Best in Show – Ally Pally

Alexander Palace – the Knitting & Stitching Show entrance

And so to Ally Pally for the annual Knitting & Stitching show, attentive readers of this blog will realise that this is where Heart Space Studios headed to advertise our new book at the invitation of The Cotton Patch, the home of all things patchwork and quilting in Birmingham. For a week I worked at this amazing show – and looking at textiles for so long, I now feel well able to select my personal ‘ Best in Show’ awards to several outstanding exhibitions and commercial stands.

fish 5
Kate’s Place blackboard

In no particular order – ” Kate’s Plaice the Stitchmongers’ ” was by far the most amusing, the concept or rather – to use a literary term – “the conceit” was completely thought through, it was highly technically proficient  and the most entertaining piece of textile work that I have ever seen at this event.

fish stand
the fish stall

The installation was designed specially for the Knitting and Stitching show by Kate Jenkins, Everything on the stand was completely in keeping with the joke…from the dressed shop assistants that like all good fishmongers knew their subject inside out and wanted to share their delight and knowledge with you, to the stunning array of ‘ seafood’ on offer…

detail of the central fish counter

below are the details of the counter of fish, the use of material and the shapes and colour are perfectly chosen – you really did want to order and eat what was on offer…..


For those, like me, who prefer their fish cooked and served, rather than making the dish themselves, the fish platters definitely looked good enough to eat.

fish dinner
fish and seafood supper
tabasco and oysters

the hand written sign below, perfectly in keeping with the whole fish shop ethic, was written to deter a fellow exhibitor, an embroiderer, who pawed the little sequined morsels as they were being arranged, and was extremely rude when he was asked to stop! This is such an unusual occurance  – stall holders being rude to anyone, let alone one another that I feel it deserves reporting.

touch fish
thee sparkly lobster and the necessary notice!

Among the exhibition, chosen from recent graduates by the Embroiderer’s Guild, was this enigmatic large photographic  hand embroidered panel by Susana Borobia, part of an small body of work called ” Awaken Threads…this spoke ro me on lots of levels – it reminds me of my own work developed through a fascination with White Work techniques and the difficult transition from cloth or fibre to other materials…here is it managed elegantly and artlessly.

susan borobia
stitched photographic print by Susana Borobia
SB detail.
Detail of the stitched white work on the photograph

Ihave to admit that I chose to ignore  the notice not to take photographs; it was early in the morning, I couldn’t find the student to ask and thought that she may prefer it to appear on this blog than me to ignore her work.  I have had this problem of no photography before …but it is a odd embargo now in the age of instant imagery and social media and who can possibly copy this ??????…that’s my excuse anyway.

robert ely
Robert G Ely, the perfect example of ‘ if you’ve got it flaunt it ‘  wearing his woven silk braces and bow tie

It is difficult to show a range of different work in such a small space as a booth in the fair – but here Robert Ely has managed to do exactly that – he shows his woven ribbon design work, such as braces and book marks  with his more art based weavings of sea and landscapes – the ribbon dimensions are shared but the colour depth and small scale pointilism is also evident in both sets of work – seen below are the 2 types of work on display

woven ribbon seascape – by Robert G Elybelow are the 2 types of woven work that Robert was exhibiting
braces, book marks and other finely woven sauciness.

the seascapes exhibited made me think that he must live near me on the Severn Estuary, in fact these images are taken from much further down the estuary at Devon, Start Point.

god's river RE
this image I mistook for my local headland and lighthouse, Battery Point in Portishead, Somerset in fact it is form further down the estuary in Devon

what everyone goes to these fairs of is to stock up their stash! So 2 specialists who always show wonderful collection of the real things…first my old favourite importer of real Japanese fabrics, Euro Japan Links, a Japanese husband and English wife team who have been in business for years- long before their was a fashion in Japanese fabrics; their pieces of fabric neatly folded into colour co-ordinated  ranges never fail to fascinate me.

Jl 3
Japanese patchwork cottons
Japanese kimono prints

My other favourite company exhibiting and selling mainly tribal Chinese fabrics and clothing is Slow Loris. I  have written about this marvelous collection for sale before but do so again as Martin Conlon the owner is a fund of knowledge and is really enthusiastic to tell you the stories behind the garments. There always new things to see – well old new things.

slow lorris
The Slow Loris stand of ethnic Chinese /Tibetan textiles

The other exhibition I liked for its sense of space and calm and truly sumptuous colour was ‘The Other’ coloured work by Vivienne Prideaux paired with the white and neutral work of Amanda J Clayton. They made a handsome area of beautiful controlled textile hangings and panels. I thought that these these glowing panels by Vivienne Prideaux were just so desirable, the depth of texture and range of nuanced colour that this artist builds up with her various tie dyed and gilded grounds is so inspiring – makes me yearn to return to my own studio again.

small dyed panel by Vivien Prodeaux
prideaux 1
shibori dyed and gilded panel – Vivienne Prideaux
prideaux 3

the neutral and range of white fabrics shown by Amanda J Clayton were perfect partners

Shifting sheets of fabrics installation in “The Other” exhibition.

So enough of what I like – what about my exhibit…i was given a space on The Cotton Patch stand, to show and sell my new book, Little Ribbon Patchwork and Applique – comprising designs based on Kaffe Fassett’s ribbon collection for Renaissance Ribbons

several people helped me to set up and run the stand during the week …

Setting up the stand with Cotton Patch ‘s Nik Sewell sorting out the Kaffe Fassett books and Jane- Matie Mahy organising the Heart Space section

several people helped to run the stand with me for the 5 days of the show….

Ilaria Padovani form Heart Space Studios demonstrating how to make a ribbon yo yo on the stand
Susan Berry who had the idea of the book in the first place

The Ribbon beads have proved to be most popular things we show how to make in the book, see the next post down!

Stuart from the Sewing Bee programme and Jane- Marie Mahy  with the ribbon beads – sort of says it all really!

Embroidering a Thangka

the last stitching on the inner halo of textile Tangka

I enjoy working to commission, there are several pluses: someone actually wants my work and is willing to pay for it, I get a clear idea of the task ahead during discussions into the personal likes/wants/needs of the commissioner and I also get a time limit. The designer side of me likes working to deadlines as I can choose the type of techniques best suited to that limit and to the fee charged for the work.  But best of all – I work with a sense of purpose – not my own purpose as usual – so this lets me off the hook of why am I doing this? where will I place it? Is it a worthwhile use of my time and energy?

A Tibetan Buddhist Thangkha

I was shown a painted Thangka by a friend,  who practices the strict discipline of Tibetan Buddhism; he also showed me an image of the Primordial Buddha ( the Buddha with his female partner Samantabadri, signifying the union of wisdom and compassion) that his partner found particularly resonant, she has a small postcard pinned up of it in her study. He wanted it translating into a fully formed Thangka……and asked me if I would like to attempt it – as her birthday present.

first fabric search for making the embroidery

Looking at the wealth of fabrics surrounding the Tibetan paper image that he brought, I was enthralled. I suddenly  knew why I kept all my old fabrics, silver woven saris, Japanese and Chinese silk brocades – to use for this glorious commission. I showed him several of the fabrics I had that I thought would work as the frame, I precisely measured the large Thangka and gleaned as much information as I could about the meaning and purpose of the image chosen and Thangkas in general. I made a “worst scenario” price and it was accepted….

To calculate a real price and make an estimate of my time to fulfill the deadline – some 6 weeks ahead – I first made a tracing of the art work

traced and squared-up photocopied image

and then a full-scale working drawing, the sampling for this would decide how I would work the piece: the techniques, the fabrics and the overall time it could possibly take.

scaled up working drawing

Basically the smallest detail will decide the quality of the work, how and with what can I stitch this to look its best. within the budget and the time limit?  I now knew the work ahead of me, I emailed with the news and the price, roughly half the original cost –  happily it was  accepted and extra thrown in for the use of my beautiful metal woven antique fabrics….how good is that?

real gold leaf for the “halo”

I must say that the fabrics materials I used for this work were really sumptuous,real gold leaf for the 2 bands of light surrounding the figures. by some alchemy I had every piece of material needed in my own stash; the gold leaf and threads, the heavy silk brocades were in the perfect colours. Later in the project a few would have to be hand painted and dyed.

gilded silk bands of light pinned to studios wall.

The colours were kept brilliant by my own choice as I knew the taste of the person I was making this for  – she really loves strong colours,  so I did not soften them to look old, which is how the original image  appeared. The gold really shone threatening to dominate the entire piece – but it would become more worn as I made the work.

machine applique for the silk halos prior to stitching on the figures

Each element had to be made and slotted in the whole composition – like a jigsaw puzzle.

Samantabadri cut from pure silk satin with hand stitched silk hair

The simplicity of the figures lent themselves to machine applique, not my forte, but quicker by far than hand embroidering them –  and I can manage quite accurate  applique by machine.

the appliqued figures embrace one another

On the original post card the outer edge of the flower garland surrounding the figures  had been cut off – I had to invent a large area of the embroidery based on just a few flower buds at the top of the picture I set about dyeing raw silk for appliqueing the petals of the white lotus flowers

hand dyed raw silk for petals of the lotus flower garland

The lotus flowers were bonded into position, petal by petal with leaves underpinning them into a garland which were then machine stitched in a gold flecked thread.

petal of lotus flowers bonded into position

the whole halo area was hand stitched in a dull gold thread to illustrate the rays emanating from the Buddha and his partner.

the inner image is complete

now the s of the thangka had to be made – I had all sorts of different ideas for using my wonderful silver woven fabrics …but they had other ideas – traditionally the first 2 bands are gold and red – with a dreaded bias seam at the corners I sewed this by hand so that I get perfect alignment. also I had noticed of several fabric surrounds that the fabrics were pieced to make the lengths necessary – a common practice where fabrics are appreciated for their own beauty and worth.

bias cut joined woven silver silk fabrics for frame.

The remaining strips of the frame just came together very simply, I found that I had just about enough of each material I wanted to use – and where I didn’t I researched the traditional Thangkas for ideas of how to make them work together.

machine stitching the seams of the frame together.

There was one area that really gave me some problems though – the area below the image has often an apron or square of fabric but whatever i chose just dominated the whole piece. I tried several colours and systems, but eventually after dyeing an old silver brocade a dull turquoise green, I found the perfect solution to the surround.


For a more in-depth, behind the scenes, version of this post, please  go to the Commissions pages of the site.