Bad Stitcher Blames Her Tools

Although I was taught sewing by my Grandma when I was small, everything I made was by hand. When I decided, aged 21, to treat myself to a machine, I remembered how straightforward the Bernina machines were at school. Despite the battering they had, nothing ever seemed to go wrong and the girls in the know would make a beeline for them. For my budget, a second-hand basic Bernina was just what I wanted. However, at the shop, presumably someone was on commission and I was seduced into buying a new machine of a different brand with more features than I could ever want.

My relationship with that machine was very damaging.  We never got on right from the start. I assumed it was my fault and possibly a hereditary thing? My Mum appeared to require therapy after a session with her machine also.

So for almost twenty years, my machine only came out sporadically. Armed with my Quick Unpick, I cursed my way through a few home furnishing projects. Even when I studied textiles I shied away from it and it was only when I got to an exercise on machine embroidery that I dusted it off. That was the day the relationship ended permanently. Shortly after I took it for trade in. Though I kept silent about my experiences, the shop owner wasn’t keen to take my old machine. Sniffing my desperation and a potential sale, he eventually agreed to swap it for an embroidery foot to go with the entry-level Bernina 330 I’d coveted for so long. What a relief to be rid of the bedevilled thing – and my new machine has been an absolute joy!

IMG_2711 My dilemma was that the kids, seeing how much fun I was having, wanted to be in on the act. I wanted them to have machine confidence that I never had, but I wasn’t prepared to let them loose on my baby just yet. I found a mini machine from John Lewis with decent reviews, and decided it would be fine for them to learn some skills on before I could trust them on mine.  Though it can’t cope with thick layers, it’s been ideal for making little items like purses and lavender bags and it does look pretty cute!

IMG_2710 Today was the first day of the school holidays and the younger girls were at a sports camp, so unusually it was just the eldest at home with me. We decided to flick through my magazines to find something new she could make on her machine and found a reversible headband in Issue Four of Simply Sewing magazine. She made a great fabric choice from my stash (two cotton prints from the Sherwood collection by Henley Studio for Makower UK), learned how to use a rotary cutter and did so well controlling the lines of stitching. A very successful project I reckon and hopefully the family curse has been well and truly broken!



Feeling a Little Rusty

For my final project on my textile course last year, I chose rust as my theme. I was inspired by the artist Alice Fox whose exhibition I had seen and I learned how to make rust prints and develop ideas to incorporate into my final piece of work.

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Recording patterns on rusty manhole covers on holiday, to the acute embarrassment of my family!

Reflecting on the experience, I decided it wasn’t something I’d pursue in the future. Though I found the process exciting and some of the marks and colours very beautiful indeed, (if you are instinctive about colour you will understand this) I knew the colours just weren’t mine. Secondly, as someone who loves comfort and the feel of things, I was uncomfortable with the grainy, crusty textures, the sharp smells and the ‘rust dust’ on the fabric that seemed to affect my chest.


At the back of our garden stands an ancient dolly tub. It was there when we moved in and I grew potatoes in it.  We’ve also used it for bonfires and when I picked it up to move it the other day, because of the rust and weight of ash in the bottom, the rim came off in my hands.

Before I sent Dolly off to the recycling centre, I started to really look at her ridges and edges, and the anticipation of revealing a print from them was irresistible!  There was also the top of a decorative plant stake I’d found when I weeded the borders so I wrapped them both in an old cotton sheet that I’d soaked in Yorkshire tea.  Then I  sprayed some areas with white vinegar. And waited.


By the following day, marks had begun appearing on the fabric.  I dampened the fabric again over the next few days and waited some more.

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Around a week later, I reckoned it was time for the Big Reveal. I wanted good strong marks while stopping the process before the fabric became too fragile and holey.

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The whole purpose of this was to enjoy of the process and anticipation of seeing interesting marks develop. I’ve created a gallery of some of the areas I particularly like.

Although I’ve no plans for the fabric (it will be stashed away till an idea comes), I have made use of the binding string straight away. It had taken on a weathered look and was just what I’d been looking for to attach the shells my girls brought home from holiday and create a little garden bunting as a memory of our trip.