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……..

Exhibition news and other stuff

Oops, it’s been a while. Spring has sprung, stuff is a-growing and those without lady dogs have probably already mown their lawn a few times (our back lawn doesn’t have much grass left on it these days due to the muddy craters created by piddling pooches).

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Spring has sprung

Last time I blogged I told you about the Canine Partners textile challenge and exhibition. I am delighted to report that both of my pieces sold, along with lots of other lovely work, making the event enough of a success for the charity that they are looking to hold another one. I’ll keep you posted…..

I also mentioned a rather exciting course I was doing throughout February with talented artist Este Macleod . Every day at 9am we logged in to a class room portal where we were given a creative task to do, based on the letters of the alphabet. I found some of these quite testing, which was my main reason for undertaking the course as I am usually more inclined to draw a literal representation of what is in front of me rather than exercise my imagination, but great fun and rather liberating.

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Faces created from letters of the alphabet

I particularly enjoyed the relief printing exercises using cardboard tubes (toilet roll innards but don’t tell the Health and Safety police ;-)), cosmetic sponges (never had any use for these before!) and Golden’s high flow acrylic ink.

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Relief print, acrylic ink on paper

And, as it happens one of the looming deadlines for me last month was the annual Printmakers Exhibition held at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester so my experimentation with relief prints during this course was definitely time well spent and inspired the work I ended up submitting to the exhibition. It finishes on 3 April so if you are in the Chichester area there is still time to have a look.

I also spent much of February working on my submission to the Embroiderer’s Guild celebration of the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown. This was a new challenge for me as you will probably be aware that landscapes and gardens are not my usual subject matter. After a few false starts and a couple of knitting tangents (why is it that whenever I have an embroidery deadline I get a knitting itch and vice versa?) I created a piece of work based on Hydrangea Walk at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens where it will be on display in the exhibition room of Jermyn’s House at Hilliers with work from members of the Solent, Andover and Salisbury branches of the Guild from 11 April. It will also be at the Knitting and Stitching shows later in the year.

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“Hydrangea Walk” hand stitch, acrylic, pastel and fabric crayon on calico and vintage lace

And, the final exhibition I am excited to tell you about is taking place at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham, Hampshire from 10 to 30 April where I will be exhibiting my knitted life paintings and doggy heads. Talented textile artist Caroline Bell will also be exhibiting her work during this time. On the 10 April the centre is hosting a “Fabrics” celebration with workshops, stalls and demos from local textile artists and makers. I will be teaching a knitted jewellery workshop and also doing a demo of my work processes in the morning. It would be lovely to see you there.

I’ll leave you with my latest knitted life painting created for the exhibition at the Ashcroft Centre. Until next time…..

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“Private Dancer” hand knitted painting

“Aww, Go On!”

People often comment on how slow January can be but quite frankly I blinked and missed it this year! So here’s a little catch up on arty things a foot in my life at the moment. Remember my last post about the Textile Challenge for Canine Partners? Well, not content with creating one piece for this worthy cause I was compelled to do another. This time I left the paints in their pots and worked solely with the fabrics provided in all their mismatched pattern and colour glory, and used hand stitch as my method of unifying them. The result is a reproduction of an expression I see up close (Weimaraners are renowned for their inability to recognise the concept of personal space) countless times a day and the title was a toss up between “And me!” and “Aww, Go On!”, both of which would represent the sentiment behind this face equally well.

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“Aww, Go On!” by Nicky Barfoot.

The result is possibly my favourite piece of textile work to date and I felt a little reluctant to hand it over this morning when I dropped it and “Clown’s Crown” off to the lovely lady who has organised the challenge.

Both of these pieces will be for sale at the exhibition of work created for the Textile Challenge running from 18th to 21st February. Already it has raised enough money to buy a puppy and hopefully with sale proceeds from the exhibition more canine partners can be purchased and trained to provide independence and companionship to people living with disabilities.

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Textile Challenge Exhibition

So, one exhibition deadline met and two more to plan for in February, whilst also participating on a fantastic drawing course that I have started with Este Macleod called Creative Leap where we are being set a challenge for each day of February linked to the letters of the alphabet. No doubt I shall be showing you some outputs from that over the next few weeks or so. But for now I need to get back to making a fishy collage. Until next time folks ……..

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.

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“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.

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….

Harrogate Knit and Stitch Show 2015 (Yikes! What was I thinking?!)

I’m back! And what a fabulous week I’ve just had exhibiting at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching show sharing stand TG623 with the lovely Becca Tansley of Alterknitive.  It may have been wet and windy but I still enjoyed my third visit to this picturesque spa town in North Yorkshire, possibly helped by the warm welcome and award winning breakfasts provided by Andy and Tracey at Wynnstay House, and according to Mr Barfoot, THE best coffee shop in the UK (and anyone who knows my better half realises that this is a well researched accolade) Hoxton North, which conveniently turns into a champagne bar in the evenings!

Anyway I digress, so back to the show.  After a 4am start last Wednesday morning (Mr B still hasn’t forgiven me for that!) and only a 1 hour delay sitting stationary on the M1 whilst a broken down lorry took up two out of the three lanes (rude!) at rush hour, we arrived at Harrogate International Centre to this.

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Photo credit Becca Tansley.

You can imagine what went through my head at this point? Yep you got it. Yikes! What was I thinking!?  But by the time we left at 6pm, thanks to the expert help and advice of Julia Neal of Velvet Beacon Ltd we had transformed to this.

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This was me

And this.

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Becca’s half of the stand (photo credit Becca Tansley)

Looking at my 2m by 1m share of our cubby hole now it is hard to believe the amount of effort that goes into putting something like this together. However, it is also difficult to describe what a buzz I got from seeing nine month’s worth of preparation (and panic) displayed professionally like this.  As a maker the opportunity to see a series of work in all its glory doesn’t happen that often and standing back it is extremely gratifying to be able to say to oneself, “Blimey, did I do that?”  And even better than that was the overwhelming appreciation both myself and Becca got from the thousands of lovely visitors who came by and came in.

So enough about us.  One of my favourite things about these shows is the other exhibitors.  We hadn’t been there five minutes on set up day before Kevin Powell came by for a catch up. I spent the previous two Harrogate Knit and Stitch shows as part of the UK Knitted Textile Awards on a stand next to the Spellbound Bead Company and had many an entertaining chat with Kev, mild mannered bead shop owner by day and Punk Rock star with the band Skimmer by night, usually about music or sharing anecdotes about our furry kids.  He also gave me a copy of Skimmer’s latest album, Baby Dinosaur, which if anything like their previous output will no doubt become my new favourite driving album.  After his comments that it is probably their best to date (and they’ve been around a while!) I’m looking forward to getting in the car later and having a listen.

Situated opposite us in the Textile Gallery was the Nicola Jarvis Studio, The Art of Embroidery. The stand was huge and when we got there they were busy putting up wallpaper and furnishing it with the most amazing wooden furniture.  The end result was a haven of calm in the midst of the show frenzy not unlike being in the drawing room of a large country house.  This impression was further enhanced by the wonderful Brian Hunt, a past student of Nicola’s who, despite the bustle and chaos of a show set up, sat tranquil in front of an embroidery loom engrossed in his technically superb stitching for much of the day.

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Brian Hunt stitching in the Nicola Jarvis Studio

I found out later in the week that Brian isn’t the only expert stitcher in his family.  That fabulous sweater he is wearing in the picture is one of his wife Helen Hunt’s creations. I saw the inside of that sweater folks, that lady knows her fairisle!

In another part of the Textile Gallery I discovered the work of talented felt maker Michala Gyetvai.  Not one usually attracted to landscapes in art, this has got to be one of my favourite pieces in the show. The title of the stand was Enchanted Landscapes and this one summed that up for me, invoking all sorts of fairytale esque narratives as I was drawn into its depths.

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“After India” by Michala Gyetvai 2015

Another piece of work that stopped me in my tracks to have a better look and more in line with my usual tastes was this winner of the Art Quilts category at the 2015 Festival of Quilts by Susan Orchin.

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See how these quirky quilted characters, winners of the 3d festival of quilts category, are also mesmerised by this piece.

And no trip to the Knitting and Stitching show would be complete without a little bit of retail therapy.  I didn’t have to venture out from the stand for some of my Christmas present purchases, but obviously I can’t say any more about those as the recipients may guess who they are after reading this and it would ruin the surprise.  I have had a couple of orders for the dog blanket in recent weeks so I also had the pleasure of sourcing some yarn.

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My new favourite yarn

And look what I found (and yes it feels even better than it looks!) The lovely ladies from the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop guessed I might be a repeat offender as I came past most mornings for another look and a squidge, and gave me a shade card.  Good move ladies!

Right, that’s enough putting off the unpacking.  I also have a dog to pick up and all of those jobs I postponed until December to plan for.  Not to mention the other business to run.  But then I also have some lovely new yarn to play with.  Mmm, maybe there’s time for just one more coffee and a quick cast on before I get back to the real world.  Until next time……..

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“Do we really have to get the other dog back Mum? I quite like being the centre of attention”.

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!

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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).

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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).

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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!

Life in Layers

Firstly apologies for the prolonged silence here this month. Lots going on in the background both in life generally and on the art making front resulting in time running away with me somewhat and before I knew it July was looming and no posts had materialised. Anyway, to make up for it here are three pictures of a new series I have been working on inspired by the techniques and generous teachings of talented artist Emily Jo Gibbs at a recent West Dean College short course.

"hand stitched life drawing on silk organza"

“Catherine” layered silk organza and hand stitch

"hand stitched life drawing on layered silk organza"

“Georgie (2)” layered silk organza and hand stitch

"hand stitched life drawing on layered silk organza"

“Chris” hand stitch on layered silk organza

I will be dropping Georgie off at Eastleigh College later this week where she will be on display at the end of year show as work of past graduates.  Inviting back past students is a new thing for this annual event and I am really looking forward to seeing how the work of the three years worth of Stitched Textile Degree graduates has progressed since their degree shows.  Do have a look if you are in the area.

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Eastleigh College end of year show

So, lots of stuff going on here, mainly involving stitched life drawings of which I have more planned (there is a bit of a stick and prop theme coming through!). But for now it is back to the knitting needles and a commissioned fairisle sweater (“sweat” being the operative word in this summer weather).  Back soon……….