will never win awards for beauty, in my eyes, they are beautiful beyond description.

So many are ones I made-- and these seem to be the most fun to work in, the ones I fill and over-fill with little drawings, maps, glued, stapled, stitched or taped bits of paper or color chips, fabric and thread; punched holes in the sides of pages for collecting thread or yarn or fabric strips-- These are the brightest part of the bookshelf.

Recently, I went through the excruciating week-long exercise of organizing the bookcases in the studio.  Half way through, there was no daylight in this tunnel, but I am glad I kept at it and chose not to simply shove the books back in place.  I would like to say it was such a beneficial bit of work that I will do it once a year . . .  However,  I think my cue will be when I KNOW I have something on those shelves, but CANNOT find it!  To safeguard the most important things, all the sketchbooks are on one place, now.  Or, in two cases and spilling into the third.

I do not mean to disparage the commercially made sketchbooks because they have their place-- actually, many places-- on the bookshelf.  They are often immensely practical because of their spiral binding, but are sometimes not so interesting from the outside, especially if the covers are hard book boards that do not want to bend as they are packed full of ephemera.  This packing process leads to their morphing into wedge-shaped books that resemble over-filled laundry bins.  Fitting them on the bookshelf is like trying to close the suitcase that is packed for a month of travelling when it was only designed to hold a weekend of clothes.  A future project, maybe for a week of snow or sub-freezing temperatures, would be to go through them and make them less cumbersome, divide up the contents into several smaller . . .

All of this book talk is leading up to the point that the Knoxville FreeStylers and the Atlanta SWAT (Stitching With A Twist) group are taking up sketchbooking in 2017, and we have been making our own books, for starters.  That way the pages are whatever paper we desire, any size, shape, have soft, malleable covers with pockets for stuffing with interesting notes or found objects, or even for the mundane task of holding pens or pencils . . .  To this end, we are customizing our sketchbooks.  Mine range from the elegant, soft-covered single-signatures in pouches made of embroidered silk or linen, to the basic workhorses, with soft covers made from fabric-covered pellon or stiff hand-made paper, both with varying kinds of closures.  The pouch books are purse-sized travelling companions, especially nice because the pouches are refillable as the sketchbooks are used, and the filled books go on the studio shelf for future reference.

The volumes are home to ideas spilled through numbers of books that I think of as places to muse on paper, a collection of wonderings.  I go through them when I'm in need of inspiration, and that is when the old ideas start to arrange themselves into new books on a single subject.  The major collecting starts with the single-subject-book, thread samples, cloth, colored sketches, dimensions that will or won't work, stitch sampling . . .  Oh, my goodness, but what fun the gathering-in process becomes!  Ursula Le Guin says it best:  "When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Black Floss on Cotton

I embarked on an enormous journey of discovery and endurance with this piece, never thinking I would actually stitch the entirety of the 10" x 18" cloth.  My style is to make smaller, more intimate pieces.  After I had gotten bored, I reasoned, I would remove the piece from the frame, cut the work away and fold what was left of the multi-processed cloth and move on to something else.  To this end, I set out to try some different ways of doing a few things with simple, expressive stitches.  Instead of becoming bored, the challenge became so absorbing I couldn't put it down, and I worked weeks and weeks with the magic that was happening on the rectangle.

It is a study in lines, and to that end I used a single strand of black cotton floss.  I wanted to see how much energy short, dotted lines might have.  And then there was the idea of bending a longer line by keeping it under tension rather than Couching the slack thread with two needles.  Or, what if the circles were stitched as loose Detached Chains and tied down to make rough circles of many sizes and shapes?  Is it possible to get a certain depth of perception with a tiny Straight Stitch by changing the compression, working dense stitches that graduated to a little more breathing space?  Could I really do this without using even one of my favorite little spot stitches, the French Knot?  Is there personality possible in a Square Chain Stitch?  And on and on it went, more questions, more answers.

If you've ever seen geology texts where the artist has drawn beautiful illustrations of earth strata, subducting plates, layers of sediment under pressure, conglomerate rocks-- this is where the idea started, buried in my twin loves of earth science and pen and ink drawings.  My husband sees an aerial landscape here.  It is hard to say which explanation I prefer, but in the end, the piece speaks in a different language to every viewer.

A word about the fabric:  This is a soft, loosely woven cotton.  I rusted it, washed it, buried it in the garden for a week, dug it up and washed it again and decided it would do as a mop-up cloth for a painting session.  The color in the lower part of the piece is from spilled dyes and cleaned paint brushes.  More washing.  Nothing was planned, and when I last washed it I thought it might make a good lining cloth for other projects.  I've used several smaller cuts from the cloth in stitched pieces over the past several years.

This thin, loose cotton is lined with four layers of linen, including worn napkins and a piece of linen left over from dress-making eons ago (how's that for responsible re-use of materials?).  The back of the work is almost as interesting as the front-- there are times I can't decide which side to show and which to put against the wall!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Starry Night

This is a little piece that wouldn't stay within the 4" square I meant for it.  It is an example of my starting something that simply had a mind of its own, and then hanging on as it galloped  off in another direction.

The fabric is linen I dyed, and the threads are a mix of hand and commercially dyed cottons and silks.  A little white-painted bowl sat on the worktable with the brightly-colored skeins tumbled together as I stitched and planned and listened to the story the threads were chatting about as the lines and shapes unfolded under my fingers.  Working with intense colors is always quite stimulating, but to add to the mood of creativity I listened to the soundtrack of BFG as the stitching progressed.  How could anything stay sedate and perfectly mannerly with John Williams' delightful music filling the studio?

And that is how all of these little images came to dwell here: stars, even a little block of fallen stars, a blackberry "briar" patch, river road, tracks, foliage . . .  Ethan shares my passion for blue and green, so this will be my subject for our writing club meeting this afternoon.  The children write their stories, Grandmother stitches hers.  The children read their lovely written works, Grandmother tells hers and accepts the children's excited interruptions the way historians add footnotes to the body of their data.  What better way to spend the after-homework-is-done moments of an afternoon in the studio?

And yes, Beth Ralph, you are entirely right about the way the story should be matted and framed rather than stretched over a small wooden stretcher the way I usually do these pint-sized pieces.  Isn't Show 'N Tell the best part of FreeStyle?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Feathers by the water

The story of this piece is one of wondering, "What if . . . ?"

It started off innocently enough, a weaving in a variety of yarns and thread, then the idea of weaving feathers into the story changed everything . . .

Once the feathers were in place, weaving the last part of the piece was impossible.  The feathers changed the story, and I left off working on this for weeks, waiting for the rest of the idea to form.  That was when Sherry Mayfield suggested that I not continue weaving at the bottom of the little hand loom, but to ease the piece down the empty warp and work from the new middle toward the top.

After I had moved the weaving and feathers down, it seemed a shame to do something common to it, like weaving with ordinary (or, in my case, semi-ordinary) materials.  Instead, I made a fabric sandwich of silk paper, a scrap from a vintage handkerchief, a cutting of old linen, and covered it with silk chiffon and a small strip of more silk paper.  This was the point of initial stitching, straight stitches using a high-sheen cotton floss in horizontal lines.

When it all held together fairly well, I began weaving the embroidered block into the open warp.  That called for more stitching to secure the embroidered sandwich to the piece (or the sandwich to the warp).  For this I used silk, a pale blue Spun Silk with Flame thread from Stef Francis.   These new silk straight stitches were all done in vertical lines in contrast with the cotton.  The vintage cotton yo-yo looks on the scene with kindly interest.

Three days of intensive stitching and assessing the progress of the piece followed.  With a deep breath (carefully, carefully) I cut the piece from the loom, then began weaving the warp ends into the stitching behind the fabric sandwich.  Next came a strip of "eyelash" from Tentakulum (Painter's Threads) near the bottom and above the feathers, and stitching the little reeds in shades of indigo silk.

I believe it is done.  When I look at it I find no adjectives or adverbs in need of changing, so the story is complete.  I have never inserted a stitched cloth, large or small, into a weaving before this, but as I consider the possibilities this is a mixing of techniques quite worth exploring.  The warp threads that are left on the front of the work are the most challenging feature for future experimentation.  Thank you Sherry, for encouraging me to look at this piece differently!

A closer look at the stitched/fabric sandwich weaving:

Now, if I can keep from touching it long enough to consider mounting and presentation . . .

UPDATE on the Feathers:  Poor feathers!  One was lost in moving it about . . . I think it is time to think of a resuscitation (yet again),  as one has been lost.  Or, I should simply move on, put this hexed piece in a studio journal and note it is not something to be tried again.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Map-making

Maps are not always flat little things with lines and letters and numbers.  Sometimes they can show us the way in and out with stitches and silk thread on scraps of hand-dyed silk noil.