Songs for Winter; a two-person exhibition by Quilter Pauline Burbidge and her sculptor husband Charlie Poulson. At: City Art Centre, Market Street Edinburgh until 4 March 2018 Wed-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12 noon-5pm. Free entry I was lucky enough recently to be invited to a curated viewing of ‘Songs for Winter’. The special viewing was organised by Thistle Quilters, and limited places were offered to Embroiderers Guild and EDGE Textile Artist members. So I obviously jumped at the opportunity. The guided tour was being given by the artist Pauline Burbidge herself. It was insightful and inspiring to listen to Pauline talking about her techniques and working processes, and to have the opportunity to ask questions. To me, like many people, the word ‘quilting’ conjures up images of paper hexagons, traditional patterns and perfect mitred corners. Times are a-changing though, and quilting, like all forms of textile craft and embroidery, has moved on. A ‘quilt’ is simply two layers of fabric with a filling, so anything with a front, a back and a middle is a quilt. But there it stops. No more are hours spent meticulously cutting paper pieces and painstakingly stitching fabric around them. Although Pauline’s early quilts were patched and pieced, or appliqued, her later works are much more free. Many are a single piece of fabric which she draws onto directly. Some are composed of layers of sheer fabrics, built up to intensify the colour, or create cross-patterning. Stitching is done free-hand using a long-arm quilting machine. Her common materials are Markal Sticks (chunky oil pastels that become fixed on fabric). Sometimes the stitching happens first, then paint or drawing is applied on top. This leaves a different type of mark, as the colour touches only the high points, leaving a mottled, broken effect. Pauline intends that some of the pieces be used as bedding and are therefore bound and are washable. Others however, are wallhangings; strictly to be looked at and admired. Like the stunning ‘Applecross’ in the Gallery foyer for instance. Having a sneaky look up close, I noticed this wasn’t bound; the cotton batting can be seen between the front and backing. Just a painted border and some clever stitching gave the effect of binding. The drawings are loose and fluid. Many of Pauline’s sketchbooks are also on exhibit and show her abundant drawings of the cultivated and natural plants in her immediate environment. Monotone colour palettes allow the beauty and simplicity of the sketches to be appreciated, while enabling the vivid blue cyanotype prints to contrast all the more dramatically, providing the only colour in this phase of work. These prints have been done on fine silk or cotton organza, enabling layers of the blue to build up. Hand stitching introduces the blue to others areas, providing a balanced composition. Similarly, Charlie’s large drawings are mainly in neutral-tone gouche, pencil and wax, but he allows himself some colour occasionally. They express the energy of the growing plants under the soil. It’s quite striking how easily these would translate into quilts themselves. His sculptures in wood, wax, paper and lead also reflect organic living forms. I first saw Charlie’s sculpture work while visiting their home in Allenbank Mill Steading during last summer’s Open Studio weekend. Many were dotted around their expansive garden: how easily they integrated into the landscape. The exhibition is on until 4 March so make every effort to get there. There is also another exhibition of work from this talented couple running concurrently at Royal Botanic Garden. Pauline and Charlie’s next Open Studio weekend is 3-6th August 2018, 11am-6pm each day. Links: Pauline Burbidge Quilts Charles Poulson Sculpture Charles Poulson Drawing Allanbank Mill Steading
Travelling Books – In prayse of the needle – John Taylor 1631 I’ve often mentioned the Embroiderers Guild ‘Travelling Books’ project on my Facebook page. There’s about 24 members of our Guild branch involved and we started last October by all being given an A5 sketchbook. The idea is that we each chose a theme for our book, and do a small piece of embroidery inspired by that theme. We then pass on the book, receive another in its place, and repeat. It’s been such an interesting project to be part of. I’ve found it stimulating, challenging and times incredibly frustrating. But what I’ve most enjoyed it that it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to create pieces of work on subjects that I wouldn’t have considered. It’s also been interesting seeing everyone else’s interpretation of your theme in their own stitching style. The most recent book I received was on the theme of 17th Century poetry, with one poem in particular at its core. This poem was ‘In prayse of the needle by John Taylor, written in 1631. To all dispersed sorts of arts and trades I write the needles prayse (that never fades). So long as children shall be got or borne, So long as garments shall be made or worne, So long as hemp or flax, or sheep shall bear Their linen woolen fleeces yeare by yeare, So long as silk-wormes, with exhausted spoile, Of their own entrails for man’s gaine shall toyle, Yea till the world be quite dissolv’d and past, So long at least, the needles’ use shall last. The text mentions various fibres types such as flax (linen), wool, and silk so plenty of ideas there for base fabrics. After my usual deliberation, I decided I would recreate ‘17th century poetry’ as if the piece was a rare and delicate artefact from a museum. My idea was therefore to stitch the poem onto vanishing muslin. This fabric looks like normal muslin, except it turns brown and crumbly when heated with a hot iron or heat tool. So here’s a little tutorial on how I accomplished the desired look: Firstly I wrote the poem in pencil on the vanishing muslin. Then I choose a mid-brown matt thread and used free-motion embroidery to stitch the words. No cheating – I didn’t use any automatic stitch programs! It had to have the natural unevenness of handwriting. I used a hot iron over the piece but it didn’t give me the effect I wanted. I was trying to recreate a 400 year-old piece of textile after all. So the next step was the heat gun! This was much faster and distressed the muslin to the degree I needed. I also cut away quite a bit of the stitching. I was aiming for a crumbling relic, after all so no point being precious about it. I sourced a print of Elizabethan embroidered fabric to act as a backing for the stitching, so I needed to see the ‘fabric’ through the holes in the stitching. I stained the print in tea to age it. Once I was happy that I’d distressed the piece enough, then I mounted it on its page in the sketchbook, also heavily tea stained and ripped for a distressed edge. And here’s the finished piece… About the Embroiderer’s Guild The Embroiderer’s Guild is a international organisation founded in 1906 to preserve needlework skills. Since then, we’ve moved on and it now offers regular meeting and workshop opportunities for those who enjoy needlework and textiles of all sorts. The Guild welcomes everyone with an interest in any area of embroidery and we are proud to be recognised as a voice for raising the profile of textile and stitched art. You don’t need to be a professional embroiderer, or work in textiles in any way. Nor is there any test or quality standard to pass before you can join. It’s just a lovely way to meet with like-minded people. The UK national website is: https://embroiderersguild.com. My local group is the Edinburgh Branch who have their own website: www.edinburghtextileart.co.uk. We have regular meetings, events, workshops and stitching sessions. This year we’ve worked with students at Edinburgh College of Art to create digitally-printed fabric using the archive from the Needlework Development scheme. Some members are also currently involved in a project to stitch a painting in the National Gallery of Scotland, and can be found there most Wednesdays, stitching away and chatting to visitors and encouraging them to add a stitch or two.
Sewing Bad Habits you should avoidEveryone has sewing bad habits. Some of these I can smugly say that I never do. But there are a couple of these 12 sewing crimes that I commit frequently. How do you measure up with my ‘Dirty Dozen’? Are you guilty as charged?
1. Putting pins in your mouthI’ve put this top of the list as it’s my worst sewing bad habit. I openly admit that I commit this offence every day. Apart from this practice being thoroughly unhygienic, you’ll scratch your teeth. My dentist knows I do this and chastises me about the state of my enamel during every check-up. So if you won’t take a telling from me, then on behalf of dentists everywhere, don’t hold pins in your mouth!
2. Not checking the measurements on your patternThere’s nothing more frustrating and down-heartening than spending lots of time and effort on a sewing project and the item not fitting well. Not to mention wasting £££’s on fabric. When all that was required was a few minutes spent taking accurate body measurements and checking these against the pattern. Remember that commercial paper patterns aren’t sized in the same way as ready-to-wear clothing bought from the high street. When sewing, you usually have to go up 2 or 3 sizes. So if you’re normally a size 12 in shop-bought, then you may have to use a size 16 or even a size 18 pattern. And if you’re not the same size all over, then alter the pattern accordingly. If in doubt, make a ‘toile’ from calico or some other cheap fabric first. It will be worth the extra effort.
3. Not washing your fabric before using it.Fabrics bought straight off the bale have finishing treatments applied which make them firmer. This can lead to them getting creased and being difficult to handle. Also it’s more difficult to cut out when the fabric has folds that won’t smooth out so washing will remove these. Also natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and especially wool can shrink when washed. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you invested a lot of time making a gorgeous new dress, then it was too tight after its first wash?
4. Having a cluttered workspaceThere’s nothing so satisfying than being able to lay your hand on your scissors, tape measure, pins and chalk while you’re working. So keep only the essential items out on your sewing table that you’re likely to use for that project. Tuck away the suitcase-sized sewing box containing every sewing tool in the haberdashery shop, your entire lifetime collection of thread reels, a doll’s left arm, a small red plastic tractor (?), and the key that doesn’t fit any lock in your house. You know exactly what I’m talking about!
5. Not transferring pattern markings to your fabricSo you’re in a rush to finish your sewing project. You’ve cut out your skirt pieces so take off the pattern and put it away. First sewing stage; darts! You remember roughly where they’re meant to be – right? So you have a couple of attempts and the left one is almost the same length as the right. And who’s going to notice that it’s slanting a bit? You carry on and sew up the side seams, then try on the skirt. The darts look terrible! They’re all puckered and lumpy. So you unpick the darts, get out the pattern and lay it against the skirt, marking as best you can. Which isn’t very accurate as the garment is now 3-dimentional. All this takes an extra half-hour, and still isn’t looking great. Not taking an extra few minutes to transfer the key pattern markings onto your fabric isn’t a short cut. It’s one of the worst Sewing bad habits. It makes any project more time-consuming and difficult and you’ll end up with an inferior result.
6. Not using a fresh needle for every projectUse a fresh needle every 8 hours of sewing As the thread passes through the needle during the stitching process, it rubs against the metal of the eye. This creates microscopic grooves in the needle, which in turn wear the thread as it passes through. If your thread keeps shredding and breaking while you’re sewing, then it’s likely that the needle needs changed (or it’s poor quality thread – see point 9 below). As a rule of thumb, you should change the needle every 8 hours of sewing
7. Not pressing as you goThis one of the Sewing bad habits that signals homemade’ rather than ‘handmade’. When you’re sewing, you should iron every seam when you’ve sewn it, before you continue to the next stage. This helps the thread settle into the fabric, so you obtain a smooth ‘clean’ seam which will lie perfectly flat. If you can, have an iron and board in your sewing room, or set up next to your sewing table. If you have to go into another room to press every seam, or downstairs, then you’re going to skip the pressing, aren’t you? Professional seamstresses and tailors will press as much as they sew and if you adopt this good habit, you’ll see an immediate difference in the quality of the finish.
8. Not transferring alterations to the paper patternThere’s nothing more off-putting and likely to dissuade you from starting a sewing project than the thought that you’re going to have to make a toile or alter a paper pattern. If you’ve got a style that you’ve made before and fitted it perfectly, then it’s so quick and easy to make it again in a new fabric. Once you’ve altered your garment and achieved a good fit, take notes of the alterations you’ve made and amend the pattern. That way you’ll have a perfectly-fitting pattern ready to whip out and whizz up that dress/skirt/shirt next time you’ve got a free evening. If you know you’re going to have to test the pattern and make alterations again, you’re much less likely to sew anything at all.
9. Using poor quality threadI don’t advocate buying expensive thread if you can find a cheaper alternative. However don’t skimp on thread quality. Good thread doesn’t always have to cost a lot and it’s not worth giving yourself the headache of try to sew with bad thread. How many times do you want to re-thread your needle before you give up completely? The way to tell if it’s likely to be poor quality is to hold a short length up to the light. Is it evenly spun, or uneven in thickness? Is it smooth with a sheen, or is it matt with a fluffy appearance? A poor-quality thread will be uneven in thickness (meaning it won’t ‘flow’ smoothly through the machine. It could cause tension problems and is more susceptible to breaking. If it looks ‘fluffy’ then it will shed more lint. You could also try the ‘snap’ test. Wrap a little around your index fingers and pull. If it breaks easily, then don’t buy it. Gütermann is a popular brand and is available is most haberdashery and craft retailers but at around £1.90 for 100m, it’s quite pricey if you’ve a large project. Mettler ‘metrosene’ is superb if you can find and is about the same price as Gütermann. Moon is another good-quality thread that I’ve used for years without any problems. It’s widely available in fabric shops or online and at around £1.30 for a 1000m reel, is much cheaper than Gütermann, although the range of colours is limited. A thread that I’ve recently discovered is available in Lidl. They have a pack of 20 x 500m reels for £2.99. This works well in my sewing machines so I’ve been using it in the studio for around 2 years now. It has more sheen than most all-purpose polyester sewing threads so it’s also lovely for machine embroidery. And as the high speeds involved in Free-motion embroidery impose huge strain on thread, this is usually the best test of quality and it holds up extremely well for this purpose without breaking. For some reason however, it doesn’t perform well in my overlocker. But as Lidl also occasionally have 3000m cones for overlockers priced at £1.49 or 2 for £2, I snap them up when I can. Overlocker cones also run well on the sewing machine – just pop the cone into a mug and stand it behind your sewing machine. For excellent quality threads for all sewing purposes at a reasonable price available online, try www.empressmills.co.uk.
10. Not cleaning your machineFabric and threads release tiny fibres as they’re being sewn, known as lint. This lint builds up around the working areas of your machine. Take a look at the needle area and around the bobbin – see all that fluff? If you don’t remove it regularly, that lint will become compacted and will affect the machine’s performance. It will eventually shorten your machine’s life. It can even cause your machine to seize up completely. It’s happened on several occasions in the studio during a class when someone’s brought along an older machine that’s been poorly maintained. Sewing machines have been known to catch fire too, because of the build-up of lint combined with oil. It’s a lethal combination to a sewing machine. So, when you change your needle after 8 hours of sewing (see above), take that opportunity to run a clean soft brush around the machine and flick out the fluff. Check around and under the bobbin case too. And never blow, tempting though it may be. This only pushes the lint further into your machine and the moisture from your breath will condense on the machine’s working parts. Check your manual for instructions on oiling the machine too. A spot of oil every few weeks will keep it working away happily, extending the period between which you need to have the machine serviced, and ultimately extend its life by years.
11. Using your dressmaking shears on things other than fabric.An experienced sewist will never do this. But if you’re new to sewing, you may be tempted to grab the first pair of scissors you can find to cut out your paper patterns, or even to cut open that newly-delivered parcel. Please resist this temptation! Other substances will blunt your shears and there’s nothing worse than trying to cut your fabric accurately with dull shears. You may as well chew out the pieces! And by the way, synthetic fabrics will also blunt your dressmaking shears. Fleece is the worst offender and as far as I’m concerned it’s the Devil’s cloth! So invest in a quality scissor sharpener, or take them to get sharpened regularly. And if you ever find your dressmaking shears in your Husband’s toolbox, insist that he buys you a new pair immediately, and this time lock them up out of harm’s way.
12. Sewing with poor postureIt may seem obvious but make sure you’re sitting in a comfortable position when you sew. Treat your sewing machine as if it’s a computer and you’re sitting at your work desk. Your feet should be planted on the floor, your lower spine firmly supported in the chair so you’re sitting upright and not slumped. Your shoulders should be relaxed and ‘soft’ – not tensed up to your ears. Hours spent sitting in a poor position will cause headaches, back and neck pain, whatever the activity. Long term, bad posture can cause permanent nerve damage. Sewing can sometimes be a pain in the neck – but it shouldn’t be literally. Also make sure you’ve got good light. If the light on your machine isn’t bright enough, then use a desk lamp to light your working area. Sewing does cause strain on the eyes so take regular breaks (stretch out your back and shoulders at the same time). And if you normally wear specs for close-up functions such as reading, then you should probably wear them for sewing too.
Sewing Jersey FabricSewing jersey fabric can be fun and very satisfying. You can make all types of clothes from T-shirts, leggings, dresses, tunics, pyjamas and more. Jersey fabric is soft to wear, drapes well, and tends to crease less than wovens. Read more
Academy Awards for Sewing PatternsThe talking point of last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was undoubtedly the announcement of the wrong winner of Best Film. But my attention as always was on the stunning gowns. So I thought I’d take a look at some of the sewing patterns around that are worthy of an Academy Award themselves. Read more
Beginners Sewing PatternsBeginners sewing patterns may not be the most glamorous or fashion-forward designs. But when you’re just starting out on your sewing journey, it’s easy to get carried away with your ambitions and take on too much. Perhaps you aspire to design Oscar-red-carpet worthy frocks for A-list celebs. Just take a look at the gorgeous outfits worn by Emma Stone on the Golden Globes La-La-Land tour. But Prada and Gucci gowns such as these are highly-technical feats of textile engineering requiring the very best of precision cutting and sewing techniques. My advice is to take a Beginners Sewing Course to learn the correct techniques. Concentrate on learning the basic sewing techniques and doing them well. Then building up your skills by making simple shaped garments in easy-to-handle fabrics. Gradually, you’ll increase your repertoire until you can take on the most advanced projects. So you’ve had your first sewing lesson, and you now know your way around a sewing machine. Probably that sewing session included making a pin cushion or an envelope cushion. Great! That’ll have introduced you to cutting fabric and sewing a basic seam. However, you may already have realised that it’s often not as easy as it’s sometimes made out to be. Even measuring and cutting fabric evenly can take some practice. Whilst the catwalk awaits your stunning creations, perhaps then it’s best to start with something a bit simpler until you’ve honed your skills. Beginners sewing patterns are based on simple shapes with minimal pieces and no tricky features or fastenings. But even before you launch into your fashion-sewing career, why not try a couple of craft projects first? They’ll give you more practice at cutting fabric and sewing straight, even seams to build your confidence. And you won’t have to worry about the added complications of shaping that fabric to fit around your body. Pattern brands such as Simplicity, New Look, Vogue, Butterick and McCalls all have specific pattern collections that are suitable. I’m quite impressed with Simplicity’s ‘Learn to Sew’ range so here’s my pick of patterns that will be quick and easy to do. They’ll also build your repertoire of sewing skills, and be satisfying to use and to wear. Simplicity 2164 – a range of useful and stylish bags
Simplicity 2164I love this easy bag pattern with four variations from large Tote shopper, to over-the-shoulder messenger bags with pockets. These are the type of items you could complete in an evening. Oh the sense of satisfaction gained when a single sewing session produces results. Simplicity 2576. Girls’ pull on skirts
Simplicity 2576This pattern’s ideal for the younger sewist; there’s no tricky dart shapings or waistband; just a simple gathered elastic casing. With a long straight version or shorter fuller style, there’s lots of opportunity to give these styles your own stamp. With suggestions for applying trims, this is a pattern that can be used over and over, with totally different looks every time. Simplicity pattern no 1786. Girl’s pull-on skirt and gilet Simplicity 1786 I just love this little gilet pattern introducing skills such as adding lining and using bias binding. Fur fabric is bulky and needs a particular cutting technique. The secret is to part the pile and cut only the base fabric and not through all the fur fibres themselves. Try making the gilet in a short pile fabric such as the sleek leopard-print shown before embarking on the bulkier version. And with the cute little pull-on skirt in the same envelope, this is great value and another pattern that’s suitable for keen junior sewists. Simplicity Pattern no. 2314. 4-panel skirt in 3 lengths
Simplicity 2314An A-line skirt is always a good option for an early sewing project and this 4-panel flare is ideal. There are no darts; the precision stitching required to achieve a smooth finish to a dart can be daunting. The style is semi-fitted too, so choose the waist size that’s the best match for you. The hip measurement is not quite so critical as it would be in a pencil skirt. The challenges posed by this style are the side zip and the straight waistband. Master these basic techniques and you can put another couple of ticks on your ‘to do’ list. This is a beginners sewing pattern that’s not just for beginners. This skirt is a great wardrobe staple for experience dressmakers too. Suitable for light floaty cotton lawn for summer, or mid-weight wool or denim for winter, it’s so versatile. Why not make one for every season! The versatility continues when you consider this skirt can be a foundation office ‘uniform’ if made in suiting weight gabardine or flannel. Choose a lively tropical print for your weekend alter ego. Simplicity Pattern no. 2290 – Pyjama pants for the whole family
Simplicity 2290For some family-sewing, there’s nothing easier than pyjama pants. Simple loose shapes lessen the headache over exact fit. There’s minimum seams (only 1 pattern piece), an elastic casing and a hem. Pyjamas really are a perfect beginner’s project, yielding quick results. This pattern includes sizing for kids, teens and adults so make them for every member of your brood. Then everyone can settle down in comfort for some cosy sofa time! Don’t just leave them for the lounge either. Made in soft cotton/linen blend fabric, tie-waist trousers are great summer holiday staples under a floaty tunic – for ladies or men. Simplicity Pattern 2147 – Misses Tunic and Dress
Simplicity 2147Catching my eye for versatility again, is this tunic/dress pattern. Introducing style details such as yokes and pleats, it’s taking your sewing skills further. Trickiest bit I see would be the neck facing. But by utilising the technique of understitching, the facings lie flat on the inside and are less likely to roll round. It’s another loose fitting style thus minimising the headache of fit. Also there are no fiddly fastenings; it simply pops on over the head. With four style options, make them all and no-one would guess they’re from the same pattern.
Making a Christmas Rag WreathMake a Christmas Rag Wreath to add a personal touch to your festive decorations. It can be made from fabric leftovers – just whatever you’ve got lying around. Also, it’s really easy so it’s a great craft project for children. 1. You will need:
- a polystyrene ring, about 25-30 cm in diameter
- glue suitable for using with polystyrene
- fabric scissors
- blunt pencil or a thick knitting needle
- fabrics (about 3-4 fat quarters or approximately 1 metre of craft cottons in at about 4 colours, patterns, and/or textures. I’ve used a subtle palette of calico, linen, scrim and lace for texture. Some scandic-style red and cream fabric adds colour with some additional plum and olive green print fabrics, and hints of gold ribbon.
VariationsUse bright Christmas prints in red and green for a more traditional wreath, or pure white with pale blue and silver for a ‘Frosted’ look. Polyester organza with a shimmer and sparkle would look great! Add christmas baubles, a large ribbon, dried orange pieces, bundles of cinnamon sticks, pine cones, clusters of nuts or whatever you have available to create extra interest. Don’t just save this idea for Christmas. Why not make one for Easter using bright, fresh Spring colours and tie on chocolate eggs and bunnies!
Singer Overlocker 14SH754 Review I’ve been an overlocker user for over 30 years, (25 of those have been using my faithful old Pfaff). Overlockers used to cost around £300 for the most basic models, with more advanced, robust machines costing £500-£2000. Therefore I was sceptical when I got a tip-off (thanks, Ann!) that Lidl would be selling the Singer Overlocker 14SH754 for £129. I immediately did as I usually do to check out gadgets and looked up prices and reviews online. The same Singer Overlocker 14SH754 model is available through Amazon and other online retailers at almost double this money. Then I read the reviews. Although generally favourable, there was a bit of doubt too. However, in need of an overlocker for use in my studio (I wanted to introduce them to my students), I let my curiosity get the better of me and bought one yesterday.I regularly run a short class called ‘Know Your Overlocker‘. This will teach you how to thread up your overlocker and understand the different effects you can achieve by changing the tension settings and thread set up. It includes using your overlocker with 4, 3 or 2 threads to achieve a wide range of sewing functions and decorative effects.
An overlocker makes sewing jersey knit fabric easy.