Farewell 2016 (or the shite year that woz, leaving a legacy and street/river art arrives in Bishop’s Stortford)

Hello Blogland. Over the next week or so I’m sure you will be inundated with annual roundups and messages of new year resolutions so I thought I’d get in there early in order to draw a line well and truly through this frightful year and focus fully on the new challenges that 2017 will present. Despite the title (and of course you will already be fully aware of my leanings in this matter) I am leaving politics out of this post so please do read on.

This morning’s dog jog gave me some quiet time to muse over the latest sadness to hit our social media streams today, that of the death of yet another of the performers who, along with Prince and David Bowie, formed the musical backdrop to my teenage years. RIP George Michael.  Personally I don’t remember a year of celebrity loss that has been so affecting and I am wondering whether it is because of my age (i.e. I am older therefore statistically those entertainers and musicians who were significant to me whilst I was growing up are also older and therefore more at risk), or whether the rise of Celebrity and social media have made us feel both like we know these people personally because they live their lives under a spot light, and links us to others who are mourning their passing thereby generating almost a sense of self promoting “hysteria” when faced with news of the death of someone most of us have never met (apologies to any actual psychologists out there, these ramblings are purely personal musings and not an attempt to explain anything scientifically). Of course it could also be that 2016 was the year of unprecedented loss that we actually think it was.

Of course, regular readers of my blog will also be aware that I said goodbye to two very important men from my personal life this year and those of you in similar situations will sympathise with how family and friend centred celebrations such as Christmas can highlight these bereavements. So where am I going with this post I hear you ask. There is a link between loss from this year and planning for next. As you may have gathered from previous posts, I don’t do New Year resolutions as these tend to be statements of intent with no real planning and are therefore often doomed to failure. However, I do find the end of a year a great time to focus on what went well/didn’t go so well in the year I am about to leave and let these feed the goals for the one ahead. A planning technique that has been brought to my attention recently is the use of a word to guide, inspire and motivate. I have been struggling to come up with a single word for my business planning but have come up with a word to guide my life generally inspired by a letter that I read from an old work colleague of my Dad’s in response to the news of his passing. The first word that this man, like so many other people who interacted with Dad used to describe him, was “kind” (“I remember him as such a kind man”). While he may not have had a wide circle of social interaction, particularly after his retirement, I find it so moving that those people who did share him with us did not refer to his achievements, material possessions, hobbies etc but instead used this somewhat mild and greatly undervalued adjective to sum him up. While those celebrities we have lost this year leave behind them memories of their respective talents through their fame, music, writing and entertainment, for me, to leave “kind” as a legacy is such a noble and worthwhile thing to aspire to so for 2017 and beyond, my motivation shall be the word “kind”.

Right, bitter sweet indulgences over, here are some pictures to brighten up this post. While pulling into Bishop’s Stortford station last week I noticed some rather colourful and attractive graffiti so armed with Mum and her crazy Labradoodlepoodle, we went on a photography treasure hunt along the River Stort to find out more. And here they are.

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Ella and Mum duck watching

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Bright and colourful wall decoration 

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Still wondering how they did this, from a boat perhaps (no path on that side of the river)

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Decoration on a warehouse wall

I have so much wonderful visual inspiration from my treasure hunt I can’t wait to get started on some work. In the meantime, goodbye 2016. I (and many others) will remember you but not so fondly.

Wishing you all a healthy, happy, peaceful 2017. I’ll see you on the other side……….

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.

Artistic origins and the best rainy days, EVER!

I often get asked by friends and customers to explain what originally got me interested in Making and Art. As long as I can remember I have made Stuff. I usually blame a childhood diet of Blue Peter for my inability to throw away empty washing up bottles, toilet roll tubes and cardboard boxes (I never did find sticky back plastic lying around the house but a bit of improvisation and a few poster paints usually provided a reasonable substitute where required).  At Junior school I was allowed to sit out side of my headmasters office drawing and painting the fresh cut flowers that used to decorate his coffee table, and at home I had the influence of my Mum, a talented knitter and dressmaker.  However, a couple of Sundays ago after suddenly feeling the need to illustrate my day in a pictorial format and after looking at the resulting page I was suddenly transported back to the 1970s and realisation hit. It was all Richard Scarry’s fault!

"pictorial diary page"

Pictorial Diary Page

Richard Scarry and his Best Rainy Day Book Ever was the best thing about school holidays (other than riding bikes, playing on roller skates and generally running about with the other kids on my road).  I would sit happily for hours colouring pictures, making bookmarks, putting together cardboard buildings, and generally drawing and making, inspired by Lowly Worm, Sergeant Murphy and all the other wonderful characters of Busytown. If only I had known at the tender age of five that forty years on I would be as entertained by these activities as I was back then. Happy Days!

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Please feel free to share in the comments your own childhood influences.  I would love to hear what started some of you guys out on your creative journeys.

“Caught on Calico”

Apologies to those of you who don’t “do” Christmas until December, but I couldn’t wait any longer to show you my 2014 Christmas card designs.  These three hand embroidered doggy doodles all show dogs (and cats in two of them) caught doing something naughty (hence the name of the series “Caught on Calico”) in a Christmas setting.  The names of the cards are: “The Christmas Party”, “Wreck the Halls” and “The Night before Christmas”. No prizes for guessing which title belongs to which doodle.

"embroidered Christmas doggy doodles"

Nicky Barfoot 2014 Christmas card designs: “Caught on Calico”

These embroideries have been transferred to printed cards for me by Moo on their lovely 340gsm paper.  They are for sale and are proving to be so popular I’m on my second print run.  If you have doggy mad friends or relatives who would appreciate a limited edition art card for Christmas, I’ll have them with me at the Harrogate Knit and Stitch show (20 to 23 November) so do come find me on stand A600 where I will once again be exhibiting my knitted dog heads as a finalist in the UK Hand Knitting Association’s Knitted Textile Awards.  Hope to see some of you next week.

More Doggy Doodles and my new Nicky Barfoot Etsy Shop is now up and running.

I’ve been quite productive since my last post, utilising the luxury of a couple of lazy weekends in revisiting the embroidery threads and pointy needles.  The result has been more doggy doodles, with the finishing touches put to this doodle, “Tune”, this morning.

"hand embroidered doggy doodle on painted calico"

“Tune”: Hand stitched on painted calico, decorated with vintage lace and mounted on Khadi paper.

“Tune” is currently available to buy and has just been listed in my new Etsy shop.  Do have a look.  More items, including knitting patterns as pdf downloads, will be added to the shop over the coming weeks.

New doggy doodle for sale: “Bff”

Faced with a wet and gloomy Bank Holiday Monday and confined to the house to supervise an injured but still hyperactive Weimaraner, I have just finished a new doggy doodle.  Hand stitched on painted calico and cotton rag paper, and decorated with vintage lace, the theme and colour scheme is unashamedly girlie.  This unframed piece is for sale (£39 including UK postage) and measures 29 by 23.5cm.  Please E mail me if you are interested.

"hand stitched doggy doodle by Nicky Barfoot"

“Bff”: hand stitched doggy doodle on painted calico and cotton rag, decorated with vintage lace

Doggy Doodles 1: Gaspode and Fifi

Last weekend marked my 10th and final short course in the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at West Dean College.  My original reason for embarking on the FDAD journey was to further my skills in the Fine Art disciplines, primarily drawing and printmaking, with the aim of using these to inform my textile work.  For the final three courses however I decided that I would give in to my true nature, choosing them from the mouthwatering textile section of the short course brochure with the final one being a hand embroidery course with RSN tutor Shelley Cox.

The structure of the course was tutorial based.  Everyone was encouraged to bring their own project with the aim of using Shelley’s vast expertise to further our progress and stitching skills. I had decided that this weekend would be the ultimate in indulgence.  Not only would I use a felt pen doodle of dogs as my inspiration, momentarily leaving aside the serious “artiness” of Life Drawing, I was also going to throw myself into colour.  The result of these three wonderfully meditative days is “Gaspode and Fifi” the first of a series of embroidered Doggy Doodles.  I smiled all the way through stitching these guys and I loved the way that they induced a similar reaction from everyone who walked past during their construction.

"hand embroidered doggy doodle"

Gaspode and Fifi, hand embroidered doodle on calico

I kept as true to the original drawing as I could finding that embroidery stitches translated very well into doodle patterns.  I love the way this turned out and can’t wait to get on with Doggy Doodle 2: Boris, which is currently on the hoop impatiently waiting his turn on my to do list.