Following a Thread

It’s seven thirty-seven on a rainy Thursday morning, and I’m just about to take the first sip of my second cup of coffee. I don’t usually have a second cup of coffee, by this time I’m usually out walking, either on Gallow Hill or the community nature reserve of which I am now Chair, but the lining of my waterproof trousers has peeled away and I have yet to replace them. So instead of moving in nature to the rhythms of Tinariwen (my current favourite walking music) I’m consuming coffee in silence surrounded by little piles of embroidery floss.

To my right, on the seat of the couch, are several unravelled, half coiled, skeins in various shades, like a group of psychedelic Mr Messies at a rave. To my left, on the top tier of an Ikea trolley I was unable to resist, and which has proved hugely useful, are several bags of threads of divers make-up (silk, cotton, unidentifiable synthetic) and colour. And on the stool at my feet, as well as a scattering of my latest experiments, is a glass ramekin filled with lengths too short to sew with. Embroidery has become the most compulsive of my lockdown induced practices.

Don’t know what happened to the R!

I have embroidered phrases from maths books on my favourite jeans; sewn little stitched patches to mend holes; made bookmarks; a face mask and, yesterday, two labels for the jars of jam I’m going to give to The Mr’s daughter tomorrow. I began the first one two days before, on a whim, and there was a lot of undoing and redoing as I worked out colours and shapes and the size I wanted for the stitches, but the second one I finished in a matter of hours. I’m getting better at this: faster, and surer, and less reliant on drawing my designs onto the fabric, or a topper, first. Today I plan to make a second face mask totally freehand.

I was thinking of Matisse as I sewed.

Needless to say, while I’ve been trying to teach myself this craft I’ve discovered a raft of practitioners who have raised it to an art. I’m currently in love with Junko Oki;

Dorothy Caldwell;

Dorothy Caldwell, Hanging via Flickr

Sheila Hicks;

Sheila Hicks: The Right of Entry, 2014-15, bamboo, acrylic fiber, slate, coins, cotton, wool, metal wire and linen, 85 by 50 by 52 inches, via ARTnews

Anni Albers,

Anni Albers, Dotted, via ABCRIT

and many more textile artists, almost all of whom are women, which makes a nice change. I want to learn how to weave. In fact, I want to learn how to spin the clumps of found sheep’s wool I’ve been stuffing into my pockets as I traipse across the fields that surround this town. I think I’m in danger of boiling nettles to make dye, and soaking scraps of vintage linen napkins with old nails in Kilner jars, just to see what happens.

So taken have I become with this pursuit I searched out the Open University website to see if they had a course I could do that would help me develop my skills and ideas. I was looking for something practical, rather than theoretical. I was, in fact, hoping for a B.A. in Fine Art, but they don’t do that, so I’ve registered for one in Design and Innovation*. Odd the direction the world will take you if you let it…

*Dependent on funding, for which I’ve yet to apply because I have a slight form phobia.

6 thoughts on “Following a Thread

  1. Go you. I had a mum who… so I did the fleece collecting/dying, and experimented with lichens, bark, berries, etc etc, so satisfying. My first husband put paid to all my “arty-farty” endeavours but my passion was rekindled when I left him. Get those forms filled!


  2. My mama used to embroider (and taught me), but her work was more “old school” as in preprinted images she then embroidered. I wish I still had one, but somehow they’ve all disappeared. I’ve been thinking about taking it up again or trying my hand at cross-stitching. As of late, all my hand sewing has been limited to repairing stuffed animals for the grandchildren!


    1. Repairing stuffed animals sounds like a jolly good use of your hand sewing skills if it leads to happy grandchildren!
      My ex-late-mother-in-law used to do the preprinted kind of embroidery and once gave me a little kit to embroider a picture of irises and butterflies. It was very pretty, but I got bored and never finished it; it seemed a bit pointless somehow. I go through phases, not sure how long this one will last…


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