My Needlework Heritage

My Needlework Heritage


I really need to get better at taking photos, I know, I know.

These are all on one piece (top photo) of freestyle hand embroidered insects, by my Mum.

This is the piece my Mum is most proud of. It’s counted cross stitch from a pattern (I don’t know who by) on black Aida of a stone bust of the Virgin Mary.

Super kitsch classic counted cross stitch. This was in my bedroom when I was little and I still love it now. A doll’s house. My 9th birthday present.

This was one of those work-in-progress pieces that took my Mum years to complete basically because I think she found it so hard on her eyes with the size and all the different shades. It’s on evenweave with linen threads I think.

My Great Aunty Kora’s crewel work fire screen that she did when she was in her mid to late 30s, so about 1957ish? Apparently it was for a competition run by the Blackpool Evening Gazette and she came 2nd.

Mum has also given me a whole bag full of amazing 1930s-1950s white cotton tablecloths and doilies and things with hand embroidery and crocheted edging, and reams of hand lace and tatting too! Call me sacrilegious but these were rotting in a drawer anyway so I’ve dyed half of them to velvet black to go on my stall at the next Reetsweet event on 5th December (and you can read a sweet interview with me about my jewellery on their blog here). The rest were really too pretty or plain or too small but will all, I’m sure be upcycled and embroidered on soon.

She also finished my pillow for me. It looks so good!

In other news…I’ve been a bit lax lately posting, I’m sorry. Just. So. Busy!

But expect a flurry of posts coming this way over the next few days as I have a week of free evenings next week. A whole week! When I say ‘free’ obviously I mean I will still be working on various projects, but I am taking December off from doing my Aromatherapy case studies, so no after-work massages, and lots of sofa-craft time.

Plus I’m going to the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching exhibition on Sunday so you know they’ll be loads of pics of my haul.


Toadstool Progress

Toadstool Progress

So more Satin stitch and Long and short stitch. The spots are what I’m most happy with. A very successful experiment with a stitch I found in my fave Anchor stitch book – Spider’s Web Filling. Basically I’ve made a 2-ply thread from 2 different shades of cotton for the ‘spokes’ of the web which make the base, and I tried to make the centre point match the original photo – so not all actually in the centre. Then using a lighter shade for the centre bit I wove in and out of the spokes, then switched to a slightly darker tone for the outside. I couched all the edges in with the dark mushroom colour in single strand back stitch, and where I felt like it was a bit ‘flat’ I’ve added a few more spokes on top in the same colour. Quite labour intensive, but I love how it’s turned out.

Autumn colours

Autumn colours

Just had a week off and took the opportunity of the lovely location to go all Jane Brocket and take some lovely inspiration photos for colour and texture source material.

Oh how I love Autumn, let me count the ways…

And then, like buried treasure, I found  one of my favourite things:

Now indulge me as I tell classic English botanist’s poetry:

Ivory Funnel.

Destroying Angel.

Fools/Deadly/Splendid Webcap.

Fly Agaric.

Devil’s Bolete.


Deadly Dapperling.

Autumn Skullcap.


I get all excited just thinking about them. The toadstool has always held a place of special dark inspiration for me; their legendary status within my beloved fairy tales, always there in the background, part of the scenery, yet holding sentry, ready to ensnare any foolish traveller into psychedelic nightmares or even death. Lovely.

And all this is spurring me on with (finally) my latest work in progress. I make no secret that my embroidery up until now has been virtually exclusively cross stitch. I’m fine with that now, I need to teach myself freestyle stitches. So, the perfect muse:

The classic, perfect, magickal mushroom of myth and legend.

Here’s the pattern I made of it, basically just delineating the colours and shapes.


Then using my bag of floss, selected my cotton colours. I’d given up buying expensive fabrics and canvas specifically for embroidery when I found a huge offcut ream of lovely greeny flax coloured linen, perfect for my intentions, for £6! It will provide for tens of projects, and easily for my, now intended, Toadstool series of samplers.

Sorry for the blurry photo – taken myself with the sewing on my lap:

I drew/traced my pattern onto the linen, then began satin stitching the stem. Not really happy with this to begin with. I have this horrible compulsion to fling away in disgust anything I try in which I am not completely accomplished in about ten minutes. Dreadful.

But, stitch stitch stitch, learn learn learn. Having done the white bit and found it baggy and uneven, I realised my constant obsession with being economical with my thread was the culprit for this, and when I did it properly – looping the full length of the stitch around the back of the canvas – lo and behold, it all started to be a bit more like it should be.

When I’d finished that bit I did tiny back-stitch to mark out the underside of the mushroom, and its lovely frills, then, following my tutelage at the knee of my guru (Mum) a couple of weeks ago, I added texture with lots of french knots.

I did some seed stitch too which has ended up being slightly pointless as I’ve actually covered it all over with more french knots now.

More soon.

Rest your head here, my dear…

Rest your head here, my dear…

This was my first ‘serious’ embroidery project. Somewhere in the middle of doing my Emily Peacock ‘Hope’ anchor pillow, I realised I really wanted to, and could, make my own designs. Wow! And so set about looking around for a great image I could make into a pattern. My mum had given me a plastic bag FULL of cotton floss in all imaginable shades, so I wanted to make use of them.

Being that I am a bit obsessed with skulls and bones, it didn’t take me long to figure out what I wanted to make. When I found this, classic Grey’s Anatomy-style anatomical skull illustration, I lost my heart.

So, I bought some graph tracing paper and using the smallest grade they had – 18 count – I started tracing the picture in fine liner. I delved through my bag of floss to find all the different tones of grey, black and white, then, wanting all the different colours to be highly visible on the pattern, I used various shades of felt-tip to identify the different areas. I sorted my skeins and made myself a colour key. I was basically working on a ‘dark to light’ principle. This is what the pattern ended up looking like:

Here’s the thing: Looking back on this now, I am amazed the final thing reached completion without me going blind and/or making some huge mistake. I always intended on working a size up in my canvas, so that the pattern translated as slightly bigger in life, and the only reason for choosing to draw the pattern in 18 count was that to get the level of detail and subtlety in the piece it had to be quite fine. But I really made life hard for myself in my novice-ness working from something so small. I didn’t think to stick several pieces of graph paper together to make a bigger pattern. Plus, I had NO idea how the finished thing was going to look because not only did the pattern I drew have non-true-to-life colours (blue and yellow etc), so the actual original picture also had different coloured shading which I didn’t want to replicate. So all a big risk really, in terms of hours stitched with no assurance of success.

Whenever I get this pattern out, I feel really proud of myself, not least because I had never attempted this type of project before, and because some of the lines I drew are so crooked its a miracle, frankly, he didn’t end up with a bowler hat and a moustache.

So this was the final thing:

This took over a year to do. Measures 13″ x 13″. I picked it up, put it down, life happened etc. I wasn’t the hardcore 3-hours-a-night girl I am now *ahem*. Plus, regardless of how long the actual skull took, I then decided, having used 16 count WHITE aida, that I wanted the background to be black, and so spent as much time cross-stitching black background as main image.

Then, as usual, the beautiful-but-functional aesthetic had to come into play, so I hand stitched using back stitch black cotton to the front of it, with black cording edge, turned it inside out and stuffed it with wadding. My Mum was horrified after all this work that I hadn’t used a cushion pad to prevent the wadding from poking out, but I couldn’t be arsed. It took over a year already.

It’s pretty much my favourite thing I own, I think.