19 August 2008

Interlude - A stitched model

For a brief interlude from the Show Saga I'm going to post my most recent stitching finish. It's my own design Tribal Sun, which is available as a freebie in my shop. I've been wanting to stitch it for a while now but I recently created the perfect fabric on which to stitch it. The fabric is called Fire and looks like this:

I actually started stitching it on a piece of Belfast at the show the other weekend. The Sunday afternoon was quite slow and my assistant for the day, Lindsay, suggested that we do a spot of stitching using my free designs, so as to create models of them. She chose my Celtic Knot (also in the shop) and I made a start on Tribal Sun.

Unfortunately I only rarely stitch in hand, and only when it's easier to do so (usually for speciality stitching) and I didn't get on with it very well. I persevered and then discovered that I'd suffered a massive frog attack, at which point I gave up and put it away in disgust.

Not to be beaten I started over, this time on a piece of Murano that I'd had to pull from being sold because it had a couple of tiny black spots right in the middle. This happens from time to time and I either sell it as 'faulty' with the faults clearly described, and the price discounted, or I stick it in my personal stash. In this case the design was only going to take less than half the fabric the spots didn't matter.

Anyway, long story short (too late), I finally finished stitching it a couple of nights ago:

After getting this scan of it flat I made it up into a biscornu, however there's no picture yet as it's not quite finished, I just need a bead or button for the middle to complete it, then I'll take piccies.

18 August 2008

The Show - Part 2

So, with my fabric order sorted out I proceeded to hack up what fabric I already had in stock. The way I dye means that each piece of fabric is cut to the final size first, then overlocked to stop it falling apart in the dyeing process, then dyed.

It's at times like these when you really start to refine your working processess. Normally when I'm working, time is not a huge issue. If it takes me a couple of minutes longer to cut the fabric, well it's not the end of the world. However when time is tight and you're going to be preforming the same operation over and over, you start to think of ways to make the process more efficient.

I started using my big fabric shears to cut up the fabric, measuring out lengths using my metre rule, these were cut from the bolt then cut in half again to make fat quarters. Then cut in half again and again if needed to get the smaller sizes, then back to the bolt for the next length. Using the scissors can be quick, if they're sharp you can cut a notch in the edge of the fabric and then starting a cut, you can run your scissors through the fabric relying on the sharpness of the edge to cut through the fabric for you. This technique probably has a name but I don't know it. The downside of this is that you can easily dogleg the cut, which can leave you with a piece of fabric that it much narrower/wider at one end than the other. To be accurate you need to cut properly all the way across, which is slow. So how to speed this process up?

Well I've recently had a go at patchwork, and so I had a large cutting mat (A0 size) and rotary cutter to hand. Using my rule, I measured out the length I was cutting on the mat (it's marked up with a grid in cms) and then simply lay the fabric out straight on the mat and used the rule to cut along with the rotary cutter. Much quicker! I also started cutting all the lengths off the bolt and stacking them up, then cutting them down to smaller size pieces afterwards. The benefits of using the rotary cutter were that I was getting nice straight edges and I could cut through several layers of fabric at once. So if I was cutting lots of smaller pieces I could simply start with a couple of lengths, cut them in half and stack the two halves on top of each other for the next cut.

In this way I quickly reduced my stocks of fabric to piles of neatly cut pieces waiting to be overlocked.

It's at this point I have to issue my hearfelt thanks to J K Rowling and Stephen Fry. The former for writing the Harry Potter books, and the latter for being such a fabulous reader and having created the audiobook versions. I should also thank the Nottinghamshire Library system for reducing their charges and making it free to borrow audiobooks, and only 25p to reserve them. Armed with all seven books to load onto my ipod I faced the task of overlocking with much less trepidation.

Using an overlocker to create garments is a tricky job requiring much concentration. Using an overlocker to serge the edges of rectangular bits of fabric, on the other hand, is a tedious, thankless task that requires the mental acuity and concentration of a gnat. So I plugged myself in to the world of Harry Potter and serged away for hours and hours each evening, gradually reducing the piles of fabric to nothing. These were then washed and stockpiled in the airing cupboard waiting to be dyed.

Then my fabric order from Zweigart arrived and there were 87 metres of uncut fabric sitting on my dining table.


16 August 2008

The Show - Part 1

Typical, just as I get this blog started things get chaotic and I don't have time to post.

Six weeks ago now I found out that there was going to be a needlecraft show in Bakewell, hosted by Wye Needlecraft, so I went for a nosey at their website to find out more. It transpired that the idea behind the show, was that Wye were inviting all their suppliers along to take a stall at the show. I'm not one of their suppliers (yet) but having chatted to Dean (shop owner) in the past as a customer, I knew he wouldn't laugh at me if I asked about the possibility of taking a stall myself. So I made the phone call and he couldn't have been more keen!

My initial enquiries were just about the possibility of doing it, and the costs involved, but after a quick call to Wookiee to make sure he'd be ok with taking a couple of days off work to mind the munchkin, I called Dean back and put my name down.

That gave me 5 weeks in which to prepare for the show. That was the point at which I turned into a headless chicken and went into full panic mode. You see I don't keep stocks of fabric ready dyed, I keep small stocks of undyed fabric and dye it to order. However, for a show I needed stock, and display pieces.

The next few days were spent doing a stock take and then creating a huge spreadsheet, with colours down the side and fabric options and piece sizes across the top. Into the cells went the quantity of each option that I'd like to have. Various calculations were then set up to work out how many metres of each fabric I would need to have in order to produce all this stock, and how much that was going to cost. Next I rejigged the quantities down to figures that I could a) reasonably expect to dye over a four-week period and b) I could afford.

Dean had already offered to supply the raw fabric that I would need as he deals direct with Zweigart and would be able to chivvy them along to get the fabric out asap, so I called him up and placed an order for almost 90 metres of fabric!


24 May 2008

Tricky thing, memory

I was talking to my Mum on the phone today about my 'how I got into stitching' post, and apparently it wasn't her who got me started, it was my Grandma (Dad's Mum)

Mum did do stitchery, but hers was all machine based, it was my Grandma who taught me hand sewing. It's funny really, because all my memories of crafting with Grandma are of making jewellery with melon seeds, and pictures out of dried flowers. I'm not sure how long the jewellery lasted, but I know some of my pressed flower pictures were still hanging on the wall when she died, which was only a few years ago, and I made them when I was little.

I'm pretty sure she also taught me to knit, just the basics, knit and purl, cast on and cast off, but I can still do it.

Mum does still have the glasses case, although she's not sure where, I'll have to ask her to see if she can find it and get a picture for me.

23 May 2008

Rain with a hint of Firefly

As well as my regular range of fabrics, I'm always open to special requests. This piece was requested by a customer who was ordering a piece of Rain on which she wanted to stitch Firefly Faeries by Lavender & Lace. She asked for a lighter area in the middle of the fabric to be the 'firefly'. The original chart includes instructions on how to create the lighter area using bleach, but most stitchers I know would balk at the idea of using bleach on their fabric.

This is how it came out:

Side 1:

Side 2:

Click for bigger images

As you can see the two sides of the fabric are quite different, this is quite common and depends on the method of dyeing. This paticular colour is dyed flat on a board, using objects under the fabric to give the pattern, and to get the 'firefly' area in the middle I used a small bowl under the fabric to lift it out of the dye.

I haven't heard back from the customer as to whether she likes it or not, but I have to hope that she'd let me know if she wasn't happy with it.

17 May 2008

Competition Time

There's a 'Name the Fabric' competition running until the end of the month. Clicky on the shop linky in my sidebar to find out more.

13 May 2008

A stitcher is born

I started stitching very young. My mother did various needlecrafts, including machine and hand embroidery and applique, and she was quite happy to pass those skill on to me. The first thing I remember making was a sunglasses case made from two pieces of felt, blanket stitched together with all 6 strands of embroidery floss and a very big needle. I was probably about 6 or 7 at the time, and for all I know my mother still has that case.

I didn't start stitching in a big way until I was 15, and the opportunity came my way of a Saturday job in a newly opened needlecraft shop in the next village. Most stitchers I know would love a job in an LNS with the main danger being that of spending all your pay before you leave each day, so it became with me.

The shop was called Threadneedle House, in Nuneham Courtenay near Oxford. Sadly it closed down many years ago, but I'm sure there's plenty of people out there who still remember it. It was a tiny shop crammed to the rafters with all things needlecraft. There were threads hanging on the walls, threads in baskets on the surfaces, little bags of beads, bundles of fibres of all kinds, fabrics, wools and charts.

The shop was very popular with the Oxfordshire Needlecraft City & Guilds people as the owner of the shop would hunt out balls and skeins of unusual threads, then chop them up into lengths of 2 or 3 yards, skein them up and they would be sold for around 30p a bundle. Every year there would be an exhibition of that year's City & Guilds work, and then the walls would be hung with fantastic pieces of fabric and fibre art. I remember one year the students had made boxes, but it wasn't just the outside of the boxes that were decorated, inside there were three dimensional scenes. One in particular that I remember was all browns and greens on the outside, with forest scenes, then you opened up the box and there was the forest, miniature trees and shrubs all made from wire wrapped with textured fibres. They were amazing and inspirational.

I worked in the shop on Saturdays, and occasionally weekdays during the school holidays, for three years until I went off to University. In that time I learned a tremendous amount about cross stitch, tapestry and embroidery, and the materials used for each. I also learned an invaluable lesson about customer service, real customer service, where every customer was equally important whether they ended up spending £1 or £100. If it took two hours to ensure a customer was completely happy with their purchase and ended up with all the right materials, then that was just how long it took. This meant that the shop had an excellent reputation and we got people visiting from all over the country, and coming back again and again for more.

This was when my personal stash hoarding started. Some Saturdays I had spent all my pay before I even received it. During the day, when it was quiet, I would put aside those items I wanted to buy, and at then at the end of the day I would be paid, and would then pay for my goodies. Of course it didn't hurt to get a 10% staff discount.

So that was the start of my stitching habit.