Wednesday, 12 May 2021

First blog post after a long time!

Sorry I haven't been posting here for a while. I'm hoping to get things back on track soon.

Those of you who also follow my artist page on Facebook might have seen from some recent posts that I haven't been well on and off since September 2020. Actually, it has been going on for much longer than that - the photo above shows an episcleritic flare up in my right eye back in April 2016, and I had the first one in October 2015, when I was on a North Country quilting course with Lilian Hedley. I didn't go into the details at the time, but I was unable to do much on the course because my vision was quite badly affected. Each time, these eye flares had to be treated with steroids, and responded to that. I had another really big flare that lasted almost a month over Christmas and New Year.

On Good Friday a few weeks ago, I started feeling a bit odd and ended up with what my GP and NHS 111 assumed was an ear infection - but it wasn't. I ended up in hospital on 21st April, almost 3 weeks later, where I was diagnosed with Relapsing Polychondritis, a progressive auto immune diesease which is quite rare.

I have updated my website 'about me' page with some information about this, so please use the links there to read more about it (if you like) -

At the moment, I am being treated with steroids, which is helping. It is a progressive disease and I will be able to less in future and take a bit more care of myself! So more work from home and less travel to teach or do shows looks likely.

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Selecting sashiko thread colours

Sometimes a sashiko panel works equally well with different colour combinations, but choosing which to go for can be tricky! I went through this process recently, to help some customers choose colours for the Seasons Greetings panels in green and dark indigo blue, by 'auditioning' different thread colours and taking some photos. The first photo (above) shows the green panel with 20m #51 (shaded green) and #26. Although #51 has parts that are almost the same as the green fabric, they are a slightly different colour and a very slightly lighter value, while the sea green, light sea green, white and shading sections would show up really well. These are 6ply medium sashiko threads, and for this panel I would stitch with them singly, not doubled, as that would be too thick. Each 'pine needle' has two rows of staggered stitches, so you stitch out from the branch and back again (very well thought out), and a doubled medium thread would make the pine needles much thicker than in real life.

Then I looked at the possibilities in the 370m fine sashiko thread range, which is 4ply thread. These would all show up against the green panel, because they are different green colours, but the value of #11 jade green is probably a little too close to the green fabric, so it might not show up as well. The dark green #15 would show up well and look like a very natural pine colour. #8 bright mid green, between #11 and #15, looked quite vivid against the green fabric, but looked good against the indigo blue. The all looked good against the indigo, and the contrast with #11 and #8 was much better. I think those colours would work well on the indigo, but maybe not so much on the green. I can't make up my mind about the varigated shade #F, which might work for the green but I think the dark section wouldn't show up so well on the indigo. The 370m shaded threads have very long 'pitch' or colour change compared to the 20m threads, so several adjacent needles would end up the same shade and colour, which might give a slightly clumped effect to the needles. Althoug it is a 4ply, I think using it doubled might be too thick for the pine needles, but I would need to experiment to be sure. Either used single or double, I think one skein would probably be enough for the tree.

Next, we have the 100m #107 light green 6ply medium. This is a slightly different green from the background fabric, and slightly lighter. It would make a subtle contrast, but isn't a natural green for a pine tree (but does that matter?)

20m #07 mid green (at the top in the next photo) is a different green again, maybe a bit more like the colour of a real pine needle, but perhaps doesn't show up strongly enough against the background. It would work well on the indigo blue. Unfortunately this colour isn't produced in 100m skeins (yet!), but it is available in 80m fine 3ply thread balls, as shade #207, and would suit being used doubled.

The vivid green 20m #26 makes a good contrast.

So does #77, which would introduce touches of blue into the greens, and look very vibrant.

Here are all the threads above shown with the green and indigo blue panels. It is a tough choice, and your Christmas decor plans would also influence which colours you use.

I have been thinking about using a different colour for the branches. These are all 100m threads. For some of the greens, #106 yellow ochre would be a good coordinate, and I think the darker greens would look good with #114 brown, which is perhaps the most realistic colour. I think white or cream would look lovely for the pine needles on either panel, perhaps with #113 light grey for the branches.


There are so many options. Who says your tree has to be a 'natural' colour? There are also some blues which look very much like pine, such as 20m #72. All these thread colours are available from my website. I'll have to make my mind up soon, because I need to start stitching!

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Sashiko for Halloween

I've had fun over the last couple of evenings stitching the black version of the Halloween hanafukin sampler panel from Olympus Thread Mfg. Co., using an assortment of thread colours in typical Halloween shades - oranges, greys, white, with a touch of green for the 'grass' and the pumpkin leaf. It is available as a kit in black with the 20m thread bundle in my online shop, and there's also a white kit version. The white kit has black thread instead of white in the bundle. There's plenty of thread to give you some options about which colour to use for which part of the design.

I'm going to use the varigated thread to stitch around the outer border. The bat's eyes and the dot on the 'i' in 'Trick' are French knots. I wouldn't normally use French knots with sashiko, because a) they're not hardwearing enough compared to the running stitch and b) they are not traditional, but this isn't a traditional piece and it will only be used at Halloween, so I don't think it matters. You could even use two tiny beads for the bat's eyes if you wanted a bit of sparkle.

The centre of the panel was stitched through one layer, but I'm going to stitch the border through both fabric layers. Because there are so many starts and stops in this design, unlike in a traditional sashiko design, I didn't want to start and finish without a knot (which would make the stitches at the beginning and end of each line twice as thick), so this will hide the knots on the back.

I stitched the pumpkin with a doubled persimmon orange thread for the outline - I wanted it to look ver solid - keeping the bright orange for the mouth and eyes (stitched singly), which hopefully makes it look a bit like they are lit up from inside. The cat was stitched in a single strand of shaded grey thread, with the eyes in green. If this was the white sampler, I would have used black for the cat, but I felt that using grey on black kept the sense of it being a black cat. The whiskers are light grey.

The back of the cat motif.
Pumpkin from the back.

The haunted house is stitched with the same shaded grey as the cat, but doubled, with the windows in single bright orange.

I wanted the ghost to seem less solid and a bit more 'ghostly', so it is all stitched with a single thread.

The bat is in shaded grey, and the cobweb is light grey.


To finish off the hanafukin, I will pin the two layers together with the right side facing outwards and sttich around the square outer frame through both layers, then fold in the edges and slip stitch stitch around the panel to give it a knife edge or butted finish. This gives much flatter, neater corners than sewing around the panel right sides together and 'bagging out' through a gap in the side.

I would have loved this Halloween hanafukin when I was a child. Every year, I used to dress up with my friends and our mums would help us make lanterns - always from swedes, never pumpkins in those days (I'd never even seen a pumpkin until I was about 9 years old!) My friends' mum was great at doing funny Halloween make up, like giving us green faces. One year, my friend used a polystrene head under her arm as a headless ghost. We used to go round the neighbours's houses for pennies, and put them in my Barnardo's charity collection box at the end of the evening - we didn't think about collecting for ourselves.  In the north of England in the 1970s, we didn't say 'trick or treat', but recited this rhyme -

The sky is blue

The grass is green

Please spare a penny

For Halloween!

Games involving dressing up were a big feature of life when I was a child. Alas, I don't have any photos of our Halloween extravaganzas, but here is a photo of another dressing up occasion! I'm the shortest one.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Link to today’s Sewing Street sashiko show

Link to today’s Sewing Street TV sashiko show. I’m on the second and fourth hours.

I rushed to see on some of the borders yesterday after doing Sunday lunch at my mum’s, using my vintage 1970s (not my 153QE in the photo), but I only had the standard foot with me and had to rely on moving the needle slightly to the right to compensate and get a quarter inch seam... but I didn’t move it quite far enough! So a fraction too much fabric ended up in the seam allowances in the centre, so the outer borders were too long. I’ll have to take them off and shorten them, aka fudge the top a bit. Should have checked my seam allowances were spot on when I started!

It was lots of fun to be back in the studio and I'm going to be back for a show on Monday 9th November where we will do a TV launch of The Book of Boro, and probably a bit more with the sashiko sampler stitch along (another blog post on that coming up soon too).


Sunday, 27 September 2020

Sewing Street TV tomorrow!

 I’m on Sewing Street TV tomorrow with the sashiko sampler stitch along projects. This is how far the assembly has got for the first one (not pressed yet!)

My shows are at 9 and 11am, on Sky 670 and Freeview 74 (UK), and the shows will be on YouTube almost immediately too. I’ll post the YouTube link as soon as I have it.

You will be able to buy my panels and the sashiko threads I use from the show, but they are all available on my website as well

I’ll be looking at lots of ideas for stitching the panels as well as for making up some sampler quilts.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Sashiko sampler stitch along - more thoughts on colours...

I have been busy stitching several different versions of many of my blocks, before I deal with separate posts on the more complex ones and group the easier ones (mainly the geometrics) together for other posts. First, I need to update you on my next Sewing Street TV show, which has been moved from Monday 14th September to Monday 28th September, to allow more time for the show stock to arrive from Japan. I will be on at 9 and 11am for a full hour each time, on Sky 670 and Freeview 74, and of course the show will also be on YouTube - I will post a link to that as soon as I can after the live show.

The three cranes shown above are from my first block set (all the kamon blocks) on black, my second block set (kamon and geometrics from the first panel set on russet), and a third version on green (all the blocks from both sets - 32 large and 32 small blocks!)  To remind you of the coordinating colours, here are photos of the print fabrics and threads for all three sets - 

I haven't rejected the red and gold 'Victorian' block set, but I wanted to start stitching on the green panels asap, so jumped ahead to that one! I sometimes feel that the green colourway gets a bit overlooked - indigo blue is the most popular, followed by the other colours, but green is always at the end. It is lovely soft green and looks fantastic with this vintage chintz furnishing fabric and I wanted to try stitching with the softer blues, pinks and purples. There isn't actually any yellow ochre in the print, but I didn't want to be restricted to using cream or green for the rice sheaf design, and there are actually not so many green threads that really look right with this multicoloured fabric, so I wanted to use it for the gingko leaves as well.

I thought you might like to see how I dealt with the cranes on each colour. On black, I used red for the top of the cranes' head, with golden yellow for its beak, and shaded grey for the tail, the back of the wing and the neck. Real cranes have black feathers as well as white, and although of course the background fabric is black, I wanted to indicate the different coloured plumage through my sashiko thread too. I've used a mixture of doubled and single threads as well.

For my russet sampler, I don't have a red thread in my palette, because I'm using threads that coordinate with the fabric print. The closest I have is this peach shade. I don't have any yellow either, but the persimmon orange made a good alternative. I tried stitching the beak outline doubled this time, because I thought the persimmon might blend into the background fabric a bit too much.

For the green fabric colourway, I used a pinkish purple for the top of the head and the yellow ochre for the beak, this time stitching all of the beak with a doubled thread. I used purple for the 'black' wing and tail feathers. It doesn't have a strong contrast with the green at the moment, because the value of the green fabric and the purple thread is probably a bit too close, but once I have hand quilted around the crane's outline, it will add a bit more definition - the same goes for the varigated grey on the russet as well.

Here's all three blocks together. I didn't stitch this block first because it was my favourite block in particular, but because I managed to decide on the thread colours quite quickly for the green block. The russet is on the right in both photos, even though it looks a bit more like the brick red colourway in the second one.

Another block that I would put into the 'fiddly but worth it' category (!) is the rice sheaf kamon. On black, I used the golden yellow and stitched the cord around the sheaves alternating between red and white, celebratory colours in Japan. I have taken step by step photos of how to do this colour alternation and will put those in a future tutorial. On the green, I used doubled cream thread for the same cord, with the yellow ochre for the sheaves.

The waves kamon actually uses the same shaded blues/tuquoise thread for all three blocks. I just love that thread! It is paired with white on the black fabric, but with cream on the other two. The green version looks different again because I didn't extend the cream beyond the 'crest' of the waves to go right around the design, but stitched that part in the varigated thread instead.

Once again, when there is wadding (batting) and extra quilting added, it will throw the edge of the wave kamon into greater contrast.

So far, the only geometric blocks I've stitched have been from the russet set, where I drew a circle on each block and only stitched within the circle (see previous post) turning a square sashiko design into a circular one. Again, the circle edge will be defined better once there is wadding and extra quilting. On both these blocks, I haven't washed away the stitch markings yet.  The two black geometric blocks with the same designs were stitched for another project I haven't made up just yet. I've used bright blue and turquoise on the russet, which are closer in value to the background than the yellow ochre and ochre/green varigated thread I've used on the black.

My general thoughts on stitching the blocks in colour so far?

1) Often, you need to compromise slightly on the exact thread colour you want, because that shade may not be available in sashiko thread.

2) Just about any colour (other than black) shows up well against black.

3) I have to think a lot more carefully about thread colour on the mid value fabric colours, like russet and green, than on the darker black or indigo, or the light grey (taupe) or light blue.

4) It helps if you can accept non naturalistic colour and motif combinations! I may have some strangely coloured flowers...

It is an adventure and I'm enjoying experimenting with different colours.

On the TV show, I am going to give some basic techinique demos to go with all the blocks, and will also be reading you through the block and strip sizes for the quilt, so have a notebook to hand when you watch!