Sunday, 26 December 2010


Continuing with the festive theme of recent posts, here's my latest wintery creation. 

Was a bit disappointed in the gingerbread itself but think there may have been a user error in the measuring (Christmas Eve pressure, plus doing double recipe which wouldn't fit in even the biggest mixing bowl!).  The kids loved it, though, which was the main thing, and did even eat some of the gingerbread, rather than just licking off the icing and chocolate.

And in case you're wondering, the white smudge at the front is deliberate - it's a melted snowman but that looked better in reality!

Saturday, 25 December 2010


Meet Frosty, the papier maché snowman.  I decided this year that a stocking for OH's presents was too traditional, and a 4 foot snowman was the way forward (it would have been bigger, but the papier mache was done around balloons and that was as big as I could manage). 

Am particularly pleased with the hat (a couple of pizza boxes and more papier maché, although the black is a bit lost in the photo) and the nose (maché-ed around a real carrot).

We had debated doing a snowman piñata for the nieces and nephews but felt that more sugar/over-excitement was probably not what was needed at Christmas and we'd save that for another occasion.  Hopefully they don't read this, or that could constitute a promise.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Mulled wine fig jellies

When I was a kid, at the end of a meals at Christmas alongside nuts and dates, we used to have a delicacy called Chinese Figs.  These were fig jellies rolled in sugar, sweet and deliciously figgy, sold in distinctive hexagonal black and red boxes with gold dragons on - I'm sure the packaging added to the general sense of occasion.  They haven't been available for a lot of years and so, having seen this recipe in the Guardian for mulled wine plum jellies, I thought I'd try and re-create some of the magic.

These are good, but not as good as the memory of the childhood ones, partly because the flavour is a bit heavy on the mulled wine (I'd have liked more fruit) and partly because they're still not properly dried (5 days later: if you try the recipe, I'd recommend drying them in the oven rather than being lazy and leaving them to dry on their own).  But they're good enough to give me ideas about trying to create a fig version.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Devon surfer

I went to a Janet Bolton workshop last month which was excellent - I like her stuff (particularly this deer picture, having seen it in the flesh) and it was a very inspirational day.  She is a very warm teacher, full of encouragement and also useful ideas.

My aim was to make a piece based around surfers, for my OH's niece.  As ever the vision in my head of what the picture would look like doesn't match the outcome, but I had fun doing it.  Surfers plural got downgraded to surfer singular: this is the nth iteration of said surfer and I'm still not particularly happy with it, but sometimes it's just time to call it a day.  I do, however, like having lots of different textures/patterns in the work, particularly the idea of including 3D objects (not sure if it's obvious from the photo, but the shell, fish and ring/star thing are all 3D).

Hopefully, given that one entry on a particularly long Christmas list was 'things for her bedroom wall', this will get past the hanging committee.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


Today is day 2 of college Christmas holiday and, having an aversion to leaving things to the last minute, I thought I'd best get started on some homework.  Apparently next term we'll be doing installation art, so the task was to go to some galleries and see what's out there.  I struggle a bit with installation, it rarely seems to mean much to me, but I'm hoping that's just because I don't understand it.  

Richard Wentworth: Three Guesses (photo: Whitechapel Gallery

First stop was High Society at the Wellcome Trust which charts the history of mind-altering substances, both from a historical and medical as well as artistic point of view (it ticked the installation box with a work from Joshua White and Seth Kirby).   This was followed by various exhibits at the Whitechapel Gallery, including the image by Richard Wentworth which I like for the tactile string/wool/thread.  A couple of stops on London Transport's 205 took me to Rachel Kneebone at White Cube (I was intrigued by the texture of her work, it is porcelain but appears part plastic, part rubber, the subject however was all a bit overtly phallic for me) and I finished with a spur of the moment stop at Reverting to Type at Standpoint Gallery (have to confess liked this last one best: a room full of beautifully presented typefaces is much more my thing).
Photo: Standpoint Gallery

Sunday, 19 December 2010


It's snowy outside so an afternoon of baking seemed called for, and here is one of the products.  For all that gingerbread figures are traditionally meant to be hung from Christmas trees, I don't think I know anyone who used to do that as a kid (quite possibly because we all preferred gaudily-wrapped Cadbury's chocolate tree decorations).  But, in part prompted by the Guardian's quest for the perfect gingerbread recipe, I thought I'd go all retro.

Friday, 10 December 2010


I don't need asking twice to post pictures of the mutt (thanks, Oxslip!).  So, here she is, with a suitably seasonable backdrop.  She doesn't learn that snow freezes her beard solid; to be fair, she doesn't whine about it, nor about being made to sit on snowy ground to have her photo taken.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Stitched mutt

This is the first piece of embroidery I've tried in this style (i.e. something naturalistic and freestyle without sticking to recognised stitches).  I was aiming to capture the texture of the dog's fur and the shadows of her face (guess mutts don't have to worry about bags under their eyes, particularly the amount of sleep this one gets).

Work in progress
Stitching the dog's head took about 20 hours (forgot to keep track for the background, but maybe about a dozen).  I used stranded embroidery cotton on cotton fabric, with metallic thread for the highlights in her eyes.  Am slightly disappointed with the photo as the background has more variation in colour: stitching in circles means that the light catches the thread in different ways and it looks variegated. 

Monday, 6 December 2010

My biggest fan

Another college project: this time to make a larger than life cardboard model of a desk fan (because obviously it's the time of year when you need a fan). 

The model is about half as big again as the real thing, so is about 70cm high, and is made from cardboard and PVA glue.

I'm not too sure about the photo, though, as it makes the fan look like a computer-generated image - could have saved myself several hours of cutting and sticking!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Skinny dog

I've finally fulfilled a promise from quite a while ago: to make my sister a sausage dog draught excluder.
So, here she is (she seems female to me, largely down to the eyelashes and the pink inner ears, but the naming is up to sis, and she may have a different view). 

Whatever she ends up being called, hopefully she'll keep those draughts out while she sleeps.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Armour plating

Shoddy lapse of time since my last post, largely owing to college being super-busy.  But, I can now post one of my finished college pieces: ta-da-da! 

The brief (as I've mentioned before) was a 'structure to be worn on the body' in the theme of articulation (think trucks, not pronunciation).  My inspiration was varied, but included langoustine shells, armadillos, Roman soldiers and lizards, left to stew in my subconscious for a couple of weeks.  I liked the idea of rigid, pivoted sections of armour over the shoulders and this idea grew into wanting something which fitted closely over the neck and collarbones, hence the jointed 'scales'. This was really making me think of lizards, hence going for a reptilian feel in the stitching.

It's made from latex, backed with felt and then stitched in metallic thread into 'scales'; the linking hoops are just jewellery links and the gold balls are beads, attached with jewellery wire.  Both the design and the construction took waaaay longer than I'd thought (the stitching was the easy part, the jewellery links were a nightmare), but now that it's finished and I've tried it on, it was worth it.  Almost.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Unburied treasure

Am feeling smug today, having finally finished a project which has been at least a year in its creation (although most of that was within my head and I didn't start in earnest until a couple of months ago).  And it's not like it's anything deep and meaningful, just something fun, but has taken an awful lot more planning and titchy working than I'd anticipated.

With the exception of the skull (Halloween purchase) and the shells, everything has been hand-made.  Most of it, with the exception of the rocks (papier maché) and the buckles on the treasure chest (bent wire), is fabric and/or stitched.  Both octopuses are crocheted, the pale one was intended for the lid of the chest but was too small so redeployed; the various weeds are painted ribbon, latex and chain stitch. 

To add to my smugness, this is intended for the next exhibition of my local Embroiders' Guild which has a deadline of April - for once I've finished a project early.  Although I have another idea which I want to enter, so I'm sure I'll be finishing that at midnight before the deadline.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Quality quilts

photo from
Visited the Quilt Museum and Gallery in York for the first time at the weekend.  Apparently it opened in 2008, so is fairly recent and whilst a small space, is in a lovely timbered 15th century guildhall which definitely adds to the experience.  And the warm Yorkshire welcome goes without saying.

They are currently curating an embroidery exhibition and this piece, Pagoda 1 by Lara Carter was my favourite.  It's huge, probably 8 feet high, wider at the top than the bottom and was displayed so that it hangs in luxuriant folds.  I love the way the delicate colours merge into each other and create such substantial but mystical buildings.

There were also (unsurprisingly) quilts on display, some of them dating from the WWII era and embracing the tradition of re-using fabric from the family's wardrobes to create something both practical and beautiful.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Caster plast

For reasons which I'll explain in a minute, OH and I spent an hour or so this afternoon making a plaster cast of my shoulders.  It's the first time either of us have used plaster of Paris, so was slightly nervous about ending up in A&E needing to be cut out of it by an expert, but it's been remarkably successful (although seeing myself in the 'flesh' has made me realise how round-shouldered my posture is).  The process didn't take long, and even being cut free has left me unscarred (although minus a few hairs).  The cast is no work of art, but it looks satisfyingly professional and may tempt me at some point into something sculptural.

But back to current practicalities: the cast is part of a new project on the theme of Articulation for which I need to make "a structure to be worn on the body".  I have an idea in my head (hasn't yet made it to paper, let alone the real world) of an asymmetrical piece of jewellery/body adornment which stretches from my neck over one shoulder, made of jointed pieces of not-quite-sure-what.  Whatever material I decide to use, I was thinking I needed something to fit the adornment around whilst I'm making it, hence using OH's suggestion of the plaster cast.  Seems quite a lot of effort for a glorified tailor's dummy, but it beats watching Sunday afternoon TV.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Art in the park

Went to the Frieze art fair yesterday in Regent's Park - a huge exhibition with contemporary exhibits from galleries around the world.  The crowd def had an international flavour, quite heavy on expensively-dressed French/Spanish/Italians, with some weird-and-whacky art student types and a sprinkling of Beautiful People.  In between the people-watching, I did manage to see lots of art, some of it intriguing and inspiring and other pieces just a bit ... odd.

This piece (Untitled, by Jason Martin) falls into the former category, the intensity of the colour is amazing and I love the tactile simplicity.  It's apparently just pure pigment, layered incredibly thickly.

I also really liked this, by Michael Bauch, both for the vivid colour but also the repetitive simplicity of the cut-out sections.  I'm sure I'm missing lots of deep meaning in the piece, but maybe my recent art enrollment will enlighten me.  And in the meantime I'm enjoying just looking.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Retro stitching

I wanted to do something slightly retro and whilst cross-stitch isn't generally my thing it seemed to fit the bill.  This is, unsurprisingly, a new home card for some friends.

I'm quite pleased with the graduated colour in the lettering, (this was take 2 and involved a certain amount of unpicking), although in retrospect the darkest red should have been at the top (note to self: don't skimp on the unpicking). 

There's definitely more to cross-stitch than I'd first thought.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Detail of Portholes by Lucie Summers
and Jenny Spencer
Just been to the Knitting and Stitching show at Ally Pally - some fantastic exhibits, although would have liked more exhibits and less commercial stalls, but can understand these things have to pay their way.  Anyway, back to the good stuff: really liked these knitted cushions, by a recent graduate of Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Sophie Strickson, they look beautifully tactile (I was sticking to the 'no touching' policy but was quite an effort).  In a much more traditional vein, there were some beautiful batiques of Scottish landscapes by Sarah Tucker, one of which, if I can convince OH, may end up on our wall.  Also liked most of the paper exhibits from the Holland Paper Biennal (I know, sounds odd to have paper at a knitting and stitching show, but the creations were mostly very 3D and a great inspiration).

Portholes by Lucie Summers
and Jenny Spencer

However, I think my favourite exhibit was this quilt (which won the Group Quilts competition at the NEC Festival of Quilts) by Lucie Summers and Jenny Spencer.  Feel slightly guilty to have photographed it, as most of the exhibits have big 'No Photography' and 'Protect the rights of the artist' signs near them, but this stand didn't seem to have, and I just couldn't resist.  I love the colours, the circular motifs, the fluidity of the quilting ...

Saturday, 2 October 2010


I love seahorses, and as a child used to think that it was unfair that they shared a name with hippopotamuses (which I also love, but are definitely at the other end of the delicate and graceful spectrum).  Another reason why teaching Latin has its place.

This particular seahorse was a test for part of a current project, and at just 3cm high is definitely titchy.  Very occasionally working in a small scale is advantageous: the spine has managed to be sufficiently 3D just by doing a wrapped backstitch around a single vertical thread. 

All I need do now is recreate this as part of the finished piece which I fear may not be easy - as with Hollywood films, the second iteration rarely flows as effortlessly as the first.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A is for apple

The final piece of work for a recent embroidery course was to produce an illuminated capital, which I enjoyed designing as much if not more than the stitching.  I've always liked books where the initial letter of a chapter is beautifully illustrated so I spent a lot of time on Google images looking at pictures of medieval manuscripts, and decided to keep to the strict meaning of 'illuminated
capital' by including gold in my design.   I would later curse that decision: sewing french knots in metallic thread is not recommended, and apparently to get a similar effect most people use beads.  I ended up with a combination of both and can testify that the beads are def a lot easier.

Rather than doing my own initial (which would just end up in a box in the loft being jumped on by squirrels), I've made this for my mum's birthday.  I imagine that most people after multiple decades as a parent don't expect home-made presents, but thankfully my mum is not only used to them (she's a frequent recipient of my craft output), she professes to liking them.

So A is not for apple, as my mum predates 'celebrity' names by a couple of generations, but both the making and the giving is keeping me in touch with my inner child.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Smash and grab

It's piñata time again - OH and I have made several piñatas over the last few years for his niece's and nephew's birthdays.  This year we have a pot-bellied penguin (although I seem to have found a camera angle which down-plays the rotundness - not quite sure why I can only manage that on papier-maché, rather than human bellies).

Am v.pleased with this one, although the proof of the piñata is always in the smashing, or more accurately, whether the string holding the piñata up stays intact long enough for a horde of children to bash their way through the papier-maché.  It does seem slightly ridiculous to spend several hours constructing something which is going to be smashed to pieces in a matter of minutes, but I love creating something which goes out on a high.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Am v.happy with this recent acquisition: original Viyella fabric.  It was kindly given to me by a fellow Embroiderer's Guild member - she in turn was given several lots of different textiles by a friend whose grandfather used to be a cloth merchant.

My calculations suggest that the fabric is probably from the first part of the twentieth century (partly based on the fact that it's a narrow width, rather than the current standard 110 or 140cm wide), and it's none the worse for wear.  For some reason I had thought that Viyella was an American brand (possibly because I associate it with shirt-waister dresses worn by midwest farmers' wives), but I couldn't be more wrong: the brand was founded in Nottinghamshire, in the suprisingly early year of 1894.  The fabric's soft warmth definitely belongs to a pre-central heating era - according to Wikipedia it is 55% merino wool and 45% cotton, and I imagine that a Viyella shirt was a particularly welcome layer on a cold day.  As you can see from the label, Viyella guarantee against shrinkage - a world away from today's 'Dry Clean Only' fashion.

I've earmarked the fabric for a dress (have an idea in my head which I need to translate onto paper).  Just need to summon up the courage to cut into a piece of British textile history.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Octopus Mark II

This blog isn't called Titchy Stitcher for nothing - my OH has been challenging me for some time to crochet a smaller amigurumi octopus than this one which I posted last month.  So, having resisted the pressure for some time (largely because I didn't think I'd manage it and just go cross-eyed trying), I succumbed.  And, just this once, I'll admit he had a point.  This is the result, and I can't quite believe how small it is (penny included for scale).  Although stitching it was definitely hard on the eyes, even in a pale colour, lit by gorgeous Greek holiday sunshine. 

The thread I used was 30 count crochet cotton with a 1.25mm crochet hook (bigger than the 0.75mm recommended but the smallest I had).  OH is still on the campaign for ever smaller amigurumi - in John Lewis today he was v.impressed that they sell crochet hooks as small as 0.6mm and so insisted that I buy every small size which I don't already have.  I'll have to teach him how to crochet as I'm not intending on using them.

The irony of having managed a tiny octopus is that I created it as part of an ongoing project (more of that another time) and now that it's finished I think it's too small for what I wanted.  I'm blaming OH ...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Making paper beads

I've had a couple of requests for more information about how I made the paper beads, so thought I'd post what I did, what worked and what didn't.

What you need:
  • Paper or thin card
    I use either thick magazines (unfortunately free weekend newspaper ones aren't great) or flyers, or thin (cereal box weight) cardboard
  • Scalpel, ruler & board/guillotine
    anything which enables you to cut long straight lines quickly and easily - scissors would be OK, just a bit hard on the hands
  • Crochet hook
    or something similar to wrap the paper around - if you want a narrow hole in your bead (for instance if you want to string your beads interspersed with tiny seed beads) try a cocktail stick.
  • Pritt Stick or similar glue
  • A handful of clothes pegs
  • Varnish and brush
    I'm currently using wood varnish
  • Wooden skewers
    if you opt for narrow holes in your beads, you'll need lots of spare cocktail sticks for drying them
  • Egg box/disposable drinks cup
    to stick the skewers/cocktail sticks in with drying beads


Cutting paper:
Cut the paper/card into very long but narrow triangles.  The short side of the triangle gives the length of your bead; the diameter will depend on the weight of the paper and the size of your rolling implement.
    A triangle this size, using cardboard and a crochet hook gives a bead approx 1cm dia x 1.5cm long.

    Starting at the widest end of the triangle, start to roll the paper quite tightly around the crochet hook.  No  need to glue the start of the roll, the tension keeps it in place.  Roll until you reach the end of the paper, then use the Pritt Stick to glue the end securely and remove the crochet hook.  Hold the end in place with a clothes peg until the glue dries.  If you're using quite heavy card and the end of the roll is tending to unravel, try curling the end by pulling it against the crochet hook (as if you're curling birthday present ribbon) so that it curls around the bead, and then glue as normal.

    When I have a batch of beads ready rolled, I then varnish them.  I'm currently using wood varnish but it's not as solid as I'd like, so Plan C is to try resin of some description (Plan B was dilute PVA glue, but that didn't work at all, just seemed to sink into the bead - other suggestions welcome!).  I put several beads onto a skewer and use an old (artist's, not decorator's) paintbrush to coat them in varnish.  I then pierce the eggbox with the skewer to suspend the beads whilst they dry (if you're doing beads with narrow holes, use spare cocktail sticks here).  After about an hour, when they're touch dry, I move them on their skewers to check they're not attached to either the skewer or each other.  When the varnish is fully dry, I do another coat.

    For bracelets I use elastic to string the beads - it doesn't need to be able to stretch loads to fit over a hand and there's no need to add a clasp.  I use elastic from a bead shop - something like Stretch Magic, and then do a super firm knot which I Super Glue to make sure it doesn't come undone (without the glue it doesn't stay knotted).  The best knot I've found is a double fishermen's knot - it looks hard but once you've worked out what you're doing, it's not.   Leave long ends on the knot (a centimetre or more) and slide them inside the beads to hide them.
    For long necklaces I've been using waxed thread (from haberdashery shops), largely as I had it lying around and I figured it should be strong enough - the beads are so light there shouldn't be that much wear and tear.  And it just needs a common or garden reef knot, rather than anything more taxing.
    For short necklaces (haven't done any yet, mind), think I'd use waxed thread attached to a clasp.

    OK, that's my paper bead making guide, or as much as I can think of right now.   Feel free to post questions and I'll try to answer them.  Happy (rock and) rolling.

    Monday, 30 August 2010


    Think I'm only posting these earrings to torture myself - I made them a couple of weeks ago and on the first time of wearing I lost one of them.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to find it so have been left with visions of it lying in a gutter, lost and forlorn.

    I'd make another one, but the hoops were customised from another pair of earrings and I've never seen them for sale on their own.  May just have to convert the remaining one to a pendant so it can live on.

    The design was inspired by peacock feathers - have a strong dislike of the birds* but I love the colours in their feathers. 

    * I dislike all birds, to greater or lesser degree, but my view of peacocks wasn't helped when someone once told me a story of a country house wedding where there were peacocks on the lawn during the champagne reception.  Apparently peacocks hate images of themselves which is unfortunate as the florist had used mirrors in the flower arrangements: a huge peacock fight kicked off with feathers and flowers and guests all fleeing in various directions.  Still, I guess it's slightly classier than the traditional wedding fight.

    Saturday, 28 August 2010

    Roll up, roll up

    I've been making paper beads for just a few months, inspired by these fabulous ones a friend brought back from Tanzania.

    The Tanzanian originals are made of very thin paper and seem like they have several coats of varnish: they must take ages, both to roll and paint, but the effect is lovely.  

    Mine are neither as colourful nor as glossy, but I do like the colours (the paper was an East bag).  I'm still working on getting mine as robust as the original - two coats of varnish rather than just one definitely help, I should probably do 3, but for me the pleasure is in rolling, which is therapeutic, rather than varnishing which is just sticky.

    One of the things I like about wearing paper beads is that they are incrediby light to wear so there's no likelihood of taking someone's eye out with a swish of the beads.

    Wednesday, 25 August 2010

    Octopus ami

    I seem to be on an amigurumi posting roll, so thought I'd post the amigurumi octopus which prompted me to learn how to crochet.  The legs on mine seem more flimsy than the original inspiration, but as far as I'm concerned he still ticks lots of small/cute boxes.  As you can see, he's a key ring, and apparently (he was made for a friend) he swings happily from the car ignition.

    One thing which I like about crocheting amigurumi is that they largely use one stitch (double crochet in the UK, called single crochet in the US) and so, once you can cast on a circle (fab tutorial here), increase and decrease you're pretty well sorted.


    What else can you call a caterpillar, other than 'Munch'?  This was the first amigurumi which I made up from scratch (rather than seeing something posted online and developing it from there).  I do have to give credit for the idea to OH who, for some unknown reason, requested a caterpillar.

    Amigurumi are an odd concept, and other than the tiny neatness, can't explain why I like them (and some I don't like at all, falling on the wrong side of the kitsch line).  There is a definite challenge in making something as small as possible, (this blog isn't 'Titchy Stitcher' for nothing) but that can get obsessive, so I'm trying to restrain myself.

    If anyone wants the pattern for this, let me know (it's written in relatively non-code speak, as I'm a novice crochet person).

    Thursday, 19 August 2010

    Pod cast (on)

    This is based on a People Tree brooch which a friend of mine was coveting - I was going to buy it for her birthday, but People Tree spent so long making it available that it was too late and I created my own version.  Shame, as an uber-ethical sale was lost, but at least I can console myself that I already had the thread and so nothing was shipped especially from Nepal.

    Monday, 16 August 2010


    Can't quite believe that I've finally started blogging, having procrastinated for so long - and have a feeling that procrastination may be an ongoing theme, but am going to make a real effort that it won't be (nearly called the blog Ultimate Procrastinator, but that got vetoed).

    The plan is to use this blog to share with a few people what I've been doing craft-wise and to put some photos up online of both finished projects and work in progress (or, as the Embroiderers' Guild call them, UnFinished [stitching] Objects).  I'm sure that I'll digress into other things, but my current focus is on embroidery, paper bead making and dressmaking/pattern-cutting.