It’s just struck me that you never see my personal projects (not a euphemism). OK, so you see the things I make for everyone else but as for personal projects you know nothing. Nada. Nowt. Fuck all. Well, seeing as it is the long Easter weekend here in the UK – when you’ll all be whipping out your personal projects too – I thought I’d whip out mine.
Now, my arty personal projects once involved painting and sketching portraits as well as making my own clothes. The thing is, not only do they take up a mahoosive amount of time but I now tend to work in snatches of space between commitments to slouch bags and sanitary pads, Kraken Junior and whatever other madness is being juggled. More than that, because we spend a pile of time at our static caravan during holidays I like to have projects that I can take with me. In fact, at any given time I’ll be embroidering poolside in Menorca or patchworking as I stare out over Cardigan Bay. Most recently, believe it or not, I was paper piecing on a weekend away at Blenheim Palace.
Anyway, enough blather. It’s time to show you what I really do in my downtime. Here we go:
Well, the urge to do this came at me like slap in the tit from a wet fish. I was wandering around the V&A gift shop in London and came across the most gorgeous bundles of pre-cut fabric squares. Now, they’re not remotely the kind of prints or colours I’d usually choose but they reminded me of Llangoed Hall which once belonged to the Laura Ashley family. It’s now a hotel and Conjugal Kraken and I have a night there every year. I instantly decided to buy a £6 bundle of teeny squares, hand stitch them together with the English paper piecing method and put them in a frame on the picture wall in our living room.
I’d never done paper piecing before when I started this but it was a frigging joy from start to finish. There was something innately soothing about the delicate prints and colours and the hand sewing forced me to slow down. Even better, I learned so much about making the teeniest hand stitches that I’ll never look at a hand stitched crinoline in the same way again.
So this now hangs in my house and I look at it almost every day. Not only has it given me the bug for paper piecing but it’s reminded me that personal projects don’t need to be functional to be worth making. Which leads me to my…
This is the immediate effect of finishing the framed paper piecing above. I adored doing it so much that have leaped right into making a full throw for the back of my sofa with – gulp – small, handstitched hexagons. Yeah, Ok, it IS a lot of work but the plan is for this to keep my fingers entertained for the next couple of months.
It’s a mix of intensely bright colours because I want it to be almost kaleidoscopic, clashy and so unbelievably cheery that it’d make a cat laugh. It’s also one of those personal projects which allows me to root through my scrap bags and dig out my fave prints from the items I’ve made for you lot. Look closely and you might see your own desktop caddy, tote or sky pockets in there.
So far I’ve stitched the fabrics hexes to the paper templates and I’m about to start stitching them to each other with such small stitches that I’m using a magnifying glass that sits on my chest (SUCH a good look). It’s worth it for the effect though and I’ve already told Kraken Junior that it’s for her to keep when I am dead. Yes, these are the kind of eye-rolling convos I have with my 11 year old while I’m muttering into my breasts though a magnifying glass. Nothing weird there at all right? It’s enough to make stitching an entire throw by hand look normal.
This is one of those personal projects which could take a loooong time. In short, I’m creating a series of calico ‘pages’, each one featuring a different type of embroidery stitch. When they’re done I’ll stitch them all together to form a book that’s essentially a stitch sampler.
I got the idea from a needle book that I have that was made by mother-in-law back in the 1940s. After doing a spot of research into how I could do something similar I found images of sampler books and I launched into it.
What I love about this is that it matches my love of hand sewing with my experience as a journalist and editor, when I used to edit magazines from scratch. The page layouts are everything and even the way this sampler is built matches how a magazine or newspaper is printed.
At the mo, I’m still stitching each page by working though that embroidery bible you can see in the pic. Not only am I learning as I go but I’m using stitches that are soooo out there that I can’t imagine ever needing them again. It means that every sewing sesh is an education. I’m also loving mixing up the colours. As with my sofa throw above nothing in this book it subtle. It’s all about the shoutiness. No shit.
This is one of those personal projects that’s quick n dirty. I usually make these on a sunny afternoon in the garden when I want my hands to be busy but my brain to be quiet.
Now, I love tassels. Not the kind you hang around curtains (or off your nipples, if that’s where your mind is wandering) but the fun and colourful kind that shout ‘party’. So I picked up a tassel maker last year and blew very little cash on a pile of shouty and cheap yarns.
As with most things that I make, it’s all about the colour so I’ve been using these zingy shades that all pop against each other. It’s also about mismatching in a way that I wouldn’t attempt for a customer. I want them to look deliberately informal because it gives them more personality. Think of the strings of teeny cowbells or decorations that you can pick up in some ethnic shops, especially where you can see the stitches and imagine who made them.
This also means I get to dip into my stash of beads which I rarely use in my professional life. Again, in the spirit of mismatching, I dig out the beads that are oddball shapes and clashing colours and use them to make the tassels more decorative. I currently have one long string hanging across the bookcases in my living room and am making a matching string to go on my sewing shed.
As far as personal projects go, the joy of these tassels is in the doing, not only the finishing. It’s all about the meditative action of winding the wool and threading the beads. If you want me I’ll be on my garden bench winding like Rumpelstiltskin.
So, yeah, now that you’ve asked I DO have enough to keep me frisky over the Easter hols as well as every other hol between here and Crimbo. Luckily these personal projects never fail to get me all excitable. Knowing I have a few hours of working on my sofa throw or stitch book is enough to shift my arse out of bed or make me put down my phone. They are therapy for my hands and my brain. You can take the girl out of the sewing shed but it’s become very apparent that you can’t take the sewing out of the girl…