Stitching in the Dales

This week I had a wonderful three days at Stitching in the Dales, it’s like a three day embroidery retreat organised by Grassington Embroiderers Guild and is held at Threshfield, the village nextdoor, so as well as three days embroidering you are surrounded by the beautiful countryside of upper Wharfedale.

I stayed at my friends house nearby which made it feel even more like retreat!

nicola-jarvis-silk-blackbird-full-V2Our tutor was Nicola Jarvis who designs beautiful bird embroideries in the style of William Morris. Just as a topical aside too, Nicola was part of the team that embroidered Kate Middletons wedding dress at the Royal School of Needlework!

I’ve admired her designs for a while and had one on my to do list that appeared in the Classic Inspirations magasine. Some are crewel work embroidery with Appleton’s wool, others are embroidered with DMC silk threads. We could choose to embroider any kit we fancied as she had brought a huge range with her. I chose, after much deliberation, a blackbird, I think he’s gorgeous! Nearly everyone chose a different kit which was nice as you could see other birds developing.

My blackbird design was printed in a soft grey onto a beautiful firm silk with a piece of calico at the back to give it some support.

Nicola was a great tutor, she set us all off on each section, once we were competent at that particular stitch or style, we moved onto the next area. It wasn’t going to be feasible to finish the embroidery in two and a half days but this way we stitched some of every area so we felt confident taking it home to finish.

My first task was my blackbirds legs, these are stitched with rows of split stitch using a single thread of DMC floss. I must admit when Nicola said single thread for all my embroidery and I looked at it I thought this is going to take forever as it looked so fine. I was amazed just how quickly it grew though. I’m definitely converted to single thread! With the blackbirds legs I had to try and line up the split stitch rows, apparently it gives a neater effect, but I thought it also made it more realistic to have a slight banding of the blackbird legs.Blackbird Embroidery by Nicola Jarvis

The next area to tackle was the black ruff around his neck. This is long and short stitch using split stitch again. I’ve not particularly used split stitch before but it does give an amazingly smooth effect when used to cover an area. Nicola gave me lots of tips to help keep the direction of the stitch right and how to move the stitch around curves. I’m really pleased with this bit, I softened the outline with a few stray feathers, I love it.

The surround of the eye was stitched in satin stitch over a split stitch edge, the split stitch gives it a slightly padded effect and just makes the edge neater. I found it quite tricky trying to keep the direction right in such a small area.
Blackbird Embroidery by Nicola Jarvis

The scalloped edge was then couched with silver Japanese thread, so Nicola taught me about putting lots of stitches in the corners to hold it firm. The ends were pulled through to the back afterwards.Blackbird Embroidery by Nicola Jarvis

The big black leaves are satin stitch, they will eventually be couched over the top as well. I found it quite tricky keeping the line straight for the whole leaf! The little leaves are in split stitch, they will be surrounded by seed stitch eventually.

Silk shading was the next area to learn. These have to be done in order of proximity, in that the leaf underneath has to be done first, then the split stitch edge of the next one can be made right on the edge. This meant I could stitch the left hand side of the big leaf to learn the technique, but not the right hand side as I need to do the underneath areas first. I found it quite hard to work out the directions of some of the stitches. The bigger leaf has got two shades of grey, the top leaf is waiting for it’s second shade.

Blackbird Embroidery by Nicola Jarvis

The tail was the last area I tackled on the course. There’s four shades of grey graduating across the tail. I found this quite a useful exercise in what not to do! I started at the tip with the lightest grey. As the areas were so little (and probably Nicola wasn’t immediately available and I’m too impatient to wait!) I stitched these in satin stitch but I didn’t do the split stitch edge first to work the satin stitch over, to be honest they just seemed too little and fiddly!! Half way through I found out I should have edged them first, I decided to carry on without so it would all match. However, I decided for the last four dark grey teardrops I would edge them and I could really see the difference, it does sit more neatly…not enough for me to undo the rest though!!
Blackbird Embroidery by Nicola Jarvis

So by the end of the three days this is what my blackbird looked like, this is me and Nicola.Nicola Jarvis

On Friday night I decided to stitch a bit more, I finished off all my loose threads and then just started at the biginning of the instructions and I’m just working my way through. I satin stitched the beak (with the split stitch surround – I learnt my lesson!) stem stitch in yellow around the eye, a little highlight on the eye and now I’m stitching the split stitch twirls and drops below the ruff.Blackbird Embroidery by Nicola Jarvis

I thoroughly enjoyed my few days stitching in the dales, our room was a haven of peace and tranquility compared to the mixed media room downstairs which was like an explosion of colour, equipment and ‘stuff’. Nicola was a fantastic tutor, patient and encouraging. I learnt so much too, stitches and techniques and confidence too that I can do this sort of embroidery….and I’ve just added another project to my to do list!

I’m linking up with Kathy’s Quilts for Slow Stitching Sunday, why not have a look what everyone else has been creating.



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Sequins and Sparkle

Meghan is not the only one wearing a bit of sparkle today, though I thought her dress was stunning, so elegant. I’ve got a ball to go to tonight and I have finally finished my dress – last night!

The pattern is Butterick 6414, it has gone together pretty easily, it just didn’t quite fit my shape initially!

I shared a few of my traumas with you last week, mainly trying to get it to fit, I let out the back seam to gain a crucial half an inch and bought some slim fast underwear!!

Letting out a seam in taffeta is not good news as the seam lines will not disappear and the tramlines stand out a mile. I decided to use some of the sequins from the top to stitch down the back seam to make a feature, it worked really well. The sequins are tiny, I stitched them about every half centimeter either side of the seam. It did take quite a while!

I was away for an embroidery retreat this week too so I took my dress with me to stitch. I arrived at the venue a couple of hours early so I sat stitching sequins. Well you know what sequins are like, they get everywhere, it looked like I had sprinkled the carpet with fairy dust! I was also stitching at my friends house, everywhere I went there is now a trail of ruby fairy dust!!

The sequinned top looked a bit short when I finished it, it sort of stopped just above my waist which seemed to emphasize my belly, not a good look in a slim fitting ball gown. I did have some good suggestions including adding lace, I tried various weights of lace but I just couldn’t find one that looked right, before I even started to look at colour.

I decided to stitch a strip of sequins on the bottom. I undid the hem, luckily it was just hand-stitched. I cut a 4″ strip which was along the edge of the sequinned area so it had 1/2″ of bare net along one edge. I laid this just under the original edge and hand-stitched the two together, because there isn’t a seam as such it lays fairly flat. Ideally I’d stitch a few more sequins where there are little bald bits, but I don’t think it’s that obvious and certainly once lights are dimmed and everyone has had a glass of wine or two, no one will notice!! I much prefer the new length and it seems to hang better too with the extra weight.DSC_0054

I’ve hand-stitched the lining to the skirt along the edges of the split and hopefully it will hang fine.

I’m travelling in to Leeds on the train, in all my finery, wearing my midnight blue velvet cape too, should be fun!DSC_0053

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Friday Photo Challenge

Todays theme for the Photo Challenge is just that, challenge, it’s organised by Postcard from Gibraltar, so if you fancy seeing lots of challenges, follow the link.

I do try and push myself out of my comfort zone every so often, probably more with crafts and hobbies than in life in general…

The Splendid Sampler quilt was the first big challenge for me quilting wise, there was lots of new techniques I’d never even heard of, never mind tried, like foundation paper piecing. However because there was just one six inch block of each design it really didn’t matter if either I didn’t like it or it didn’t work out great!!

My Flower Lattice was a huge challenge for me embroidery-wise, it pushed me well out of my comfort zone, trying all sorts of new techniques. I was really proud just to be short-listed for the Needlecrafter of the Year award for this, even more so when I discovered that only three were short-listed out of 500 entries!

My most recent challenge has been the Down the Rabbit hole quilt, a BOM by Sarah Fielke, lots of needle-turn applique, wedges and Dresden circles. It’s due to be basted at my long arm quilters on Monday, then another big challenge starts, hand quilting it!Down the Rabbit Hole Quilt

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Walking in Sunshine

Our Women’s Institute walking club met on Monday for a glorious walk around Menston, a village next to Otley where I live. We try and meet up once a month once the weather improves (we’re fair-weather walkers!) and usually we do have good weather. Monday was no exception; the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky!

We walked up towards the moors and then across the fields towards High Royds. This used to be a huge psychiatric hospital, built in Victorian times, it’s now redeveloped as a new village.DSC_0080

We went along old country lanes…


…over wooden bridges where we could stop and smile at the little black lambs…DSC_0102

…but we were very pleased to be on the other side of the wall from these gorgeous calves. Cow with calves are very unpredictable and people do get trampled occasionally.DSC_0090

There were lots of wild flowers to see and smell, blue bells, wild garlic, forget-me-nots and lots more I don’t know the names of!DSC_0083

After a lovely walk we had welcome cup of coffee when we conveniently passed the house of one of the walkers 🙂 It’s great to have a couple of hours just gently walking and chatting, time to catch up on what everyone has been doing. Today’s walk just reminded everyone what lovely countryside we have just on our doorstep.DSC_0078

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Poppies Humbug


My poppies are growing! This is a design by Faby Reilly, when it’s stitched together it makes a triangular humbug shape.This is where I was last time I showed you…

This is my borrowed time project, I usually have something little on the go I can do whilst I’m doing something else, 10 minutes whilst cooking tea, half an hour having a coffee in a cafe, ten minutes in the dentists waiting room. I keep it by my chair downstairs in a zip lock bag which I can pop in my handbag if I’m going out. It’s surprising what you can achieve in borrowed time!

It’s been interesting seeing this grow as when I saw the three shades of red they looked so different I really couldn’t see how they blend, DMC666 is an orange/red, 321 is what I would call a true red and 815 is like a dark burgandy, yet they all work together!

I like doing the back-stitch on Faby’s designs as they really come alive then, when it’s half done like now you can really see the difference it makes. I’ve still to find some beads for the poppy centres too, I’m sure I will find something in my bead box.

I’ve also started the gold stitching, now that bit I don’t enjoy, just because I don’t like the DMC gold thread, luckily there’s not too much, a couple more Algerian stars and some broken back-stitch lines. I’ve still three letters to do too – ‘ppy’ in tiny cross-stitch over one thread, I keep giving my eyes a break with that one!I made a small mistake on the letters on the right side, the u is one thread too high, so all the others above are also one thread out…which meant I had to really concentrate on the left hand side to make sure the letters there are also one thread out so they will join together when I stitch it up! Fingers crossed!Poppy Humbug Faby Reilly

I’m going on an embroidery retreat tomorrow with the Embroiderers Guild, I’m pretty excited! Three days of embroidery up in Threshfield at the other end of Wharfedale. It’s organised by Grassington Embroiderers Guild and I’m doing a course with Nicola Jarvis, one of her embroideries was already on my to do list so I’m dead excited to be learning from her.

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Monday’s Meander Round the Garden

It’s been a hot sunny day here in Yorkshire with clear blue skies. I spent a bit of time pottering in the garden, trying to keep in the shade to keep cool! This is my view from the shade of the arbour, my favourite spot for a morning cup of coffee.

My main problem at the moment is watering all the plants I’ve planted over the last couple of weeks; there’s rather a lot of them! Usually I’m pretty tough with plants, they get watered for the first couple of days and then they have to fend for themselves, but having spent rather a lot of money recently and with it being so dry, I’m pampering this lot! We had a little rain over night on Saturday which did help, but otherwise it’s a watering can job! Our hosepipe has that many holes in it really isn’t worth trying – we really need to buy a decent one!

One of the irises I bought at the Harrogate show has just flowered, it’s beautiful, white edged with lavender.

I’ve cleared and rotavated the border by the big fence this week, the rain helped enormously here, one day the soil was like concrete, the next day after a night of gentle rain (perfect!!) it was much easier to work. I’ve planted four different clematis along the fence and a pink rhodedendron too. I still want a colomnular cherry tree and a climbing rose to help cover the fence but that will have to wait until next pay day!! The cotinus coggyrhia which is just in front of the fence is coming into leaf. It looks stunning with the sun behind it. I’ve got one of these in the front garden too. I’ve also got a lime green version in the front which I love, so much so that I’ve planted another in my Autumn border.

The hostas by the pond have really shot up this week, in the past these have stayed pretty much undamaged by slugs which I’m hoping is down to toads and frogs in the pond, rather than the chickens roaming over winter. We haven’t got the chucks any more so time will tell!

The trees have really greened up this week and bluebells are out on the back lane. I never realised how strong their scent is until we started doing long distance walks, we usually walk at this time of year and the scent as you walk through a bluebell wood is amazing.

I’m gradually starting to weed the rose border, I was planning to leave it for a big overhaul next year, but I can’t look at those weeds all that time! I’ll take out what I can and then get the weed killer out for the more persistant ones.

Our new Amber & Amethyst garden is proving a success, I planned a seating area up there as I noticed that is where the evening sun went, it’s lovely sitting up there with a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio!


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Hand Quilting 1

It’s three weeks since I was doing a happy dance for finishing the top on my Down the Rabbit Hole quilt. My rabbits are patiently waiting at the long arm quilters as the quilt is due to be basted on 21st May. I can then start hand quilting!

It’s about twenty years since I did any hand quilting! Kate Chiconi came up with a good idea, using these weeks to get my hand in hand quilting with a small piece. Good idea I thought!

I looked in my stash and found a set of seasonal panels. I have to confess that I only vaguely remember buying these, not that long ago either, no idea what I was planning to do with them…but they make a great practise piece! I’m starting with ‘Spring’

I used some scrap batting and a light piece of cotton on the back. I spray basted it to hold the sandwich together. For this smaller piece I’m using a large embroidery hoop on a stand, it’s also got one ring bound with cotton so it holds the fabric nice and firm. When I start my Rabbit quilt I do have a couple of proper quilting hoops, and a stand somewhere under the eaves…

I’m trying the Gutermann Sulky thread at the moment, mainly because I like the colour, it’s a variegated one! I’ve got some Gutermann hand-quilting thread to try too. I’m also using Kate’s favourite quilting needles which are the Birch brand, they are proving lovely to use. She kindly sent me some to try 🙂

When I was in Faberdashery, the quilting shop in Halifax, the owner persuaded me to try little stick on leather pads instead of thimbles, I was a bit dubious as they are a bit pricey! Having tried them though I do like them, they certainly stay stuck, I store them on the bottom of my thread as they are reuseable for ages, and needles haven’t gone through them so far.

It’s a free weekend on Craftsy at the moment, so I thought I’d take advantage and watch a hand quilting one. I’m half way through watching Andi Perejda’s course at the moment, getting lots of tips and inspiration.

I’ve not done a huge amount of quilting yet, I stitched along the outline of the bird first. I don’t think I pulled the thread quite firm enough as I didn’t get any relief forming. I then decided to quilt just around the bird which I think looks better. It’s still easier to see on the back. There’s a few stitches not got through to the back but for a first attempt (for a couple of decades!) I’m pretty pleased with that.

I’m just trying to decide whether to practice some cross-hatching now, rather than just following the design, maybe do a border on the top and a couple of motif’s at the bottom. Stitch what I need to practise, rather than stitching purely for the design. Any suggestions or tips gratefully received.

This Hand Quilt Along is an opportunity for hand quilters and piecers to share and motivate one another. We post every three weeks, to show our progress and encourage one another.  If you have a hand quilting project and would like to join our group contact Kathy at the link below. Please follow the links to see lots of inspiring hand quilting;

KathyLoriKerryEmmaTracyDebConnieSusan,  NanetteSassy , EdithSharon and Bella.

I’m linking up with Kathy’s Quilts for Slow Stitching Sunday, a celebration of all things hand stitched, why not follow the link and see what everyone else has been stitching.

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I’ve been busy over the last week or so trying to make an evening dress for a ball next Saturday, it’s caused me a few headaches!!…

Having gone shopping with one pattern in mind I came back with another, Butterick 6414, I’m doing view B, the full length, sleeveless version. I thought it looked pretty elegant but also easy to wear! I also remember in time that I had two lengths of fabric in my stash which would be perfect for it, I bought it when I went down to Sew Brum last November, my daughter is at uni in Birmingham so it was a good excuse for a get-together. When you go fabric shopping with a 20 year old you get persuaded to buy things you wouldn’t usually even glance at…me, sequins!!…I ended up with burgandy sequins and a co-ordinating taffeta in my bag, supposedly for a dress for Christmas…

…and six months later it was still in my stash waiting for it’s moment. This was the moment! I decided to make the dress in taffeta and the mock bolero in sequins.

I’ve not sewn sequins before, I used weights to hold the pattern pieces down for cutting out. I’ve not tried them before but it worked pretty well. As my daughter advised me though, the sequins get everywhere!! I cut out a size 12 on top and a 14 for my waist and bottom, which with recent patterns has worked well.

I decided to make a couple of alterations to the dress, the main one being to line it. The pattern has the raw edges between the sequins and the main dress, taffeta frays like anything so I decided to cut a second bodice and line it in the usual way instead. That bit worked pretty well. I pinned and then tacked the sequinned bolero to the bodice first and then machine stitched the lining on. I’ve still not decided if I’m meant to press sequins or not, so the seams are just finger pressed at the moment. I understitched the bodice as far as I could so the sequined top hangs nicely. I hand-stitched the hem on the sequins.

Then I made the skirt…it was a bit snug! Unfortunately the taffeta just seemed to accentuate my belly and my bum! I decided that some of the problem was static in the taffeta, it was clinging to every bump instead of hanging. I was not a very happy bunny when I went to bed that night, but I decided to sleep on it rather than do anything rash!

With my mind a bit fresher in the morning I made a skirt lining, which did help a bit, I then unpicked the centre back seam and stitched it again with only a 3/8th seam, gaining me 1/2″. It looked a bit better but still not enough.

I took the dress with me into Leeds with the idea that I would try on some slim-fast underwear, if that didn’t work then I would look at some different, more drapy skirt fabric. I’ve not tried ‘shapewear’ before…I didn’t realise there were so many different styles! In the end I found a body which was comfortable, smoothed things out and basically just made it easier for me to hold things in!

Now I’m happier with the dress I’m cracking on with it, I’ve hand-stitched the bodice lining down, hand-stitched the zip in. I’ve still to hem the dress and finish the split up the back. Years ago when I made ball gowns for my friends I found it easier to just do a machine narrow hem with taffeta, as whatever you do you can see it anyway, so I’ll probably do that.

I’m a little bit concerned about the centre back seam, if it frays will it get too weak! At the moment I’m thinking of  whip stitching over the raw edge by hand. I’m also planning to put a line of sequins down the centre back, one disadvantage of taffeta is that if you move a seam, you can’t get rid of the original marks, so I’m going to make a feature of the original back seam with a couple of rows of sequins down each side!

One other alteration I may do is that I feel at the moment the sequinned bolero is just a bit too short, it sits just above my belly which seems to accentuate it. I know I should be proud of my mummy tummy, but at times like this I just wish it was a bit flatter!! I’m thinking of adding two or three inches to the length, I think I’ve worked out a way of the join not showing. I might pin it on and see how it affects the overall look. Of course Florence, my muse, looks perfectly slim in it, but then she hasn’t had two children and inherited the English pear shape 🙂

I need to finish the dress in the next couple of days as the ball is next Saturday and I’m away for three days next week on an embroidery retreat (exciting!).


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Sky high

This weeks photo challenge from Postcard from Gibraltar is Skyhigh, I kept my self busy with cross-stitch during long skyhigh flights to Australia, I even recorded our altitude on my stitch sampler

Stitch Sampler Textile Book

I love looking at the clouds and the terrain when we’re flying,  this was taken when we were flying over Australia.


There’s quite a few of taking part in the weekly photo challenge, so why not follow the link to see lots of skyhigh photos.

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Monday’s Meander Round the Garden

We’ve had a glorious weekend here in Yorkshire, hot and sunny, very rare for a Bank Holiday weekend, it’s a standing joke here that it always rains on a bank holiday, not this one! It’s actually the hotest Early May bank holiday since they started in 1992! Great for the Tour de Yorkshire too which came through Otley yesterday.

I’ve spent most of my time in the garden, even better my OH decided to help me and even more better, he admitted he actually enjoyed it, so good result all round. It’s amazing how much more you can do when there’s two of you working together. He didn’t even quit after carrying 20 bags of gravel up our steep drive!

I spent a lot of time sorting out my potted corner, this is the corner where the clay was so bad (like silver clay, not brown clay that can be improved!!) that I flattened it many years ago and made a display of blue pots. I moved all the pots off, realised a few needed re-potting – the acer had grown a large set of roots through the hole in the bottom! I had to go and buy a new pot for that one as it’s fairly big, it needed a 20″ pot! I bought the tree when James was born so it’s over 23 years old!

This is the view from the arbour now when I’m having my morning coffee.

I leveled out the weed membrane and spread a few bags of gravel, washed the original stones, mixed them all up and then rearranged the pots. The mini pond pot was full of duckweed, so I emptied it, cleaned it out and now I’m leaving it for a week or so, hoping that if there is any duckweed left it is less likely to survive being cooked in the sunshine. My plan is to fill it up again soon and buy a mini waterlily.

There’s a few empty pots where I need to buy some shade loving shrubs for the back corner, and some sweet peas for the obelisk.

I’ve planted up the bed next to the conservatory too. At the Harrogate Spring Flower Show I saw a demonstration garden by one of the nursery’s that was all whites, blues, soft greens, it was actually a herb garden but it just looked so peaceful, it planted a seed in my mind! When I bought the beautiful white rhododendron my plan was to put it up by the fence, but it’s scent was so gorgeous that I decided to plant it near the house, luckily it’s a dwarf variety! That was the starting point, I then surrounded it with pale coloured flowers, I’m not going for a Sissinghurst White garden, more of a peaceful bed with pale lemon aquilegia, white broom, purple sage, creamy white wall flowers, blue and white aquilegias, astrantias, the beautiful tulips above were already there!…the gap in the middle where the duck is at the moment will have a standard rose eventually.

The scent from this garden is amazing at the moment, with the rhododendron, broom, wall flowers, daffodils…it’s beautiful!

In the meantime my OH made a great job of rotavating the old chicken area and laying a temporary path to the new compost heap. It’s probably going to be moved a foot or so across but it’s amazing the difference just putting a few stepping stones across makes to the feel of a garden, it suddenly looks like a nurtured area.

A couple of years ago I planted a flowering cherry right at the top of the garden, behind the compost area. This is the first year it’s really been big enough to be noticeable, the blossom is really pretty.

My OH then decide to tackle the little gravel path between the pond bed and the lawn. I laid it over 10 years ago and it was now over run with weeds. To be fair I don’t think he realised what a mammoth task he was starting, but to be fair he saw it out to the end. He lifted and weeded all the gravel, storing it in bags whilst he got all the roots out of the soil underneath and pulled all the roots out of the membrane too. We then relaid the membrane and put the gravel back with a few new sacks to top it up.

The AA garden is looking like a garden now, we’ve topped up the gravel, planted yet more plants, I just need a seat to go under the arch now. The Autumn bed above it is taking shape with an acer, a eunonymous alata (spindle tree) and a photinia red robin. I’ve a lime green cotinnus coggria, a hebe and a spirea waiting to be planted too.

My next area to tackle is by the big fence, I gave it a second coat of paint earlier in the week, today I hung some pretty bird boxes on the fence posts. I know it’s too late for this year but at least the birds should be familiar with them in time for next year. I’ve put my stone owl on one of the uprights too, he looks great up there. We nailed some green wire fencing onto the uprights too to give climbers something to hold on to. The strip in front of it needs rotavating and then planting up, I’ve got a few clematis and shrubs waiting to go in and a few more on my shopping list!

Some areas haven’t been touched, but even with the odd dandelion, the beds still look pretty with forget-me-nots and camassia.

I feel this weekend we have finally turned the corner with the garden, I can see light at the end of the tunnel after months of clearance and weeding!


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