Heart Space and Flower Drawing

the choice of flowers for the drawing class

I have just given my  first “Flower Drawing for Stitching” class at Heart Space Studios –  to just 2 people – still early days for the new textile workshops but I have committed to teaching everyone, regardless of numbers, for the taster days, ie. one day workshops to whet the appetite for the longer 6 and 10 week classes. But the first thing I had to do was to go and buy the flowers – always a treat. I asked the local florist, Barry Toogood, for some dying tulips and he didn’t look at all fazed but immediately went to the back of the shop and produced 2 lovely bunches of floppy stemmed tulips – for free.

The local flower shop with perky tulips

I also bought, ranunculas large pinks and whites, and a bunch of my favourite florists flowers ( on account that I cannot grow them myself) anemonies – in  MIXED COLOURS – these are difficult to find now as the style police seem to have gained control over anemone growers so that they are often sold in bunches of one single colour – what a ludicrous thing to do – surely what everyone loves about anemonies –  apart from the sooty black centres, the undulating stems and their ruff of brilliant green petals – is the wonderful mixture of glowing clashing colours; magenta, purple, crimson, palest mauve, softest pinks and whites suffused with lime and pistachio.

floppy tulips and mixed coloured anemones all ready to draw.

My two students had totally different attitudes to the flowers and the way they worked; but they both started off in exactly the same way when I asked them to choose one flower and just draw it for 10 minutes ( I always like to see just what people do when left alone, it tells me so much even though everyone is always very nervous when they start to draw in classes).

starting to draw

And 99% of people I teach always pick up a pencil, draw a shape and fill it in with colour, which is a waste of time and deadens the drawing by “filling in syndrome”

pencil drawing first - colour later

Occasionally, very occasionally, the colours are picked up first but I always start with the colours – I mean – what is your first response to most flowers, apart from scent which we aren’t dealing with here? So my first exercise in drawing classes is usually colour blocking then drawing outlines.

colour first for this pink and white anemone

I must admit they were both very diligent with my ‘strict mistress’ teaching style, and were soon developing lively studies to develop embroideries later.

looser and livelier drawings
pen and ink helps fluffy lines to calm down for this delicate leaf study

Choosing different media to suggest different surfaces also controls the scribbly or nervous “one of these lines must be correct”  type of drawing.

softer media used to describe ranunculus petals

In the afternoon each student had to choose a drawing to stitch…and put the flowers away….this really tests the observational studies.

taking some notes of petal formation for stitching

Ann White carefully made some line drawings and notes about petal sequences and the results of her studies carry her through to the applique stage where she was able to use her lovely marbled silk that she had brought with her from another course.

transposition from drawing to stitching

I learnt a lot from this class myself, timing is essential if students are to achieve a decent piece of work in a day…it proved impossible to finish such an intensive set of research and sampling in the time, even though these students were experienced before they came to the class –  so I need to adjust my way of working for the short classes but observational colurs and line drawing will always remain the starting point for flower embroidery.

Sue Pickering's enamel and beaded flowers trellis

But one of the real joys of teaching in this new studio, is meeting like-minded people, and to prove this point Sue brought a piece of vitreous enamel flowers on a trellis that she had made at another series of classes in Bristol.  I was so impressed and delighted and not a little envious of her work – as it seems much wittier  than my own enamel flowers – that they now hang in the Heart Space Studios window.

Drawing Class

drawing and embroidery for my pink shoes- Ann Rippin

Welcome to my new world – I am starting something completely different this year – opening a space in Bristol for  textile based workshops called – not surprisingly – Heart Space Studios. I have been asked so many times to conduct drawing and/or stitching workshops that I decided to take the plunge and with 2 other stitchers, Liz Hewitt and Jan Connett have committed to developing series of workshops and courses from complete beginners to master classes for all things textile.

complete concentration at the first workshop - drawing shoes. Jan and Liz are seen here at the bottom left hand side of the table

I conducted this first drawing class for a disparate group, most are established textile makers, some teach classes them selves, some had never been to a drawing class before and Liz Bishop, informed me that she was unteachable, she had tried and failed to draw at countless classes…I had a plan for her – but as you can see below it was totally un-necessary. I meet with this “I can’t draw” problem all the time by people who are perfectly capable of drawing but who  have at some time in their lives been told they can’t – by what standards they have been judged is hard to fathom – my response to them all is – if you can write your name the same way twice – you can be taught to draw. But this is such a sensitive drawing that I really was perplexed when I saw it.

first drawing by the woman who "couldn't draw"

I have taught design and drawing, usually observational drawing, for many years as a senior lecturer in textile design at UWE Bristol –  from life drawing through fashion illustration to drawing for design outcomes. I have worked with private clients, costume students at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as well as drawing practically every day in one form or another. I feel that drawing is my first language, English my second and stitching my third.

And what was my first drawing class about – shoes – well why not? Practically everyone I know has an attitude to shoes either their own or other peoples’ – I have been drawing and stitching them for the past few months and I had a lot of ideas about them to relay to anyone who would listen

shoe selection, from Chinese bound feet covers to Jan Connet's "staggers"

I called the first class How to Look, and I set about it in the usual way of quickly getting everyone relaxed for working by doing 2 minute studies of various shoes and being extremely strict about how they drew them – like not taking the pencil off the page for a continuous line drawing, how to use various angles of the pencils and crayons to create textured lines, pushing not pulling the pencils, drawing with an eraser….most people were amazed that I was teaching drawing skills, not just setting up poses – I was amazed they were amazed.

first simple drawings being used for stitched shoes - Janet Clarke

I have very few images of these early drawings – I was far too busy watching and teaching to remember to take photos…but happily several people returned to their simple line drawings for the stitched drawing later in the day. One of the most elegant drawing and embroidery transitions, below, was done by Sally Payne who “doesn’t stitch at all” and is a musician, she just came along with a friend.

an early drawing with transition into stitch - Sally Payne

Several people brought shoes, Jan Connett brought the most fascinating pair of all – a fabric and glitzy suede confection which almost everyone wanted to draw, but they would have taken the whole day to have done justice to them – the person who captured their spirit if not their fabrication was our only male student, Mike -who is just re-learning to draw after a very early retirement,

everyone's favourite fabric and leather shoes
coloured character drawing of the glitzy shoes, Mike Kersopp

But Jan’s own simple line drawing and embroidery caught something more refined which she could see in them – but then she has worn them and is very alive to their curious allure.

drawing and stitched transition drawing or her own shoe Jan Connett

Another shoe or rather boot, that proved to be the inspiration for several wonderful drawings, were Mike’s suede boots – their rugged rough exterior made everyone who saw them reach for oil pastels to draw really big – they turned quite a few people into confidant illustrators and their subsequent embroidered versions carried through the initial conviction.

work boot drawing, Ira Wood
work boots, Kirsten Hill-Nixon

However Mike really won the “bravery in face of the experts” award for his first attempt at stitching from his study of his own boot, I had to explain the rudiments of running, back and split stitches.  It is not surprising that such a rugged boot should elicit good drawings, there is a lot to record in them and the shape isn’t too refined!

But some of the most charming drawings of all were from a simple pink ballet -flat shoe,  their simplicity seemed to bring out careful and fairly accurate results which captured the spirit if never the quite the colour of the original shoes…
simple drawing of a simple shoe - Viv Young

and the header illustration by Anne Rippin is of these same shoes but she placed them perfectly in a shoe box to surround them with a pattern.

lively but simple drawing of my ballet flats - Ann Rippin

Anne has beaten me to blog this first, she sent me a link to her own post before I had even downloaded my images and she is extremely complimentary about the workshop.

The suede boots and shoes seem to bring out the most sensitive drawings from most people – maybe this is the ease with which you can apply pastels and soft crayons which suggests the texture of suede.

sensitive drawing and stitched painting of suede boot- Debby Bird

even my own difficult to draw, black suede shoes have been transposed into luscious deeply  textural studies by Sharne Lott – a knitter.

transitions from drawing to stitched images of a suede shoe - Sharne Lott

Even people who absolutely dreaded the day – like Liz Hewitt who organised the students for me, realised that if she didn’t worry so much about how the drawing looked but just concentrated on quickly recording just what she saw, not what she thought she saw (now I wonder why that helped?) her drawings were more accurate and looked convincing – but like many textile practitioners, she stitches a lot better than she draws.

sensitive stitching - Liz Hewitt.
killer heels quick drawing and transition stitching- Sally Sparks.

Being forced to draw quickly often brings about great changes in people’s work, when you are made to hurry up and just told to concentrate on the essentials, which are assessed before-hand,  the drawings are usually stronger by being more focused.  On the right can be seen 2 really strong drawings  of  killer heels by a dedicated machine – stitcher who was struggling to get any proper proportion in her slower and  more considered drawings. I often find that people who have taken a long time over a drawing and then realise it is out of proportion are loathe to change it – thinking that they will adjust it later ….better to erase the problem when you first recognise it .

Another thing that happens when you draw quickly is that it helps stop what I call feathery  or dithery drawing, where people make about 6 attempts at the line so it appears to be ghosted  – one of these lines must be right but which one? That is when I suggest drawing with an eraser…..choose the correct line and get rid of the rest – this advice worked wonders on one person at the class, who eventually made a sensitive if alternative coloured drawing and embroidery of the ballet- flats. – just look at that drawing of the bow!

fluid drawing after the de- feathering exercises-~Patricia Brownen


Dream Shoes

Just a very short post to say Da! Da! I have eventually finished my second pillow of dreams, the Shoes dream….and I have written another piece to accompany the recent post Slow Progress where I discussed the doubts and frustrations of making slow hand crafted work. At last it can be now be viewed in my pages for ‘Make It Through the Night’  as a the last section of  Ongoing Work which is found directly underneath the header image – which is an embroidered dream flower detail of another pillow from the same series

If you have not viewed this section it is set out in reverse order  so that you read/view my ideas as they unfold; this way you can follow the development of a personal set of work – with all its trials and frustrations over the months, and from this month the past year (I started this work in December 2009) so this section appears at the very end of the whole page and you will have to scroll down to it …. but anyone interested in the way someone’s mind works while working slowly through a whole series of interconnected and complex ideas which somehow are supposed to form a cohesive narrative or in this instance make for a comprehensive gallery exhibition, should find it of interest.

Slow Progress

hand embroidered boot

I wrote in the About page that I would show work in various stages of progress, successful or not; and as I have almost  finished the second dream embroidery for  my “Make it Through the Night” project, I thought I would show this at the “will it never ……. end”? stage.  This embroidery has been a real struggle to  make, which is so strange as I have had the drawing of my dream for over 10 years, have often looked at it and thought “one day”.

shoe dream drawing 1998




For several well considered reasons I decided to embroider it onto a bed sheet, therefor everything was life size – “a sheet of dreams” I started it in August and mention it in the blog “Samplers” and It took about one month of drawing, making patterns and sampling various techniques before I could start to make the work; then another month’s actual making before I gave it up – I thought that  if I shelved it I may eventually get the courage to continue the mammoth task of stitching it. I had made many samples and even got as far a printing an entire quilt onto the bed sheet, this took weeks so I was loathe to abandon it. But basically the sheer scale was just too daunting – I knew I had to hand stitch each shoe and there were about 10 0f them, and they were shoe sized and in a single thread, and I was losing the will to live at the thought of it. I didn’t blog about it at the time as I was unsure of why I was experiencing such difficulties and I certainly didn’t have the heart to write about it.

life size sample for sheet of dreams.

Meanwhile I made other works – some commissioned pieces which can’t be blogged until they are published….and so generally let the problem lie at a low level, to be absorbed knowing that eventually it would re-emerge…this is how work often resolves itself; you just have to be patient and let it suggest its own way forward…..then I made some handkerchieves for the same project, and realising how good it was to work small and quickly again – I thought I could maybe make the work smaller and embroider a” pillow of dreams” – after all, I reasoned, this is where you lay your head and where all the action stems from.

original drawings from August with revelation about how to progress in October

So I set to work again restitching the whole image onto a vintage linen Oxford pillowcase. The drawings remained exactly the same but now I used running stitches to make the quilt then padded it like a trapunto technique to emphasises the body shape that emerges from the distorted “patchwork”. This was all so really interesting to work, I was now on the right track and gone were the misgivings of “copping out” for a smaller scale.

I really wanted to get on with the shoes though, the drawings were taken from many old sketches and my own collection –

drawing of the my own shoes and embroidered pillow in progress.

Some shoes I cannot bear to throw away and have used them for years for drawing classes – if you can draw shoes you can draw most things put in front of you.

a collection of my own shoes, the high laced brown boots were bought in 1973 - a great expense but we enjoyed some very lively times together
shoes stitching still in progress last week

Eventually I got to embroidering the shoes, they are quite small about 10cms / 2 inches long and are stitched in one strand of  silk, cotton or metal threads, I love glitzy shoes.

gold shoe tramme
other gold shoe stitched












Of course the whole point of the dream was that I couldn’t wear the shoes any more, look closely at the lack of feet….yet  to be embroidered – I will address this issue later when I publish the finished work in the Ongoing Work pages. But meanwhile I set to to do the rest of the shoes – they take between 3 and 8 hours to work each one, but it is now driving me to distraction, I really dislike the days spent stitching these shoes……

Ironically I constantly bang on about how stitching is like meditation and I am presently running a project called “Stitching and Thinking” with a group of makers where we are considering the state of mind reached when the world goes away and its just you and your thoughts and the work; sometimes called a state of Flow, or old hippies used to say ” In the Zone” – wherever it is it is wonderful.



I loved the paler inside lining
embroidery of my old suede boots











I haven’t been there for a few weeks while battling with these embroidered shoes…and I blame an “acquaintance” of mine, Nigel Hurlstone, who is a tutor on a course where they still embroider –  Manchester Met (MMU). He gave me a much needed and requested  mentoring session on the whole ‘Make it Through the Night’ set of work whose progress he has been following – we have a reciprical arrangement where he crits my stitched work and I crit his new written story – telling work.

But he inadvertently said something that absolutely made me loose faith in how I have made this piece of work – “what is really fascinating and worth you considering is that these shoes LOOK as if they have been stitched on the multi – head machine – but they haven’t ” – and he was right! The long and short stitches are so neat and precise they look machine made – I have been overtaken by technology. So I now have to rethink for what and how I stitch by hand….. how will this machine – made perception affect the way people appreciate my work?

One of the ideas underpinning my current practice is the notion of time taken: to hand stitch something which is very slow and therefor valued means that the subject or concept is worth consideration……but meanwhile I have to finish this piece of work – but am I wasting precious time when I could just give it to some one to machine it for me – I am not about to learn how to use a multi -head. But it does make me wonder how I can change my whole way of working in cloth when anyone can “draw” with stitch.













Flower Face

Flora. Guiseppe Arcimboldo 1591

This face of flowers has haunted me for years, I am fascinated by the loveliness which is coupled with the unease I feel every time I see it – delighting in the delicious idea of a face made of flowers but this looks more like a tattoo, it’s scary. Arcimboldo, court painter in 16th century Vienna, is widely acknowledged to be the father of surrealism; he made ‘likenesses’ of people from all manner of objects, a librarian’s face made of his books, a cook’s portrait in a dish of food, today modern advertising still use the same clever devices to spectacular visual effects.

first page of Flora workbook, my collage of flowers for a face.

So I decided to make a face of embroidered flowers picked from my own garden ( as you do). I started with a collage to see what I would need to find to make it convincing, the man’s face in the bottom left corner is also by Arcimboldo, a portrait of his patron Rudolph ll as Vertumnus,the god of the harvest 1590.(You can also see my version of a Vegetable Man). I had to resort to all sorts of flowers to make the face – but the expression of vague alarm on this first face of flowers should have warned me what was coming……….I started to draw the flowers from my garden, searching out  roses for cheeks, pansy eyes, rosebud mouth…how innocent it all was; by the end of this embroidery I had more many ideas due to my research both visiting flower shows and studying the history of Florists – the growers, showers and  developers of our modern day flowers. Slowly the work became a whole series of embroideries about man’s manipulation of nature with beautiful and terrible results……….however to start at the very beginning.

first drawing of a face of flowers from my own garden

This is the vase of flowers that I used for the drawing above, the pansy eyes, the foxglove nose and eyebrow, the carnation mouth are faithfully recorded, not exactly in the same spaces – but if you squint the face can just be seen in the bunch below left. But I had a problem – I didn’t have the right flowers to use in my garden to develop this further so some more would have to be bought.

Jacob van Walscapelle 1644-1727
first flower vase face

I had put them in a lovely old (and mended) hand blown glass decanter and this made me think of the beautiful Dutch paintings of vases of flowers – it was studying these closely that made me realise that none of these actual painted bouquets ever existed, they were portraits of individual flowers painted when they were in season and assembled by the artists  – how else do you get tulips with fully blown roses with ears of corn with anemones all in one vase – in the 17th century.

Now I knew how to get what I needed, I designed the face and searched for flowers to fill in the features. I drew each flower as I found it, embroidered it on dark silk organza ready to be cut out and assembled when I had enough  – this took several months. I started with a drawing of Iris from my garden – I knew she (by now she had become Flora, the Roman goddess of spring) had to have my colour hair, this iris was perfect a sort of reddish blonde. In the drawing I have recorded the striations of colour so that I can develop my stitches in the same directions.


crayon study of irises with image of the finished embroidered flower still on its organza background

I picked, drew and sampled all the flowers I could find, it was a lovely summer of work. Friends and neighbours started to bring me flowers they thought I would like to include, the search was on for  all sorts of auburn and orange flowers for the hair,

a birthday bouquet was pressed into service for hair


flesh coloured roses and poppies for the skin, rosebuds for the mouth.

studies of poppies for a chin, dicentra for eyebrows, rosebud mouth

Slowly, by  travelling around to see specialist flower shows and drawing from all kinds of resources I pieced together the face; the pastel drawing I worked from and the ongoing recorded collage can also be seen below.

a prized vase of striped tulips at the Wakefield Tulip society show.

So now this face had to have a body, the old glass decanter was perfect, with a swelling rounded shape and elegant proportions, easy enough to draw, but how do I embroider it?

crayon drawing for embroidery of the glass vase.

Placing tracing paper over the drawing to get a pattern for the vase I suddenly realised this was how to achieve the effect of seeing stalks though water and glass, I painted the stalks on silk with dye then bonded embroidered silk organza onto the surface –

tracing of the vase with samples of poppy "chin" and underpainting of stems - lost in the bonding process.

I lost most of the painting in the process but the effect is both subtle and sinks into the black ground and so does not distract from Flora’s stupendous poppy breasts.

study and samples for Flora's breasts, how could I resist those sooty nipples?

So here she is in all her splendour. But she is short lived; surrounded by things that will harm and ultimately destroy her, the rose-cutter bee will eat her cheeks, the butterfly will lay eggs and the larvae will feed from her, the beautiful beetle feeds off rose leaves and the snail will first slime then devour her. Only her beauty spot, the lady bird, will protect her – from greenfly.

Flora, goddess of spring and abundance . 1992



Pansy Faces

Pansy Monkey

Winter flowering pansies are in the shops now, but I have a set of embroidered pansies in flower all year round…the Pansy Faces from the Flora Embroideries.

Pansy metamorphosis

So just how did the rust and gold pansy on the left turn into the tiger below? I will try and show you.

Visiting the many different flower shows whilst researching The Flora, I was struck by the way the pansies were displayed – they are arranged separately in trays, not as the usual bunch of flowers in a vase, but just the heads placed poking out of a board on a tray – why? I like to think that it really makes you look carefully at the difference in each wonderful flower head; but I suspect it may be because one of the criteria for a show pansy is to try to grow the petals to form a perfect circle. Then “heads” and “pansy faces” came together in my mind, so I started to photograph the trays at all the shows I visited, as you can see below the standard of presentation is often patchy and there seems to be no attempt at colour co-ordination!

photographs of many pansy trays form various flower shows

I fantasised that if I could breed flowers I would develop the pansies further by changing the shapes of the petals and regulating their colours. I tried also to keep the changes to a minimum to show the stages  of metamorphoses from flower to face. You can see that in the drawing below I started with a butterfly. which was fairly easy, and then moved onto the owl..he was a bit trickier and the problem of making this metamorphosis became apparent – whilst drawing and inventing from the research everything was clear,  but whilst stitching the flowers/birds/ animals my mind became confused between whether I was stitching an ear or a petal…..and this got more confusing as I developed the series.

drawing for pansy metamorphosis - it all began so innocently!
sample petals stitched for a workshop on how to make a pansy


first metamorphosis

I then developed the cat or tiger;  the stripes were fascinating to depict as they could follow through the growth patterns of the petals  and it was a delight to invent and stitch, as was the monkey – the dog was not made – if I could have drawn a wire fox terrier as  pansy I would have included him that but I could only manage a shitzu – I have  always thought of them as pansy faced dogs.

studies for the monkey pansy
studies for the pansy cat.


I then decided that this was all too innocent, while I was happily playing and exercising total control over  inert materials – the plant breeders and agricultural scientists were not. What would happen if it all went horribly horribly wrong? The ultimate goal for mankind seems to be to become like god and make make everything for our own benefits and in our own likeness. This was  hard decision to make  and I knew from the start that I would have to eventually develop a human face; I at first thought it could be a nice face – another beauty like Flora and the Edible Woman.

an early drawing of trying to work out the human pansy

But really all along I had known it had to be a self portrait to make sense of my idea. I first appear drawn in grey pencil amongst my lovely colourful animals and fairy faces – and yes I do recognise that it is a sign of vanity – but I have never ever liked to see pictures of  myself. Friends have learned not to show me any photographs they have taken of me – I rip the heads off them – I want only to be known by the images in my work – so a control freak as well…I know I know.

But back to the plot – below is a page of  drawings for the final pansy face, a horrid version of me …

drawings for final pansy face - steeling myself for the final caricature
my exhibit for the pansy class.



The Edible Woman

working drawing for The Prize or the Edible Woman

This is Harvest Festival time and in celebration of the season I am featuring the Edible Woman, alternatively The Prize.  She is a member of  the Flora Embroideries and was first imagined as a mate to The Giant Vegetable Man in the Flower Show blog. He had to have a mate made for him, even though he is pug-ugly, it would be sad to let all that male vitality and virility go to waste.

first rough drawing for the Edible Woman

The first idea I had for her was as an earth goddess, all burgeoning breasts and stomach, lascivious and wanton…a good match for him. I made several drawings but couldn’t bring myself to actually embroider them; she was not to be a figure of ribald humour like him and I did not want her to be sniggered at in the giant vegetable show .

The  breeders and exhibitors of flowers and fruit for prizes, prefer perfection of form to any other consideration. So she had to have some sort of beauty and so I thought she  could possibly become an old man’s darling, kept for her beauty and breeding potential – a trophy wife. But as such she is vulnerable as is an edible woman.

I thought of the lovely dishes of fruit displayed at the local flower shows often arranged on paper lace doilies and also the bowls of water containing heads of flowers arranged in patterns so delicately displayed.

prize fruit at the Portishead flower show
bowls of flower heads arranged in patterns










I then remembered that my mother used to win baskets of fruit at the local whist drives when I was a child. She would invariably come home with either a bottle of sweet sherry or more often a wonderful exotic basket of fruit. Well the basket was exotic, a large straw affair – what I now call a “lady basket” – which had to be given back the next week; it was always tied with a ribbon on the handle and the various fruits culled from village gardens were made valuable by the beautiful presentation –  a proper prize.

first scribbled drawing for the Edible Woman as a Prize

My lady was beginning to take shape in my mind, but how to make her face from edible things?I bought some exotic fruit and tried to arrange them into a face – this was not easy, the first attempt was really dreadful, like a fat unhappy drunk pumpkin woman, the only things that worked were the 5 okra as ladies fingers and the pomegranate and persimmon looked hopeful as breasts…….

first attempt at an exotic fruit face!

But I decided to sort it out by drawing..I would work with what I could and let the rest take shape around this, while stitching samples I had plenty of time to think.

drawings beginning to get inventive while I was sampling embroidery
dyed and appliqued silk samples for courgette flowers and the persimmon fruits

I don’t remember when I decided to make the fingers from asparagus, I know why though, they look more like painted pink fingernails. The painted silk is shown below above another edible personification, but who would want to marry her?

So here she is – my Prize – the Edible Woman in all her glory; displayed for your delectation in a ruched fabric marquee, usually reserved for weddings but often used for the classier northern England flower shows. You could eat all of her, from her apple cheeks to her cherry lips, dip her asparagus fingers into melted butter and nibble you way through the sweet salad flowers of her hair; scrunch your teeth through her pear nose while contemplating her dark nipples before you peel your way into her luscious ripe breasts……

the Edible Woman as a Prize

Now here’s a challenge – would any of the cooks out there like to concoct a recipe from her, or for her,  maybe a menu would be easier….the asaparagus doesn’t lend itself to inclusion in fruit salads – but then what do I know? I don’t cook puddings I only ever embroider them.



mending more hearts


You know when you get an idea and a light goes on in your head and you think – why did it take me so long to see this? Well this has just happened to me – last weekend I was looking at the stitched ceramic dishes I had made for the Museum Mending project and thought – why don’t I just stitch these images onto cloth? The mottoes, the hearts, the hands….all these relate to my personal project Make It Through the Night so why don’t I include these into this? DUH!

I have done all the research, found the mending mottoes and sorted out the drawings of the hands, but what will I stitch them onto? Well when you are broken- hearted what do need to mop up the tears – a handkerchief – which is a ready- made square of cotton or linen – perfect.  And when I looked through my white fabric stash I found a packet of 4  table napkins left over from another project – hem stitched in linen – perfect. I always take these pieces of luck as a sign that I am on the right track.


I thought I should  try to match the mends with the mottoes and to use the broken and mended heart as a link to the Counterpane/Counterpain embroidery which features in the Make It Through the Night project in Work in Progress section of the blog. I decided to keep the same stitching techniques and colour.

I started with a cut and darned heart, which would need considerable strengthening at the edge of the handkerchief, so the motto had to be ” that which does not kill you makes you stronger” a proverb that I think has a stoical attitude. Having drawn out my design and checked the correct darning system in an old sewing manual, and taking courage into both hands, I cut from the edge of the handkerchief straight into the heart, tacked a run and fell seam and set to work sewing it.

sewing manual and darning sampler which provide both the information and inspiration

I chose to sew it in red thread as in the little household sewing sampler that I had bought years ago from an Oxfam shop.  It is probably from middle of the 20th century and made as part of an infant school sewing class. The choice of red for stitching is a swine as every single stitch glows out whether rightly or wrongly placed, I started to dislike the original needlework teacher – why impose this on to  your pupils?  – well discipline of course….and suddenly my little basic sewing sampler looked like the work of a consumate needlewoman – poor girl –  unlike me she didn’t choose to do it.

finished handkerchief pinned to studio wall

You can see by the finished piece above just how personal this embroidery got for me I have hand written “me”  instead of ” you”.   This was quite a difficult piece of darning even though I have worked this technique several times before;  the plain hem stitching on the run and fell seam above the heart was really tricky to get even on both sides. I would choose something easier for the next one………

I found the motto, ” Red is the ultimate cure for sadness”  and decided to use a patching system using a scrap of scarlet linen, I withdrew the threads and darned them onto the heart. Easy Peasy it wasn’t!

withdrawing the threads from the red patch.

The finished red darning piece can be seen pinned to my studio wall, to the side of it can be seen a sample of Darning as Jewellry by Dail Behennah.

red darned patch handkerchief
Dail Behennah’s tiny samples in copper and gold wire for Darning as Jewellry, was also made for the museum mending project

The next piece was also patched, much simpler this time a basic inset patch of fine linen.

mending manual and school sampler
cross stitch embroidered patch ready for insertion

On the left can be seen the set of instructions for basic darning with the sample of the same system next to it. There are many old sewing manuals with all this information in them, up until about the 1960’s when they begin to just talk about machine stitching for  darning

For this handkerchief I decided to cross stitch the motto onto the patch beforehand, and on the left can be seen the embroidered patch prior to cutting and inserting it onto the heart on the handkerchief, below.

The image of the small pink and red  broken and mended heart pinned above the handkerchief below is a photograph of a set of 50 enamel badges I made for an ETC project several years ago. Maybe I should make some more?

patched cross stitch motto

By the time I got around to stitching the 4th mending motto I thought Mend It or End It was a suitable finish to this series, the  finished piece is the seen at the head of this blog, simple and effective the simple cross – way darn also makes a good warning symbol to make your mind up – the type of real advice my friends actually do give me when I am dithering about anything…I think these mending mottoes will lead to other handkerchiefs, I particularly like the one about the colour Red, I wonder what other mottoes there are about colours?

first 3 mending mottoes handkerchiefs on my studio wall.

Dog Project

Last month at a party in London and  I was asked by Anne Coggle, a friend of the hosts, if we ( Steve my husband and I) would like to make a piece of work each for a charity which she supported; when she explained that it was the Dog Project, ( information available at simon@dogprojectart.org) I accepted at once. I had seen the earlier Dog Project which was for Great Ormond Street Hospital, Boil, the dog was originally drawn by a child being treated there. I was delighted to be offered the chance to get involved apart from the obvious enjoyable contribution to a good cause – most of the currently fashionable artists and designers had made works for the last project, as well as many children from the hospital.

first doodle for making Boil into a fox terrier.

The new charity is for The Evelina Children’s Hospital which features on YouTube. After a few weeks 2 packages arrived for us, each containing a small stretched canvas with an outline drawing of Boil, and there were  several more copies on very good quality drawing paper –  to practice on, how thoughtful; plus  lots of information and illustrations of other works inspired by Boil.

From the moment Ann mentioned the project I knew I had to embroider him, but how? My first idea was to make him into a Wire Haired Fox Terrier and I immediately started doodling on the letter head as I was checking the package out. But Boil had too much character to be dismissed so easily.

drawing for a crazy patchwork version of Boil.

I considered what a strange shape he was and realised that he could be made up in patches, so a crazy patchwork was the obvious answer – and as it is a children’s charity it would make a cheerful, colourful and hopefully saleable work when  eventually auctioned

Meanwhile Steve got on with his version, he saw him as a sort of Henry Moore sculpture on the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London – aren’t imaginations amazing?

drawings and reference for Boil aloft on the 4th Plinth

when I look at the finished works they are so amusing and telling. Here in response to the exact same project our two completely different visions and characters are illustrated; he is all cool, finely modelled academic drawing..

Boil on the 4th plinth, pencil drawing. Steve Jacobson

while I am all clashing colour , riotous pattern and wonky decoration….

Crazy Boil embroidered patchwork Janet Haigh

but both works exhibit various aspects of the good humour we share.

If you are interested in getting involved in working on a dog portrait for this project please contact Simon Freeman on simon@dogprojectart.org for more information and please say you heard it from here.