The “C” word (or being ahead of the curve for the first time and a little bit of bling brightens up the day).

Hello blog land (Mum), it’s been a while, but what a productive while it has been and I am feeling just a little bit smug. For the first time I have Christmas designs before November and am now a little bit embarrassed to mention them for fear of offending some of you lovely people who find the “C” word used before December highly offensive.

There was a reason to be super prepared this year (and not least because I only managed a hand full of Christmas cards last year which sold out within two days of receiving them back from the printers) as I have a stand at the Let’s Make Christmas event on the 20th November at the Ashcroft Arts Centre. So, with these festivities in mind I have been beavering away to produce some new stitch kit designs which thoroughly embrace the season with red and white, blue and white and a little bit of bling (although personally I would be happy to stitch in these threads at any time of year but then I also have fairy lights on in my kitchen all year round).

So here they are. First up is Christmas Kitty Skittle, which takes one of my most popular stitch kit designs and reworks it in folk patterns and gold highlights.

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Christmas Kitty Skittle  limited edition embroidery kit by Nicky Barfoot

The next kit design is Sam, a new character to add to the collection, who is dreaming of the treats Santa will be bringing him on Christmas morning.

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Sam limited edition embroidery kit by Nicky Barfoot

And of course I had to include a canine character and this one is modelled on my favourite muse.

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Seasonal Sas limited edition embroidery kit by Nicky Barfoot

I shall have these kits with me at the Ashcroft Centre if you are planning on coming along but for those unable to partake of the fun I have also listed the cats in my Etsy shop with Sas to follow in the next few days.

So, that’s it for now folks. I’ve got some very exciting stitching on the hoop at the moment which I can’t tell you about just yet. More on this in a future post so until then……..

Woven eccentricities (or a wonky weave of a geriatric Jack Russell)

Since topping up my sleeved sweater stash (see previous post) we have had a mini heatwave here in the South of England. With temperatures soaring to 30 degrees and little let off at night I have found it difficult to get stuck in to another knitting project. So what to do with yarn that doesn’t result in sweaty hands and squeaky needles and allows a little air flow around the old bod? Yep, you got it, back to the tapestry frame and warp speed ahead on another coptic inspired weave of a wonky portrait, this time Nelly being the muse.

low res nelly woven

“Today I shall mostly be fabulous!” Hand woven tapestry in wool, cotton and metallic yarn.

My aim with this one was to use eccentric weaving (where the weft is not at right angles to the warp) to mimic the nap of the fur and to help give the illusion of three dimensions via the suggestion of contour lines. And here is the result: Nelly looking resplendent (and slightly worried i.e. her usual expression) on a majestic looking cushion. Note to self, for the next weave try to create a design that can be woven the right way up rather than on its side as previous ones have been if I wish to avoid developing a permanent kink in my neck and spine from regular progress checks.

Now, what to do next I wonder? I still have a knitting itch to scratch and the temperatures are becoming more conducive to picking up the needles again. However, I wouldn’t want to upset the Big Dog by showing favouritism to the Little and Noisy One so perhaps I should be sourcing some Weim coloured yarn for another wonky weave. Mmm, decisions, decisions, perhaps a cup of tea (or at least the tea leaves) will help? Until next time…….

Canine Partners Textile Art Challenge

At the back end of last year I found out about a textile challenge that was being put together to raise funds for Canine Partners, a charity which trains and provides (free of charge) assistance dogs to people living with disabilities in the UK.  These amazing dogs help their human partner with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, taking the washing out of the machine, picking things up from the floor, pressing switches and fetching help when needed.

Dogs and textiles for a good cause, well it would have been rude not to don’t you think? So the challenge is to buy a pack of 25 fabric squares from the Textile Challenge facebook page and create a piece of textile art or an object using at least part of every piece.

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My original pack of fabrics. 

Sounded easy until I had a good look at the fabrics supplied and realised just what a variety of weights, colours, materials and patterns there were (I should have realised by the word “challenge” in the title, huh?). So two days of standing at the ironing board rearranging, I came up with this.

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Trying to respond to the fabrics and coming up with this, mmm………

As you can see a few of the squares had foliage of some sort as a pattern so I thought I should use these in the final design and had some kind of stitchy flowering thing in mind. And then purely by chance I read an interview with the fabulous Grayson Perry who urged me to respect my muses and my techniques (my interpretation of his advice, not his words as such) and “what were you thinking?” came to mind. At the same time I decided that I couldn’t cope with all of those colours, textures and patterns (way too busy for me) and a bit of unifying was required so the paints came out.

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Now I’m getting excited but let’s move those leaves

So the leaves were replaced with, yes you guessed it, a dog! A free machine embroidered sketch of my usual Weimie muse followed by more paint and a few words hand embroidered on the top and this is the final piece.

Clown's Crown lower res

“Clown’s Crown” machine and hand embroidery on painted fabrics

All of the entries to the challenge will be exhibited at the Angel Inn in Midhurst (South Downs National Park) from 18 February for four days. The work will be for sale to raise further funds for the charity. Do check out the Textile Challenge facebook page to see what other people are making and there is still a bit of time left if you fancy having some textile fun yourself for a good cause.

Getting noticed in the digital age (or how to take a decent photo)

 

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Hand knitted Dog Blanket

The digital age can make getting one’s work seen by others so much easier in many respects as we no longer have to rely on an intermediary such as a magazine or gallery to promote us. While this is not good news from their point of view with so many galleries sadly closing down in recent years, it does mean that without the significant commission payments to the gallery from sale proceeds (usually about 50%), pricing work from the artist’s point of view is more straightforward (although never easy as how does one factor in the time to create a piece of work when that includes a lifetime of education, experimentation and training while getting to the point of being able to create said piece?) and the customer can often get a more affordable price.

However! In my personal experience I have found it is so much easier to sell a piece of work when someone can actually see it in the flesh (so to speak). I think this is partly due to a kind of image numbness one gets these days with the constant bombardment from social media streams and marketing campaigns. Any one who has sat in a coffee shop and observed the activity around them from the other customers who are rapidly scrolling down their i phone screens whilst trying to hold some kind of conversation with the person sat opposite them will understand what I mean by  this. But, I can’t deny that it is also largely due to what has been described in the past by the editor of a knitting magazine as my “terrible photographs!”.

So how do we get noticed in this environment? (Any one who knows the answer to this question please tell me). On the basis that good photos must help (and my 10 year old basic digital camera combined with a cluttered and poorly lit house just can’t do my work justice), last week I booked a professional photo shoot with the lovely Rob Fry  who took some fabulous shots of my work, including these of the dog blanket.

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Dog Blanket charts available from my Etsy shop

Now this is a luxury that I can’t afford on a regular basis but then I don’t have the funds to buy the equipment or training to do it myself either. So, after seeing the output from the shoot I’m afraid my response to my title “how to take a decent photo” has got to be (for me anyway), pay a professional 😉

Until next time…..

 

Nicky Barfoot Stitch Doodle Kits

stitch kits available

Stitch kits currently available

I am delighted to announce that I have made some of my recent dog and cat stitch doodles available as limited edition kits. These were launched at the Harrogate Knit and Stitch show last month and have now been listed in my  Etsy shop.

The kits contain a good sized piece of calico printed (or hand drawn in some cases) with the design, a bundle of embroidery threads (mainly DMC and Anchor), a guide to commonly used embroidery stitches, a sheet of hints, tips and guidance to completing the kit, and a picture of the original design.

These non prescriptive kits are suitable for both beginners and experienced stitchers alike as I encourage you to use your needle and thread much as you would a pencil (“doodle” with it!). If you know your embroidery then you probably already have a good idea which stitches you would use to outline and colour in the design, however if you don’t there is still so much that can be done with a running or back stitch. My aim is to encourage you to make the kit your own individual piece of stitch art, inspired by my original design.

The kits are £19.95 each plus P&P.  If you fancy having a go, click the link to my Etsy shop where you will see each of the above designs listed.

I have also put into the shop a limited number of  ethically produced, 100% cotton tote bags with my very popular “And what is your problem with beige?” design digitally printed onto the front.

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Nicky Barfoot limited edition tote bags

Enjoy your visit to my Nicky Barfoot Etsy shop and I hope I can help you to find an unusual, hand made Christmas gift while you are there. Until next time….

Stitch Doodling, (hints, tips, toys and tricks)

I have been furiously drawing and stitching over the past couple of weeks, working towards a couple of November exhibitions.  I’ll tell you more about these in later posts but it occurred to me as I was beavering away last night that some of you might find it entertaining and even helpful if I shared with you some of the processes, hints, tips and tricks that I have developed and picked up over the years from various workshops, books, by making mistakes, and generally having a go. While I have been taught by some fabulous Embroiderists over the years (RSN tutors so they probably know what they are doing) be warned folks! This is the world of stitch doodling you are about to enter (drawing with a needle and thread) and my advice will not get you through an Embroidery City and Guilds inspection. OK, disclaimer over, let’s get on with it.

"hand stitched doggy doodle by Nicky Barfoot"

“You sir” by Nicky Barfoot. Hand stitched doodle on calico.

My process starts with a drawing or doodle, usually in pencil on paper in a sketchbook. Hang on, that’s not strictly true.  The process usually starts with an observation of an interaction or event, often combined with a book I am reading, or audio book or music I am currently listening to. These things then get mashed together in the washing machine of my brain, usually while I am out running in the woods with the dog, and I come home with an idea, a phrase and or a narrative that I need to exorcise. Then I draw it.

The next step (if another step is required) is to recreate it with stitch in mind. After blasting the calico (or linen) with a steam iron to de-wrinkle it (usually the long suffering husband comes to my rescue at this point as he has spent many years creating a smooth finish on his pure cotton shirts and therefore is sooo much better at it than me), I get to use one of my favourite toys. This little beauty is one of those things that you didn’t know you needed until one Christmas some kind family member buys one for you and you wonder how you ever survived without it.

"LED light pad"

LED light pad

This is not a TV screen folks, but a super duper light pad with adjustable illumination. No more tracing paper! Yay!

I used to use special fabric pens at this stage of the process but these days I mostly use a pencil or a Uni Pin fine line pen (probably because I can never find the right tool for the job so I end up making do with what is in my immediate vicinity and pencil case).

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Sketchbook and drawing materials.

So, you have your design on the fabric, now what? For this type of stitching I use an embroidery hoop and this contraption:

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embroidery hoop with seat frame

This genius contraption looks mighty weird but sitting on the base gives you both hands to work with (as does a table clamp but that obviously needs a table, not so good when sitting in the armchair in front of the TV) and tensioning the thread and placement of the needle becomes so much easier. I was given a tip by the lovely Shelley Cox a couple of years ago when I attended one of her West Dean College courses to cover the hoop with bias binding (or something similar). Can’t for the life of me remember why! Preventing marks on the fabric maybe? Something to do with the tension from the hoop?  Anyway, it seemed like a good idea at the time and she knows what she is talking about. It was also Shelley who suggested a use for those plastic shower caps that one often finds in hotel bathrooms as an embroidery cover to keep work clean when not in use. I have been collecting them ever since.

When it comes to stitching, needles do actually matter! Again, I used to use whatever came to hand i.e. what was sticking out of the pin cushion by my chair at the time, but apparently there are different needles with different heads and eyes and a number system and everything. A whole new world of needles was presented to me when I attended the RSN on a day workshop a few years back.  Who’d have thought? (fans of Terry Pratchett will understand if I refer to Stanley and his pin obsession at this stage). Anyway, I can’t remember what they are all called so things to think about according to Nicky when choosing your needle:

can you get the thread through the hole? (this one is quite important)

will the needle leave big holes in the fabric? (also quite important but rectifiable                   by disguising the hole as a design feature)

is it sharp enough to go through the layers you are working with?

To help with number three, in recent years I have also rediscovered the thimble. Not just a cup for fairies, it can provide valuable protection for finger tips as I have found that blood spots on the work can’t always be integrated into the design.

OK, we have the needle sorted but what about the thread? For my stitch doodles I usually use stranded cotton. This gives the versatility of changing the thickness of the line, blending and mixing colours and just look at the wonderful colour palette available at your local Hobbycraft store (other stores are available but sadly no longer our local John Lewis who have stopped stocking DMC and Anchor and now only sell generic packets of thread imported from China (?). Shame on you JL!). Two tips when using stranded thread I learnt from actual Embroiderists that changed my stitching enjoyment immensely for the better were: 1) cut a thread length approximately the length of your forearm and don’t be fooled into using longer as it will only get knotted up as you work and you’ll end up having to cut it anyway, and 2) separate each individual strand from stranded cotton first and then put back together the number you are planning to use. This also helps prevent the frustration of knotted and twisted threads at the back of the work.

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Part of the thread display at my local Hobbycraft (it is three times this long!).

DMC and Anchor provide a great range of colours and are easily accessible and reproducible.  However, as with yarn, there are some wonderful small businesses out there providing gorgeous threads in mouth watering colours. Be warned!

"embroidery thread"

A small sample of my thread stash picked up from various shows and workshops in recent years (can’t show you anymore in case the husband reads this post)

Another toy which I can’t survive without when stitching is my daylight bulb standing light which sits over my chair. As we move into darker and shorter days, this is invaluable both for seeing where you are sticking the pointy end and also distinguishing thread colours. I can’t imagine what it would have been like stitching by candle light.

Other bits of kit which might come in handy are sharp snips for cutting thread (much better than teeth and less likely to leave coffee or chocolate stains on the fabric), a book of embroidery stitches (I like the Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden as it is ring bound therefore stays open on the page you are looking at) and a camera for progress shots (it is really helpful to step back from close work from time to time to get an idea of how it is going and a photo really helps with this).

As far as the actual stitching is concerned, don’t worry that what you are doing isn’t accurate embroidery, just imagine you are drawing with the needle and thread. Enjoy creating marks (dipping into embroidery stitch reference books for inspiration from time time) and as long as it doesn’t show through, forget about how neat the back should be and concentrate on the important side (not least as a messy back is often rather exciting in itself).

"the back of the work"

A messy back can be quite exciting in its own right

I hope I’ve given you a few hints and tips and perhaps a couple of Christmas list ideas to get you started on a bit of hand stitchery. I’ll leave you with one I have just finished as I’m now off for a cuppa before I get on with the next doodle. Until next time.

"hand stitched doggy doodle on calico"

“Byron” by Nicky Barfoot. Hand stitch on calico.

Hampshire Open Studios 2015

This year I am very excited to be part of this fantastic tradition where over 200 artists and makers in the Hampshire area open up their studios, homes and other venues to show and sell work, talk to the public and demonstrate their working practices.  I have been beavering away getting work finished, framing and mounting, and of course sorting out my venue which has been kindly provided by Studentnofee Property Agency at 24 University Road, Southampton, SO17 1TJ.

open studios flyer

I shall be in situ daily from 22nd to 31st August, 10am until 5pm, possibly drawing, possibly stitching and probably feeding my current obsession with double knitting, and am looking forward to showing you my work and talking about what inspires me and the various mixed media techniques I use.  Do rest assured though that if you would rather be left to your own devices to quietly walk around without my chatter in your ear I shall have plenty of work to do so can leave you to it if you would prefer!  I am also happy to provide a (free of charge) knitting surgery if any of my visitors have UFOs that they are struggling with so bring your knitting, and can do demonstrations on the WIP I’ll have with me if the techniques I am using interest you.

"Nicky Barfoot mixed media pictures"

Some of the framed mixed media pictures which will be on display

The items I’ll have on display will include mixed media work, prints, textile pictures both framed and unframed, and wall mounted sculptures.

"Doggy Doodle by Nicky Barfoot"

“Bert” hand stitch on calico by Nicky Barfoot

If you are a regular follower of my posts you will already know that subject matter is usually (but not exclusively!) canine, feline or life inspired.

"Nicky Barfoot knitted picture"

“Frankie in grey” knitted picture

I will also have a few hand knitted accessories on display such as this double sided scarf in a cashmere and wool yarn (pink) and a rare sheep breed yarn (green).

"hand knitted double sided scarf"

Nicky Barfoot hand knitted double sided scarf

And of course, many of my designs are available as limited edition greeting cards and these will be available to purchase if any take your fancy.

"Nicky Barfoot limited edition printed cards"

Nicky Barfoot limited edition printed cards

Despite the manic last minute preparations, I’m now really looking forward to this event and it would be great to see some of you lovely people next week. The only downside is that as I am exhibiting on my own, I won’t be able to visit any of the other open studios this year.  Mmm maybe I can employ a stand in on one day?  So if you do arrive at the door and are greeted by a bald, bearded six foot plus male, he has to live and breath my art work (being subjected to it on a constant basis) so rest assured that he probably knows as much if not more about it than I do!

Seeing Double (or perhaps, tangle free intarsia?)

Have I ever told you Chaps how much I enjoy gift shopping for Mum? It gives me the perfect excuse to “research” knitting books, gadgets and textiles for an obsessive yarn addict other than myself, the only concern being that she might already have got one of those (think blocking mats, carbon fibre knitting needles, stitch markers etc and you get the idea). Of course it also presents an opportunity to get a trusted review on whether said book or gadget can change a life for the better (how on earth did we ever survive without it?) and if so, well you can guess the next instalment.

So while perusing the latest books on Amazon, sifting through all of the mouth watering delicacies that have probably already been digested from cover to cover by the intended recipient, I came across this little gem.  While the front cover photo would normally have put me right off (embarrassing memories of 1980s knitting patterns and how many hats does one really need living in the south of England?), what competitive nature could resist the title!?

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Also, being a big fan of Nini and Wink‘s cheeky double knitted scarves (and do check out their wonderful knitted faces, they make me chuckle every time!), I have been intending to give this technique a try for quite some time.

Nini and Wink double knitted scarf (photo credit Nini and Wink‘s facebook page)

So, as one can never have enough books, I gave a copy a home and have been obsessively double knitting ever since.

Between you and me, I have to admit that after skimming the first few pages and finding the rather dry narrative too much to bear for my enthusiasm to just get on with it, I quickly skipped to the how to cast on section and haven’t really dipped into the book since (don’t tell the Long Suffering Husband this, as far as he is concerned I am working my way methodically through it, just like I do every other book that takes up all available shelf and floor space in the house).  But the seed of inspiration has well and truly been planted so I say it was a purchase well made!  The most exciting thing about knitting a front and back of a two layer fabric at the same time is that two or three colour intarsia becomes a piece of tangle free cake! No more twisting bobbins dangling off the back of the work as you go. The downside is how many scarves and blankets does one really need and of course, knitting two sides of everything is a little time consuming.

“The two sides of a Spaniel” double knitting in Rowan Cotton Glace

I am currently obsessively working my way through portraits of various dog breeds, some of which have come out a treat, and others have failed to meet expectations.  Currently I have a Jack Russell, Weimaraner (of course!), a Spaniel and a Pug. More terriers are on the way and a gauntlet has been thrown down by a labrador! I was thinking Andy Warhol when I started these but who knows where (or in what) they will end up.  A Dog Blanket, probably.

“What are you looking at?!” Double knitted pug in Rowan Cotton Glace

Anyway, I have a French bulldog in mind that needs charting and a rummage through the cotton glace stash for two suitably contrasting colours is required (not as easy as one would think after the blue, green and orange combo I tried for that pesky labradog just didn’t work!). I am also keen to experiment with a bit of texture in double knitting too so until next time…….

Art: A window to the soul and laying oneself bare

Hey, I have a Collector! This has got to be the pinnacle of my art career so far that an almost random (the use of the word “random” not in any way a reflection of this person’s personality who is actually anything but, and is more along the lines of someone who is not related to me and has never had a meal at my house) now has two of my knitted life paintings hanging in his home! Wow what a buzz. To think that someone has connected with my artistic vision and interpretation of the world not just the once but TWICE, although credit has also got to be given to the person many years ago who told me over a cup of coffee that of course one should always work in series.

Selling creative work is a funny old business isn’t it? I was brought up in a world where children were encouraged to ponder on the meaning of life and have opinions but it was also drummed into us that while it might be a fundamental right to have that opinion it didn’t necessarily extend to sharing it and having it listened to (social media is still a relatively new phenomena!). “No one is interested in what you think/have to say” was a phrase I heard on numerous occasions while growing up. Navel gazing was not encouraged as a healthy pastime and debating in a family of five was just too noisy.  And then I ventured into the world of Art where a good dose of anger, opinion and angst can inspire a lifetime’s work and therein lay a problem. What if you don’t think you have any?

“A problem with Beige” by Nicky Barfoot. Hand stitch, paint and cotton applique on calico.

Now I’m definitely not saying that I would trade my safe and loved childhood/early adulthood for the type of emotional trauma that some of the revered artists of our time have suffered (Tracey Emin and Louise Bourgeois being two who immediately spring to mind) but in the words of talented poet Kate Tempest “enjoying the beigeness” isn’t really going to cut it either.  The importance of the word “Why” was highlighted during college and for every piece of work made there had to be research, context, planning and critical evaluation. It certainly wasn’t acceptable to write an artist statement along the lines of “I just fancied making it” or “I thought it looked pretty” and it still takes me hours to write a 50 word exhibition statement even after practising it for a number of years now.

The problem for me is the exposure.  When I create a piece of work it comes from within, a place that I keep hidden from all but my husband and even he shouldn’t have access to all the dark corners of my brain as it just wouldn’t be healthy. In other words I’m just not used to sharing.  Showing the work without explanation allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions and as long as I don’t have to confirm or deny, they don’t get to SEE me and while the work itself is judged, I’m safe. However, where I am required to verbalise what was going through my head at the time of creating the work and what I am attempting to say with it, I open ME up to judgement, MY thoughts, MY feelings, MY opinions (and no one wants to hear those anyway, right?) and MY emotional state. Now that’s uncomfortable and a little scary!  I think this feeling of laying ourselves bare through our work is why when someone buys a piece it is so special.  We feel a sense of connection to them. They got it! They understand where I’m coming from! It isn’t just me!

“Window to the soul” photograph by Nicky Barfoot

I think that it must be even worse for authors, this feeling of nakedness created by allowing readers a glimpse into your head.  A very talented customer of mine recently wrote a novel and being of a Sci Fi nature and therefore right up my street, I read it. It was a great story and I thoroughly enjoyed it but I have to admit that the first few chapters felt uncomfortable.  I was being given access to a place in the head of a person who I knew well on a professional level but not exactly on a personal level.  Thankfully there wasn’t too much raunch in it as that would definitely have been a step too far!

A friend of mine also bought a picture from me this week.  I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat shocked when she expressed her interest in it as not being one for gushing over previous “stuff what I have made” (although a strong supporter of my greeting card range), I had no idea that she would like it. So, while she was looking at it and knowing that it is probably good practice for me to talk about my work, I explained my vision. Her response was “Well I don’t know about that, I just like it because it looks like she’s walking out onto a stage”.

That theatrical interpretation was exactly the metaphor behind my intention, so it worked for me!

“Woman Awakening” – at defined stages in her life a female will awaken, she comes into existence, and is reborn as a Woman

So, readers (Mum!) I shall keep producing my artistic interpretations of the world according to Nicky (verbalising when required), encouraged by all of the lovely people who have bought my work over the years (blame them not me!). The only slight problem I have now though, is that after this week’s unexpected sales, I no longer have any work suitable for an upcoming exhibition in a few weeks time.  So, I must sign off and get on with some knitting as the weekend is fast escaping me and I still have thirty rows left on the substitute.  Have a healthy, happy and creative week.

Knitted painting, work in progress.