Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Terrific Textiles

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved doing crafty things with my hands.  I was always drawing when I was little, my fave tv programmes were Tony Hart and Why Don't You? and afterwards, I'd try to recreate the projects they'd shown in the programmes.  I wasn't brilliant at art, but I could draw, which meant I really enjoyed art lessons at school.  I can remember the art room in my Victorian junior school, a place I loved to be.  And art rooms always had a special smell, didn't they?

The first time I really remember doing much sewing, I would guess I was around eleven or twelve, just started senior school.  My mum had always been able to knit and sew and make clothes as had my nan, who was also an avid crocheter, so for me, it was something I grew up just expecting to be able to do.  We did basic embroidery and sewing at school which I can remember not being that brilliant at!  After school, I used to go to a fabric/curtaining shop which was up by Chester market, and outside, they had a wire basket which contained cheap little remnant bundles.  I used to spend my pocket money on these and go home and make very basic handsewn clothes for my Sindy dolls.  I also remember inheriting my Dad's 1960s-'70s ties, which were made of the most fabulous brocades, I remember loving a shiny textured pink brocade one, which made a fabulous gathered cocktail skirt for Sindy!

I continued with art in senior school, I even took Art GCSE, my Dad took some persuading that it was a "sensible" thing to do.  In retrospect, it probably wasn't as I was a swot really, and arty stuff always took a backseat to my more academic subjects.    I remember my two art teachers discussing which module I should take for GCSE; to me there was no question it would be drawing and painting, but one of my teachers thought I should go for textiles.  I didn't think it was really my thing but I recall one project where I "altered" a shirt, painting it and patching on other textiles and looking back, I realise I probably would have been much better going down that route.  I wonder if I still have that piece?  I think it's probably best left in the attic if it's there!

So recently, textiles have been on my mind.  When aren't they?!  Now may I ask you a personal question?  Do you Pinterest?  Well, I love a bit of Pinterest (except when I see my images and they aren't properly credited), and last week, it struck me that I was very good at repinning things and looking at others' boards, but I never really go back and look at my own boards.  So that's just what I did.  I had a bit of time and was able to start something new.  Of all the images I looked at, I decided to pull out those which were really speaking to me at that time, limiting myself to two pages.

They were all of the sort of thing I love, what I personally would call altered textile art.  To me, that means playing with bits of fabric and stitches, maybe paper too, and making pretty things.  If you've followed my blog a while, you'll know I am a big fan of Julie Arkell who to me, is the original mistress of this medium.  Many have now sprung up creating work similar to hers but she remains for me, the best.  I have however, found some new names to add to that list; Jessie Chorley, Mandy Pattullo and Jone Hallmark to name a few.  It's the intricate faffiness inherent in this work which appeals to me.  The fact you can use all sorts of fabrics and bits and pieces together is another.  Why choose?!

Something I hadn't done since my course at West Dean with Julie Arkell, I gathered together my wallpaper paste and newspapers and decided on a little papier mache.  Ooh, sticky, messy stuff, this time on a small scale. Quite fun, though! 

In between, while my "creations" were drying, I decided to have a little fabric fun.  I looked at my collection of cutters, (of the vintage embroidered cloths variety), and then took up a pile of small vintage fabric patches, being feedsacks and pretty dress cottons.  A spot of folding and pinning, (some spiced chai latte, my new obsession), and I was happily whiling away the hours with some soothing hand stitching.

I had help.  Of course, I did.

I make myself a little pile of cut and pinned bits when I can, ready for a spot of stitching in the odd spare hour, here and there.  I've used a portion from a vintage embroidered cloth as the background for each and then embellished it with trims and fabric patches.

It's the perfect little job for in front of the fire in the evening.

And the papier mache?  After an initial coat of newspaper, I put on the finer top layer taken from an old book.  The thinner the paper the better.  It's also a bonus if it happens to have interesting text on it.  I have no trouble picking these damaged books up for pence at boot sales and flea markets.  After that, I fussy cut some pretty images from my vintage fabrics.  Since then, I've added paint, varnish, more fabric and thread.  They're still mainly unfinished, though, but the whole point of little projects like these is not to rush them.  Just enjoy the soothing unhurried stitching when you can.

I've been pretty addicted to making these embroidered fabric patches. I think it's time to call it a day after the current bunch I have prepared, though, and turn them into the finished article.  My hand quilting is calling to me.

Working with your hands?  You just can't beat it. Xxx


  1. You and I have been following the same paths! Crocheting, knitting and sewing since I was about four, taught myself to do Tatting and Bobbin Lace. I'm afraid I remember Tony Hart when he did Vision On - a programme for the deaf in the sixties. You are correct about art classrooms in schools they do have a distinct smell about them. I have to admit I never saw eye-to-eye with the needlework teacher, but that is a different story as she was a friend of my mother and grandmother. I love Julie Arkells work and others of her ilk and have a Pinterest board devoted to them. Can't wait to see what you make next.
    Julie xxxxxxxxx

  2. Hi it's FM here, long time follower. My blog has moved to:
    Can I ask you to publicise this please as something horrid has happened and I can't access any of my old blog or the last four years' worth of blogs - aaargh!! This means I can't find my list of 400+ follwers either, and I genuinely love to spread a little bit of happiness through my blog. Many thanks, FM xxxxx

  3. It all looks fab, I wish I was creative I am in my mind but in reality it doesn't quite work that way!! I did art at school by was rubbish at it, I don't remember sewing being on offer wish it had been! I've not got into Pinterest yet, another thing to learn lol x

  4. I love finding out about people's journey with there crafty ways, thanks for sharing Hen....lovely, lovely creativeness! :) x

  5. I'm a lot like you; I started sewing when I was nine or ten, sewing lots of doll clothes and blankets and making a quilt for my own bed at fourteen. I always loved art and when I was in high school, I gave up having a lunch period just to have time in my day for an art class in between all my academic subjects. In college, I worked for the school theatre department's costume designer, sewing costumes in his shop. He taught me real dressmaking skills and I was really proud of everything I learned, though I have lost a lot of those skills today. I like Pinterest and use it a bit, though I don't add much to my own boards. I just like to browse everyone else's. I'll have to look for you over there. :)

  6. I agree with you about making things with your hands.. I'm a life-long artist and crafter too.. I even remember my first drawing on a chalkboard when I was 4.. and how mad I got when I found someone had erased my work! :-) I made an apple pie.. it's on my blog.. wanna see?
    ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  7. They look lovely. I too use to make clothes for my dolls....Barbie not Sindy though!

  8. Hen, it was lovely to read this post, full of personal history, telling your early textile study and play, and how many intervening experiences have showed you how talented you are at putting things together, what a good eye you have for textile treasures that others might ignore, and how to be playful, inquisitive, and inventive in your current projects.

    Having followed your posts for some years, I definitely think that you have a special gift. I know for sure that you are very generous in sharing your enthusiasm and talent and sources and inspirations with the rest of us.

    (I have always been intrigued by the possibilities of papier mache, and yet have never made any myself. On a long ago visit to London, I bought a great book by Juliet Bawden, called The Art and Craft of Papier Mache. I returned to NYC determined to try my hand at this traditional craft. It has yet to happen. The book is still on my book shelf. What besides lack of more free time is holding me back?)

    Do you also have other techniques that you yearn to try, even though the hours available to you are rather filled with current projects you love working on?


  9. Ah, papier mache..I've been making some this week...I'm inspired by vintage Halloween right now. I've always loved working with my hands, crafting...I usually have about 10 projects going at once! Love looking at Pinterest..all that eye's addicting.

  10. Lovely, lovely tea towels. I just love hand made and all the nervy and love that goes into making them... Such great fun, good for the heart! Love your work :)

  11. Your patches are sweet. I've always loved working with my hands, crafting/sewing/embroidery/anything! Funny, you should mention paper mache..I'm making stuff now. What was my kid's project has inspired me to try making something. Pinterest is fun eye candy..I don't blog or Pin but I love looking and feeling inspired.

  12. Beautiful makes as always Hen :) I hate having idle 'paws' in the evening, I always have to make something! xx

  13. What a great post. I love sewing if all kinds and hate to have idle hands. Love the idea if preparing and pinning bits to sew by the fire. I think you have inspired me to follow suit.

  14. Ooh a lovely post Hen! You're the epitome of 'make do and mend' ... making something beautiful and 'I wantable' out of the tiniest scraps ... love, love, LOVE it all!

    Love Claire xxx

  15. Hen this is a truly fabulous post. you are such a creative and talented lady. I love everything you do but especially these creations - I hope some will make it to your wonderful shop. Always a big fan of yours Hen you are my inspiration. Have a wonderful weekend
    Lots of love as always

  16. Can't wait to see what your finished patches look like. They are looking so interesting.

  17. Such a lovely post Hen and I so enjoyed reading about your past, its always good to hear a little more about the person behind all these beautiful creations. I also love patching old pieces of embroidered tablecloths and prettifying them. Yours look lovely and I am sure there will be a very quilt or something made out of them all. Love the picture of that happy cat sitting among all those beautiful fabrics. Where did you get the fabric in the first photo from?? I love it!! Hope you have recovered from reading 'You before Me', I know it took me a while. Wishing you a very happy week and weekend xo

  18. You are my inspiration Hen. I learned to sew and embroider as a tot, most little girls in the early 50s did, but I couldn't call myself truly creative.
    Last year my Uncle died. Closing his little home fell to my lot. It was hard, sad work but imagine my delight to find every little tray cloth and hanky case I'd embroidered for him and his wife, Auntie Jean, carefully stored in a bag with my name on it. There was another one with Auntie Jean's niece's name in it. Every item had been used, washed with care, ironed and replaced in the bags so they could remember who made what. His neighbour told me that he loved to tell which of us had embroidered a cloth and at what age, when he put tea out for visitors. All those pricked fingers, stitches pulled and redone more neatly, evenings when I was not allowed out to play until I'd completed a little bit of the work etc. suddenly seemed worth while. My efforts from the age of 5 onwards had been valued and used with love.
    Now, I have all the ones I did here, plus some of my mother's and two grandmas' work, and I am planning a quilt top using them. This is down to you and your wonderful ideas, so thank you, dear Hen. you are a star!
    Jenni x

  19. I'm spending today washing walls and floors, so feeling very envious of your handwork time! Moving studio to another room, which seemed SUCH a good idea....

  20. Lovely post, made me want to reach out and stroke your hand quilting :) xx

  21. So many beautiful things. I have that Cath Kidston mug - it's my fave! :)

  22. How pretty, what brand of oilcloth is on your table, it is darn pretty?

  23. I have always been more creative than arty. I can't draw or paint for toffee, I can always picture things as a gorgeous drawing or painting but my hands can never produce the image in my head. I much prefer making things. I used to make little duvets and pillows with different patterned cases for my dolls. My parents bought me a full sized sewing machine when I was about 11 (I'd asked for a you one but my mum figured a toy one was a waste of money when she could get me a full sized one for about the same price.) I did GCSE art but only as a compromise, I really wanted to do textiles but it clashed with my other choices, the art department suggested I did art but took a more textile route (I made a hand felted hat, a waistcoat and a skirt for one project and a silk painting for another!) x

  24. I didn't go to school in England but spent my summers with my grandparents in the Midlands and I ALWAYS watched Why Don't You...? and can still sing the title jingle all these years later!! And I loved Tony Hart, too - he was sometimes dubbed into French and German!!
    My granny had loads of old Family Circle magazines from the 60s and I would scour them for craft projects... Granny has always been a great seamstress and sewed my Sindy a trouser suit in a creamy golden brocade-y stuff, it was beautiful, fitted and perfectly finished, with tiny pearl buttons. Sadly it has got lost over time. But Granny is still going strong at 97 :) I have already bagged to have all her 30s/40s things!!

  25. I love your little bits of stitching - it's going to be the sweetest quilt!! Lovely post.

  26. Beautiful colourful creations, Hen. The quilt will be delightful, please share photos when completed. I so enjoyed reading your post and the accompanying photos, you inspire me to stop thinking and start doing!
    I can't remember a time when fabric wasn't a big part of my life; in the 1950-1960s my aunt was a home-based seamstress so she always had a huge old trunk full of fabric scraps left over from her beautiful creations (bridal outfits, ball gowns and everyday cotton dresses) and she'd often present me with some fab clothes for my dolls, sewn from the scraps. I was the only one interested in the trunk contents, so visting her was better than visiting the local lolly shop! As soon as I was old enough to reach the pedal, I began using my Mum's Singer treadle machine to make my own doll's clothes, inspired by my aunt's designs. Sixty years on, I still have a doll's dress my aunt made for me, a bit worse for wear but still intact.

  27. I did A Level Art and got into Art College - however I had hedged my bets in case I didn't get accepted and applied for a job at my Local Authority. I got both, but was persuaded to go down the job route by my Dad. I've always wondered if I would have eventually made it as an art teacher!

    I love making things too, anything from knitting and sewing (natch!) through to stained glass and wood-carving. Problem is, I don't have enough time to fit it all in!!!

    P.S. I'm on Pinterest too - I'll look you up

    P.P.S. M&S - Chai tea - delish!


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