Patrick Grant opens Community Clothing in Blackburn October 23, 2016 07:00 3 Comments
On Thursday morning Kay and I made the short trip across the border to the town of Blackburn, for the official launch of Community Clothing. Despite growing up in Yorkshire, I visited often as a child to buy fabrics in the market, as well as shoes from the legendary Tommy Balls factory. Kay grew up in Rochdale but always wished she had a Blackburn accent! We were both excited to go back and I have been wanting to find out more about Patrick Grant's inspirational project since I read about it in the May issue of Sew Magazine (which I was very happy to be featured in too).
The big idea behind the brand is this:
"Community Clothing is a manufacturers cooperative with a simple mission; to make excellent quality affordable clothes for men and women, to create great jobs for skilled workers and by doing this to help to restore real pride in Britain's textile communitites."
The first collection of garments are classics done well - white t-shirts made in Blackburn, premium quality selvedge denim jeans and classic rainwear from local cloth. Knitwear is produced in Scotland, socks are produced in Leicestershire and the lovely totes come all the way from Accrington Stanley.
The clothes are affordable as they are sold direct via the Community Clothing ebay store or in their shop. Patrick pointed out that the jeans I bought for £65 would cost £150 in a retailer, so cutting out the middleman makes a big difference to the customer. Moreover they are produced when factories have quiet times due to seasonal demand. This deceases the risk of worker's losing their jobs or having zero hours contracts.
Kay's Harrington jacket made from cloth produced by Millerian in Bradford
Blackburn is home to two of the main manufacturers in the Community Clothing cooperative. The Cookson & Clegg factory opened in 1860 and has a rich history, producing military uniforms and workwear. It provided cloth for Grant's Saville Row company Norton & Sons until it became no longer financially viable and was set to close down. Patrick and his company bought the mill and the vision for Community Clothing was born.
The project launched with a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year where people committed to buy garments before their manufacture. The campaign succeeded and exceeded its target of £75.000, but it was close to the wire and took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. 1020 people backed it, from 25 towns and cities and 10 countries.
It was important to Patrick that the official launch was up here in Blackburn, and we were very happy about it too. There will be future pop-ups in London and around the county but the heart of the company is in Lancashire.
Many people reading this blog will know Patrick as a judge on the Great British Sewing Bee. However, he is by no means just a frontman for the iniativive. During our chat his passion for British cloth, his industry knowledge and his determination to succeed all shone through. He knows the names of the staff on the factory production lines, and their stories. He wants to grow and scale the business and has built a great team to work with including CEO Lucy Clayton and General Manager Iain Trickett, whose grandfather made jackets for the army in the local mill. He has also teamed up with social enterprise Bootstrap to focus on creating jobs and training. One press article recently described Patrick as a 21st-century industrialist. He has gained a reputation for swimming against the tide and it will be very interesting to follow his journey over the next few years.
Why am I so excited?
The values of Community Clothing are close to my heart and central in the Jenni Smith Studio's future plans for releasing garment patterns and skill-building kits. Since entering Entrepreneurial Spark I have visited local mills and manufacturers to source products and learn about their provenance. There is a positive shift as people become disillusioned with fast fashion and want to know where their clothes come from. I know that every time I wear my Community Clothing jeans and read the label "Made in Blackburn" it will make me smile (even if I am a Yorkshire lass). I want to pass on that happy feeling to our customers and champion British cloth manufacturing too.
Make do and Mend
The funniest part of our day was leaving with a sewing project (as well as some nice new clothes). During our chat we noticed that Patrick (who often ranks on the fashion industry's Best Dressed lists) had a large hole in the elbow of his jumper. It's Howick cashmere and a firm favourite, so in the spirit of making clothes last a lifetime we offered to fix it (he is working 100-hour weeks at the moment so can be excused). He took us up on the offer and handed it over, so that's another job to add to the list!
The Community Clothing shop is now open in central Blackburn so please go and check it out if you are local. For opening times and location please see their website
Alternatively you can shop online at their Ebay store
Please also comment if you enjoyed this post, it's always nice to hear from you!
My interview from Sew Magazine can be seen here
Other recent blog posts:
The Festival of Quilts 2016 with Aurifil Threads August 21, 2016 07:00 3 Comments
Jenni Smith Ltd is born and Beyond Magazine Feature August 07, 2016 07:00 2 Comments
A lot has been happening behind the scenes in recent weeks. I have opened my new studio space and started to fill up all of my classes for the Autumn. I have also registered as a Limited Company, put in several trademark applications and started working on my branding and packaging.
My first garment patterns are in production (yippee) and this is a stage which I worried I might never get to. It's very easy to have an idea, but to make it become reality takes a lot of work and even more bravery. I think everybody is afraid of failure, and also the unknown but I am trying to not get too distracted by fear!
I have also had my first day of filming. After graduating, I worked in TV for 13 years, in amongst having 3 children. However, I was never in front of the camera myself. My job was to do the research, organise filming and make it happen on the day.
My plan is to produce a series of free video tutorials for people who may never have sewn, or have a terrible memory from school that has put them off for life. I aim to build skills in dressmaking, quilting and more creative textile art and also capture some fabulous tips from my teacher and expert tailor Ann Ladbury.
My friend Lucy is a BBC producer and presenter and very kindly offered to help me out. We spent a few hours shooting the first edition and I will be sharing it here soon for some honest feedback. It feel a bit weird and I was terrible at remembering the notes I had made but I am just relieved to have the first day of filming out of the way.
Many of you know that I am on a programme at the moment called Entrepreneurial Spark. I am sure that all of the above actions would not have happened if I hadn't won my place back in February this year. It is incredible to work in an environment where over 50 other businesses in Leeds alone, are working to grow and scale their dreams, whether they are actual companies or concepts at this stage. Ultimately, I am a girl who loves sewing and has followed a creative path up to now, knowing nothing about business at all. However, I am now starting to believe that I can get my head around spreadsheets, financial forecasts, seed-funding, and whatever else used to sound incredibly scary and out of my league.
A huge thank you to all my friends and mentors on the E Spark programme and watch out for more updates soon.
I have also attached my new editorial feature in Beyond Magazine. I was a little excited to be interviewed for a publication also including Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge is one of my favourite films) and I hope these pages inspire some like-minded people to get in touch and come and see what the Jenni Smith Studio is all about.
Next week I am heading to my first ever Festival of Quilts for four days so I promise to share loads of stories and inspiration here.
Gaining confidence by sewing a blouse (amazing fabric by Heather Ross) July 24, 2016 07:00 1 Comment
I have been a huge fan of fabric designer Heather Ross ever since I discovered her work 5 years ago.
I made by youngest child a quilt with her Nursery Versery prints, as well as some shorts featuring incy wincy spider which I tried to squeeze him back into last month but failed.
Heather released a new collection last year TigerLily including these ballerinas. My daughter Edie dances so I bought a metre of the cotton in pink to make her a top (still a WIP), then I ordered 2 metres in the cotton lawn for myself. I imagined it would look like a simple pattern from afar, but make people smile (and especially me) when they studied it up close.
I have been working my way through some vintage pattern books by my teacher Ann Ladbury. I decided to have a go at the blouse from the book Weekend Wardrobe, which accompanied one of her many series on the BBC. The garments were designed by Caroline Charles but the construction of them is explained by Ann Ladbury in the text.
I am often too impatient to sew a test garment to assess fit. There was a risk I would mess up my beautiful (and quite expensive) lawn but I decided just to go for it. I did however check the pattern pieces against a blouse I have that fits well, and the finished collar measurement before cutting out.
Reading the instructions was like having Ann with me - because they are so thorough and leave little room for error. There are great top tips as with all her books, like putting your interfacing onto the cloth before cutting out, or how to get accurate points at the tip of the collar.
I made french seams on the shoulders, sleeves and sides as the lawn is light and quite transparent.
I made my first collar stand and did a lot of top stitching.
My main tip is always to try and work in balance. I completed one process on the left side of the blouse, and then repeated it immediately on the right. I think once you have your eye in, you work more accurately, especially when setting in sleeves. I also continually checked that pleats, seams, centre fronts etc were matching up as I went along.
Buttonholes have caused me some tears in the past. I have learnt that the key is preparation. I put extra interfacing beneath the facings where they would sit and also found that my Janome Horizon coped really well with the finer cloth. I still struggled to breath though whilst stitching them and felt a huge sense of relief when they were finished.
As instructed I made horizontal buttonholes on the collar stand and cuffs, then chose vertical ones for the rest. Ann gave clear instructions about placement too which seem obvious but super helpful:
1. Don't leave a large gap between the collar button and the first one or it will gape open.
2. Place a button level with your chest
3. Avoid placing a button at your waistline, especially if the blouse is to be tucked in.
To get the spacing bang on I borrowed Ann's fabulous slim flex measuring gauge. It is brilliant for even spacing and I need to track one down to buy myself.
I have to say that I think this blouse is my most accomplished make so far. I really took my time and tried to learn as much as I could. I am not a perfectionist when sewing, but I do feel that I am taking a bit more care and time preparing for certain stages.
I was nominated for an Entrepreneurial award on Wednesday evening so had a good incentive to finish it in time. I toyed with the idea of customising this black vintage dress into a matching skirt that was a little tutu like. I was thinking Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. However, I ran out of time and was a little unsure if I could pull it off!
I didn't win the £3000 prize sadly, but my blouse got lots of lovely comments and it was very easy to wear. My daughter Edie said the sleeves were a little Pirate-like, but I think she was just a bit cross that I hadn't finished her top off yet!
Next week I am starting to film my first video tutorials, and will also be doing some with Ann Ladbury in the coming months. Please leave a comment if there are specific procedures/ sewing tips you would like us to cover and we will do our best! Thank you x
Meeting Polly Leonard at Selvedge Magazine July 17, 2016 07:00
I have subscribed to Selvedge magazine for several years and love it for so many different reasons.
Every issue I learn stories about cloth, and the people who make it worldwide. Textile histories and personal stories are told in detail and brought to life with breathtaking photography.
The fashion is ethically produced and always has a fascinating backstory. Every magazine includes garments that would sit happily in my dream wardrobe.
So many artists and craftspeople across the globe have come to my attention in the pages of this bi-monthly publication, such as Celia Pym, Julie Arkel and Adrianna Torres.
I have also learned about local women with rich textile histories including Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth who lived at Gawthorpe Hall, and designer Sheila Bownas from Skipton.
It is obvious that a lot of love goes into the production of Selvedge, and to me, that comes from the fact that it is owned by Polly Leonard who founded it back in 2004. Polly isn't simply the editor; she crafts each edition through her own passion and commitment to the endless possibilities of cloth and thread, along with her team. It is also a business which she has built from scratch, with loyal customers across the world and a clear, strong aesthetic. Definitely something to aspire to.
Last week I was very lucky to take part in a mentoring session with Polly at Selvedge HQ in London.
We discussed my journey so far in the world of sewing and how I would like to move forward in the next 12 months. Having the opportunity to speak to somebody with a huge amount of industry knowledge was so helpful. I was very encouraged that I am on the right track and able to talk through some of my main worries and questions.
Polly told me that she launched her idea for the publication at the Knitting and Stitching show quite a few years ago now. Bravely she went with her concept and little else. She gathered a list of potential readers then cracked on and made it happen.
I know one of my problems is that I have a lot of ideas and could be in danger of spreading myself too thin, not doing any one of them to the best of my ability. Polly spotted this pretty quickly too and, as my mum has now said several times, told me to focus on one task to begin with, and get it right! It's the best advice, but incredibly hard to commit too when you have a curious, excitable mind. Focus, focus, focus.
The promise I made was to have some physical products to show her by the end of the summer. It seems a massive leap to go from talking about a pattern or dressmaking kit, to making it in 3D. However it is what all of my research, relationship building and validation for the past 6 months has been about.
There is a very interesting quote I heard on my Entrepreneurial Spark programme and that is "If you are not embarrassed by your first product than you have launched too late". I know what every aspect of my perfect website looks like and the packaging of my ideal pattern kits. However I also know that you need to start small, listen to feedback, make changes and then grow.
In the last three days I have made key decisions about my branding, graphic design and have a week-by-week plan to get me to the next step, so it was well worth the trip to London.
A big thank you to Polly, Emma and the rest of the team.
Find out more about Selvedge Magazine on their website here.
Please take a look at my online store also.
The Jenni Smith Studio is open for business! July 08, 2016 06:30
For the last few years I have packed up my car boot several times a week and carried 4 sewing machines and all of my other kit down to the local theatre. I once counted over 15 bags of fabric, wadding and sewing samples!
I have taught over 300 classes at Ilkley Playhouse and gained so many loyal customers. The management were amazingly supportive to me as a new business and allowed me flexible times and low rental. I am very grateful, especially to the late Walter Swan who encouraged me to give it a go.
Joining the Entrepreneurial Spark programme in February this year was a big step forward for me. It made me realise that in order to grow my company I need to be brave and believe in my vision.
Six weeks ago I went to see a studio for rent in a local mill. It was light and warm with views looking out to the Yorkshire Dales and my children's school a 5 minute walk away. I came home and did my numbers (very rare for me) and emailed the landlord to say I wanted to rent it.
With the help of friends and family we painted the walls, cleaned the carpets and filled it with furniture all set to go. I also now have 5 Janome machines including a fancy Horizon model for quilting, and a new overlocker to use.
Last Wednesday many people came to the official opening and having now taught a few classes it definitely feels like home. The part that made me smile the most this week was simply having to switch off the machines, wash my cup and then lock up at 3.20 to make it to school, rather than 45 minutes of packing up like before.
My plan is to keep on teaching and having open studio time, with a couple of days each week to concentrate on my next step. I am working on releasing skill-building kits to encourage people to start sewing with my own patterns and tools to compliment them. There are also videos tutorials to be filmed over the summer and a couple of textile art commissions to work on.
The class schedule from September will be released early next week so watch this space or follow Jenni Smith Sews on Facebook for updates.
You may also like to read my recent interview with US quilter Laurie Meyers from the blog.
Me Made May 2016 A Change in Mindset June 05, 2016 11:30
I have had a really enjoyable Me Made May. It is the first time I have joined in with an online project like this, but I am sure it won't be my last. The idea is to wear a handmade item each day for the month of May. Some people record this with photos across social media, but it is much more about celebrating what you have stitched/ knitted, and discovering what lots of other creative people are up to in your local area, and across the globe.
I have sewn a lot in recent years but often I finish a project and then pop it in the wardrobe and go back to my default, comfortable clothes. I do the school run five days a week and to a certain degree I have the mentality that I will save the clothes for a special occasion.
The best think about Me Made May is that it has changed my mindset. Wearing clothes you have stitched with your own hands makes you feel proud and happy, so why not repeat the experience as often as possible? I sometimes worry that people might think I am trying to show off, but I also realised this is pretty daft too. I love dressmaking. I put a lot of time and effort into practising techniques and learning my craft. I share my knowledge, and help others to make their own clothes whenever I can. So I suppose there is nothing to feel guilty about. That is my biggest takeaway - create what you love and enjoy wearing it. Through teaching, my goal in the next 12 months is to try and get lots more people to this happy place.
I started two new projects during May and challenged myself to learn some new skills with a fitted shirt and hooded jacket.
The kids joined in too and I appreciate each time they wear something I make for them as I know it could become uncool at any time!
Oh and I also discovered lots of gaps in my handmade wardrobe which must be filled, especially trousers and simple tops in solid colours. Thank you Me Made May for verifying the need for more fabric and pattern purchases in the coming months! Thank you also to Zoe for making all of this happen, and roll on 2017.
Please stick around and read my interview from the May issue of Sew Magazine here.
You may also like my interview with textile artist and printmaker Karen Lewis
Karen Lewis Interview for Jenni Smith Sews May 02, 2016 08:33 62 Comments
I first met Karen Lewis a couple of years ago at the fabulous Chirpy store in Leeds. Karen had just published her book Screenprinting at Home and had an open workshop to give the basic techniques a go.
Last November I also enjoyed a full day workshop at Karen's home studio with some of my quilt-loving friends.
(My rather wonky logo templates ready for screen printing!)
Karen is incredibly busy at the moment. She is working as a fabric designer for Robert Kaufman and this week she announced that she will be teaching and lecturing at Quilt Con 2017 in Savannah, USA. She has also set up The Thread House with Jo Avery and Lynne Goldsworthy to release patterns and host retreats.
We spent a bit of time together at The Craft Hobby and Stitch show and I am very pleased to share this interview here.
Jenni: Can you give us an update on what is happening with your fabric and thread collection at present?
Karen: My first collection for Aurifil is currently being launched and will be available for retailers in May. My Blueberry Park fabric collection is still going strong…I think!
(When Karen printed over her Kona colour chart one day at home and put the photo on Instagram everybody got very excited and that is how the collaboration with Robert Kaufman began.)
Jenni: Is printmaking still part of your daily routine?
Karen: Printmaking is very much part of my daily routine whether it is physically printing or planning new designs. Since moving house I haven’t got my printing space fully set up so I am currently relying on using studio space outside the house. This has the result of making me more organised when and what I print but has the downside of me not being able to print when the mood takes me. Making me more organised however is no bad thing!
Jenni: Do you have a new studio/ workspace?
Karen: I have a new studio that is just off the kitchen. My previous studio was in the attic and away from the rest of the household. I loved hiding away up there and was a little nervous of being in the hub and distraction of everyone but actually I love it. I love being in my studio and being a part of what everyone is doing in our live-in kitchen.
Jenni: Will the recent move to countryside inform your new designs?
Karen: Most definitely. I go for daily walks through the fields and country lanes and my head is constantly buzzing as I see new flora and fauna, mark making shadows, farm buildings and all sorts of other things I didn’t see regularly. I am sure it will have an effect on new designs.
(Karen's new surroundings - photo from her own blog)
Jenni: How important do you think social media is to connect with other makers?
Karen: As makers we live very isolated lives so for me social media is very important. I love interacting with other makers and also customers. I don’t have colleagues on hand that I can bounce ideas off and learn from so to interact on social media platforms is a necessity.
Jenni: Do you find other challenges working for yourself?
Karen: It is a daily challenge to not get distracted! Whether that is by chores around the house or losing time on the internet. There is no-one around to keep an eye on me and for me to feel the pressure of sloping off. I do love working for myself but do miss the real life daily interaction with others.
Jenni: You have a brilliant sense of colour, where does your inspiration come from?
Karen: Thank you. I am drawn to simplicity and I think that shows in my work, both with my fabric and quilting design. I don’t seem to be able to combine multiple colours and really admire those that can. As a consequence my work tends to be limited palettes which generally blend together easily. I always seem to be drawn to a mustard, grey and teal combo and that is definitely my default colour setting but more recently I have been enjoying adding peach and aqua into that combo. Also a bit of turquoise. I would say to people who struggle with colour combinations to pick one busy print that you are drawn to and pick out the individual elements in simpler/one colour prints to go with it. I would also say, go with what appeals to you.
Jenni: How many quilts do you have in your home?
Karen: Definitely too many to count! I try to sell sample quilts but some I am just too attached to and find it hard to let go of them!
Jenni: Have you passed your skills onto your children or younger family members?
Karen: My 2 sons are coming up to 19 and 17 and are in no way interested in learning either quilting or printing. They are just about interested enough to dictate something they would like me to make for them! My daughter is 14 and flips in and out of being interested in learning to quilt. She has done some quilting and I think it is something she will become interested in when she is older. She however loves to print and that is one reason to get my printing set back up at home so she can do more of that.
Thanks Karen and good luck with all your projects this year.
I am super excited to have one large set of Karen Lewis's Aurifil threads to give away. This has 12 large spools of 50wt thread.
To enter simply write your name and contact email in the comment box below. Alternatively you can email me your details through the contact page on this site.
One very lucky winner will be chosen at random on Saturday 14th May and I will announce it here on my blog.
Why not also read my recent interview with US fabric designer, artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon here.
Thanks for stopping by.
The winner of the thread competition is Erin @onceuponadonkey. Thank you to everybody who took part.
Guest blog post for The Village Haberdashery on Top Tips for Sewing with Double Gauze April 19, 2016 14:52 6 Comments
I am very pleased to have written a guest blog post for one of my favourite shops The Village Haberdashery.
I first went there in 2013 and was giddy to see so many beautiful fabrics and patterns all under one roof.
I also did a workshop there with my friends on a girly weekend down South the following summer, and I always try to visit when I am in London.
The post is my top tips for sewing with double gauze. It is a lovely, soft fabric to wear but I have discovered a few things along the way and, most importantly I hope that you can learn from my mistakes! My most recent make is a Tilly and the Buttons Bettine Dress in Vignette double gauze by Aneela Hoey.
The link is here so please pop over to the Daily Stitch and if you have any questions or comments just let me know.
My Interview in Sew Magazine May 2016 April 08, 2016 11:23 1 Comment
Here is a link to my interview in this month's Sew Magazine.
I was very excited to pop down to my local shop and pick up a copy this morning, though it cost me a small fortune once all of the kids had also picked a magazine each.
I am also going to have a go at the free dress pattern with some linen for summer as I doodled something with a similar neckline in my notebook not long ago.
Coming up soon on the blog I have an interview with fabric designer and printmaker Karen Lewis so don't forget to sign up for updates.
Please also stop by my shop whilst you are here - I am part of the Just a Card campaign and every little purchase helps to grow my business!
My new coat - with pockets big enough for a dead rabbit! April 05, 2016 07:00 1 Comment
This week I finally went out in the coat I have been working on, very sporadically, for a good year or so. The wool cloth is from Marton Mills, which is 15 minutes down the road from where I live, and is lovely to handle. I have been guided through the main processes by the great Ann Ladbury, who is also delighted that she doesn't have to see it again in class!
It started out as the pattern pictured below though I merged all of the front and back into single pieces and added welt pockets. When I was considering the pocket size and placement Ann Ladbury pointed out that the look and cloth I had chosen was sporty and countrified, so ideally they should be large enough to fit a dead rabbit in! Who knew?
Another top tip was to cut the welt flaps on the cross and avoid trying to match non-square checks. I still had to repeat one to get the symmetry right but in the end I was happy. In fact pattern matching was a challenge all round and I am very pleased with how it all came together, especially my centre back seam. I tacked before machine sewing and also used my walking foot which I found stopped the wool sliding as I stitched.
I also learnt how to sew bound buttonholes and used a green corduroy to contrast, as otherwise the design of the coat is very simple. They are far from perfect but I no longer have that dreaded fear of the unknown technique. I also much prefer hand sewing buttonholes and having more control than when using the sewing machine. I sourced the buttons as my final job and found them in my local haberdashery Duttons for Buttons.
The lining fabric is also from Marton Mills and is a nice weight to compliment the wool. I vastly improved my felling stitches by sewing all of it in place by hand.
I added my train ticket pocket on the inside using one of my favourite Liberty prints, The Strawberry Thief. I made this like a patch pocket, interfaced and bound with lining fabric, then fell stitched it into the perfect position.
I like the cocoon style of this coat and chose it because I can wear it on top of big cosy jumpers in the winter without feeling that my movement is restricted. I have a shorter cape but that doesn't keep me warm enough up here in the north.
The downside is that it is made from wool and it rains a lot in the Wharfe valley. It will have to be reserved for the perfect dry day when I am not on the school run, or getting mucked up by my toddler, and can stroll leisurely through town to Betty's Tearoom. Needless to say it might not get as much wear as I would hope in the near future. But at least is it finished at long last!!
Sewing Retreat in Florence Nightingale's Childhood Home March 22, 2016 23:30 2 Comments
I have just returned from a weekend of sewing in Derbyshire with 18 of my friends, some I have known for many years and others I have met more recently through a shared love of all things stitched.
The location was a charming, if not slightly mad country house where Florence Nightinghale spent her childhood years.
The soundtrack to our 3 days away was the whirring of sewing machines, the kettle boiling for endless rounds of Yorkshire tea and, most memorable of all, laughter. From 7am (when some of the hardcore ladies were up crafting) to 2am when the party animals finally gave in, there was always a lot of happy chuckling (or cackling in some cases) to be heard!
I have written before how important the social aspect of sewing is to me, and I also love to see people sharing skills and ideas.
Between us we made a whole host of handmade delights and I feel pretty chuffed that I started some of these people on their sewing journeys, even if I had to twist their arms to give it a go at first.
There were many 1 hour baskets in production, though how many came in on schedule is hard to say.
Quilting was also a big feature with plenty of amazing projects started and quite a few WIPs finally over the finishing line.
Annmarie was queen of the hand sewing as usual, relaxing in the sunshine.
I managed to finished off two dressmaking projects. Firstly, my By Hand London Victoria Blazer in a very sweet Japanese dobby matchstick print from Raystitch.
Secondly my Tilly and the Buttons Bettine Dress in soft double gauze which I partied in on Saturday night whilst drinking cocktails from our mobile bar tender.
Annette also stitched up her Liberty print dress.
Catherine made this sweet foxy dress for her little girl and a top.
Some joined in a handmade pincushion swap which we made at home before so we could have a souvenir from the trip.
Overall it was the perfect combination of time to crack on with projects without the interruptions of daily life and time to relax and have a laugh with like-minded people. Not forgetting Bertie the dog who coped very well with 19 excitable and noisy housemates.
Thank you to everyone who came xx
Meet the Maker - Quilter Laurie Meyers March 19, 2016 07:00 1 Comment
I have never met Laurie Meyers in real life as she lives far away in the US. However, we have become friends through Instagram, and I am pretty sure that we would get along very well if our paths were ever to cross.
Laurie has been the most supportive and kind "virtual friend" during my 2 years of sharing craft related projects through my favourite platform. Laurie is full of enthusiasm, always encourages and is a huge inspiration with the quilts that she creates.
Although I teach I do also spend a lot of time working alone on my projects at home, I find the possibility of sharing progress with other makers extremely useful and rewarding. Pre-Instagram I would have bits of sewing or new fabric in my bag at school pick-up to my friends, especially if I was a little over-excited.
So I thought that my blog would be a great place to introduce you to some of the crafty people out there doing amazing work with cloth and thread. When following Laurie what strikes me the most is her extreme kindness: she is forever piecing and hand quilting beautiful quilts for other people. I hope you enjoy reading the interview below and please share it with your friends on social media.
L: I discovered Instagram in May 2014 after reading several writers who said that they were neglecting their blogs and switching to Instagram. I was intrigued. When I got my first smart phone I had my daughter set me up on Instagram, which I found easy to use. I initially wanted to use "lauriepie" as my user name which was my nickname in college. I used to motivate myself with positive self-talk (before that term was even invented). "You can do it Laurie pie" I would think. Apparently at times I would say these things out loud and my friends started calling me Laurie pie too. Fast forward 32 years - I thought lauriepie would be a great user name, but it was already taken. So laurie3.14 was my second choice. As it turns out I do love to use math to motivate myself. I particularly like to calculate the percentage of a project that I've finished. Due to my username and these "percentage posts" on IG many people think that I'm a "math person". I have embraced that notion. Quilters do use a lot of math and women can be just as talented at math as men.
L: My maternal grandmother was a passionate quilter. She lived on a wheat farm in northwestern Kansas and I used to go visit her for a week each summer when I was a teenager. I learned basic sewing skills from my mother (who was artistic but not a quilter) and my home economics class in middle school, but it was my grandmother who helped me first piece a pillow top. My grandmother sewed her quilts on a Singer treadle sewing machine which was made in the 1930s. When I was 17 my grandmother made me a quilt for my high school graduation, and I helped her with hand quilting it on her large quilting frame. I should note that she had to rip out many of my hand stitches since they were not up to her standards!
L: I was an obsessive knitter in my 20's. My mother taught me to knit mittens when I was 7 or 8 years old, but she never knit a sweater as she thought sweaters were too difficult. Once I got my Master's degree it finally occurred to me that knitting a sweater really couldn't be more difficult than getting a Master's degree, so I tried to knit a sweater. While it wasn't perfect, I figured it out and started knitting all the time. Knitting is portable and very relaxing. I knit a lot of things for babies when I was in my late 20's and early 30's, since I had many friends having children. However I switched to quilting when I was pregnant with my son, since I felt strongly that mothers should make their babies a quilt. I made my son a simple 9-patch baby quilt, and I began to quilt, albeit slowly. It took me two years to make my second quilt. I love the fact that you don't really have to worry about size when making a quilt, like you do when you knit. To me quilting has more artistic possibilities than knitting does and the finished product can be enjoyed for decades, while a sweater wears out much sooner.
L: I definitely don't like to follow rigid rules and rarely use patterns. I particularly like scrap quilts since I love the unexpected mix of colors and fabrics. I've never made a quilt with just one fabric line in it, since I dislike things that are too "matchy-matchy."
I used to have a large fear of the quilt police, due to stories I heard growing up. Apparently people would criticize my grandmother's quilts since her stitches were "too big" and her quilts were not as perfect as her mother-in-law's quilts. This made me upset as I dearly loved my grandmother. I think initially this made me fear that other people would judge my quilting harshly, and I was surprised that there was such a positive response on Instagram to my quilts. Over time I realized that what matters to me is not making "perfect" quilts, so I no longer worry that others will harshly judge my quilts. I mainly give my quilts to non quilters and they are thrilled, not judgmental.
L: I am mainly inspired by color. I have always felt that bright, saturated colors were the best antidepressant. A few years ago I read about "tetrachromacy", which is a gene variant where individuals have an extra, fourth cone in their eyes which allows them to perceive even more colors than the normal person who has three cones. Apparently 12% of women may have this gene (although it may not be expressed in all of the people who have this gene). I told my daughter about this and she immediate said "We have it!" While I haven't had the genetic testing to prove that this is true, I suspect my daughter is right. Both my mother and my aunt left the Kansas prairie and studied art in New York City in the 1950s during the abstract expressionist period. They also attended the famous Black Mountain College in North Carolina where they met and studied with many famous artists. My aunt studied weaving with Anni Albers and my aunt ended up in New York as a textile designer for a major clothing company. The fact that my mother and my aunt grew up on a wheat farm and ended up studying art at that level has always been an amazing story to me.
L: The first quilting books that inspired me where by Kaffe Fassett. I love his use of saturated colors which are often paired with more "traditional" patterns. Other books that I love are "Quilt Improv" by Lucie Summers, "15 Minutes of Play" by Victoria Findlay Wolfe, "Liberated Quiltmaking" and "Liberated Quiltmaking II" by Gwen Marston, "Unconventional & Unexpected" by Roderick Kiracofe, "The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters" by Sherri Lynn Wood, and "Sunday Morning Quilts" by Amanda Jean Nyberg and Cheryl Arkison.
L: Unlike a lot of quilters I'm not as focused on fabric designers. While I do enjoy beautiful prints, I think I am starting to switch to using more solids in my quilts. My favorite project from last year was the quilt I made from scraps that my cousin sent me. My cousin lives in my grandmother's house, and he and his wife cleaned out the basement last year and sent me a giant box full of leftover scraps from her stash that had been sitting in the basement for over 30 years. Lately I have been buying bags of fabric scraps in antique shops when I can find them. I love the mix of the old and new.
L: My current count is 53 quilts (baby size or larger) and 12 wall hangings. Right now I have 13 quilts/wall hangings that I made in my home. So I've given away 80% of the quilts I've made. To me it feels wrong to keep a quilt unless I have a "use" for it, since there are so many people who don't own a single quilt.
L: I am lucky that most of the recipients are very grateful to receive a quilt. One of my nieces said it was the most thoughtful present she had ever received. Giving a quilt is sharing a part of yourself with someone. It is a wonderful feeling.
L: My grandmother made several quilts for me. She made more than one baby quilt, since I was so attached to my quilt that I wore it out completely and she had to make me another one. As described above she also made me a quilt for my high school graduation. Her tradition of making a quilt for graduations inspired me to start that tradition with my nieces and my children.
L: Believe it or not I've never even tried to quilt with a machine! I stick with hand quilting since I find it relaxing in the same way that knitting is relaxing. It also seems more economical to me, since paying someone to do longarm quilting is expensive. While I think the longarm artists who do this quilting deserve every penny they charge, for me it makes more sense to just hand quilt it myself, especially since I am making 10 quilts or so a year.
L: Both my children have made a quilt for charity, but I'm sure my son wasn't hooked on it and while my daughter loves color it remains to be seen whether or not she will take up quilting later in life. My daughter made a second quilt for her boyfriend last summer, so it is possible that when she has time later on in life she might quilt again. My daughter loves quilts and has encouraged her friends to follow me on instagram. One of them has started a quilt of her own which she plans to give to her grandmother. Two of my nieces have said they would like to learn to quilt, but since they are still in school they don't have the time to pursue it just yet. We will see what happens. I do love to see how many people in college follow me because they love my quilts.
L: There are so many people on IG that have inspired me. Chawne Kimber (@cauchycomplete), Hillary Goodwin (@entropyalwayswins), Tonya Ricucci (@tonyaricucci), Bonnie Hunter (@quiltville_bonnie), Amanda Jean Nyberg (@crazymomquilts) and Sarah Cooper (@coopcrafts) are just a few.
L: I am currently working on a quilt for my son's college graduation quilt which features his favorite irrational number ("e"). I am also working on a quilt using rainbow colors, which makes me very happy. After that I hope to make a quilt using improv techniques for my niece who will graduate from college in May 2017. She is very artistic so I think I can take a risk and try something new with her quilt.
L: I love to read and I frequently read memoirs and books about the brain. Both of those types of books help me with my job. I am a clinical social worker and I have a private practice where I work as a psychotherapist. I also love geology and love to travel. Currently I have been to 45 of the 50 states in the U.S.A. My goal is to visit them all!
Lisa Congdon Interview for Jenni Smith Sews March 06, 2016 07:00 22 Comments
My portrait of Wilfredo the dog for Lisa Congdon March 03, 2016 13:21 2 Comments
Today I am sharing a recent project I stitched for the amazing Lisa Congdon. Lisa is an American artist, author, fabric designer and somebody I admire very much.
Lisa has very kindly agreed to an interview which will be on this blog on Sunday (March 6th) so make sure you check back or sign up to Jenni Smith Sews on Bloglovin and don't miss it! There will be a fabric giveaway from Cloud 9 too.
The textile picture I stitched shows Lisa's beloved dog Wilfredo, fast asleep beneath a quilt. It has now made its journey across the Atlantic from Ilkley to Portland Oregon and has been very well received, much to my joy.
The story of how it came about goes like this:-
Many moons ago I pinned a graffiti wall from one of Lisa's Pinterest boards because I loved the play of colours and forms.
I am a modern quilter and teacher and I decided to make a little improv piece inspired by it. I chose a limited colour palette from my Denyse Schmidt Modern Solids charm pack and played happily until I came up with the miniature quilt top in the picture. Then I hung it in my workshop and carried on with a million other projects.
In the meantime I bought Lisa'a book Art Inc which is a guide to making a living from your art, and not being afraid to approach your creative development with a business mind-set. I have read a lot around this subject in recent years and found this book to be the most inspiring and comprehensive guide out there in terms of having the confidence to follow your dream, on your own terms. I studied Art History at University and used to have a successful career in TV documentaries, so making a change has been a little scary. Lisa's book made it less so.
I also bought some of Lisa's fabric collection called Revelry for Cloud 9. I love the soft voile and have a half-constructed Washi dress in it to finish sewing when the weather in England is a little warmer!
Over a period of months I had become a big fan of Lisa, and through following her on social media I had learned that Lisa was a big fan of her dog, Wilfredo. I then had the idea to challenge myself to see if I could make a dog portrait in thread for the first time.
For a number of years I have been making textile art based on sleeping animals and the story of why I started is on my blog (link below). Basically it came from a nursery rhyme I have sung to all of my 3 children. I have made hedgehogs, giraffes, elephants and many others all using Yorkshire wool spun at the mill in my home town.
So I worked from a photo of Wilfredo looking super relaxed on Instagram and had a go.
I began sewing on my machine with a mixture of Aurifil threads including their Lana (wool), linen and cottons of different weights. I worked from a black and white photo to look at the tones and also added some shading with pencil crayon.
My first attempt was, for me, full of character but didn't look like Wilfredo and seemed to get older as I stitched away! However, I really enjoyed the process of working with new materials and essentially drawing with my machine, so I decided to have another go.
I was much happier with my next version. I reached the point where I felt I couldn't do any better unless I was to head across the water and observe Wilfredo in real life!
I then hand-quilted the mini quilt I had made many months before and put the picture together. The background incidentally is a beautiful Indigo damask weave from the Gambia which has geometric patterns. I felt that it complimented Lisa's style as an artist and could also depict the night sky. The bow tie is Lisa's Revelry voile. Here are the many Aurifil threads I used...
On completing the work I sent an email over to Lisa's studio with details of the picture and the story of its creation.
I received a lovely response and was very happy that Lisa wanted the original work.
As I mentioned earlier Lisa also kindly offered to be interviewed for my blog so it has been an exciting and challenging project, which I am happy to finally share.
Please have a look at my online shop whilst you are here. I sell greetings cards and fine art prints and ship worldwide:-
You may also be interested in reading about my two commissions for US actress Kristin Davis using prints from Liberty of London:-
Please also feel free to comment and share this post. Thank you very much.
My very first trade show - Stitches 2016 February 28, 2016 21:03
Last week I had my first experience of a craft-based trade show. I took part in Stitches at the NEC in Birmingham, Europe's largest event of its kind.
My textile art, quilts and clothes were displayed on the Aurifil stand, the most popular thread on the market for quilters. I used their products in all of my projects and had made work to showcase their different threads including Brillo (metallic), Lana (wool), Floss and other weights of Egyptian Mako cotton.
My aim was to validate my idea to sell products featuring my designs, as well as other "Beautiful Tools for Creative People".
As soon as I arrived I knew that the creative world is where I want to be. I was super excited to browse other stands full of new season fabric, independent pattern designers, notions and books.
I spent three very busy days meeting shop owners, magazine editors, freelance journalists and a whole lot of lovely modern makers. I received some really positive feedback, plenty of constructive criticism and a lot of invaluable advice about how the industry works. I was approached to be featured in several magazines and to teach workshops around the country too, which I wasn't expecting!
I also had access to the free seminar programme and heard some fantastic and really useful talks by Sara Naumann, Warren Knight, and Hannah and Rosie from The New Craft House blog.
I spent each night unable to sleep because my mind was too full of ideas and inspiration and arrived home very tired, but happy in the knowledge that I am on the right track.
My challenge now is to focus on the next step and work towards having my own booth full of Jenni Smith products the next time I am there.
A very big thank you to everyone who sent me supportive messages during the show and to all the people who stopped by and talked with me.
If you love sewing read this blog February 09, 2016 12:23 1 Comment
The mini quilt pictured here is this year's Valentine, stitched on my Janome machine using Aurifil 50wt threads and my freemotion foot. It is my first experiment with text in textile art, and is a little wonky! I received a very inspiring book on the subject for Mother's Day last year, written by British textile artist Sara Impey, and I finally had the time to try it out. I have loved Sara's work since visiting the V and A's seminal exhibition on Quilts from 1700-2010 a few years back, so I was really happy when she allowed me to share her work Between the Lines later in this blog post.
The declaration "I Love You More Than Sewing" is a big statement in my house, and perhaps in many others crafty homes worldwide! As I was working on it my 8 year old daughter picked it up, read it and gazed at me in amazement, she then asked "but mummy is it true?". My husband Paul also looked pretty cynical and gave me a knowing smile.
My new logo is depicted behind the text and shows a pin through a heart.
This came about from another gift I made for Paul a few year's back when he turned 40. I cut out maps depicting favourite locations visited during our 18 years together and was struggling to attach them to the card background. I then had the idea to use pins, one of my favourite tools, and to add a personal touch.
When I came to design a logo for my business last year I didn't want anything too obviously related to sewing. One day the idea came to use these symbols as they relay the message that I love my craft and my friend Jaynie translated my drawings into this:
The truth is I really do love sewing, in many different forms (though obviously not as much as my family). Yet it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly why it is such a satisfying and absorbing process. However, when I saw Between the Lines, the work pictured below by Sara Impey, I was excited, and incredibly moved. As I read the text stitched into the grid below I got shivers down my spine. Why? Because in this work Sara articulates all of my feelings perfectly, and in a far more eloquent way than I could ever wish to.
Sara has very kindly allowed me to share the text with you. If you have any thoughts or reactions to the work please do leave a comment and I will pass it on to her. Obviously seeing the piece in real life is also part of the enjoyment, but this is the next best thing.
Text for Between the Lines
"In the negative space between the stitches, your thoughts can run free. The sewing machine comes to feel like an extension of the body. Hand, foot and eye work together, simultaneously controlling and responding to the movement of the needle in a rhythm that seems to be as natural and involuntary as your own heartbeat, until the thread flows through the system like blood. This process, on one level, is slow and all-absorbing. On another, the hours race past. Decisions are taken moment by moment in a kind of wordless dialogue with the materials during which your mind is swept clear of its usual clutter, exposing a creative space where ideas bubble up spontaneously. In this state of awareness, linear time seems to be suspended or experienced in terms of quality rather than quantity. You may be asked how long a particular piece of work took to make and find it hard to give a satisfactory and accurate answer because you’re not sure and you may not even care. It’s the transformative act of making that is important: the physical connection with the texture of fabric and thread, the evolving interplay of colours and shapes and the fascination of watching a new textile surface emerge in incremental stages, gradually building up until a critical mass of stitching is achieved and the work is complete. It may have started as no more than a vague idea, but now exists as an artefact in its own right with its own individual set of characteristics: its feel, its handle, its softness or stiffness, its ability to clothe, decorate, contain, wrap, conceal or reveal. It can be draped, rolled, folded, pleated or crumpled. It can be seen, touched, treasured or thrown away. It is out there, no longer yours but always yours, mirroring in tangible form the process of making, in which you paradoxically both lose and find the sense of self. Does all this matter to anyone else? Some people say that process and context are of little relevance and that the artwork should be viewed in isolation. Yet whatever its merits or demerits, the time and effort involved are evident even to a casual observer, who is invited to look beneath the surface and speculate about how and why it came to be made. Something is communicated that can’t be seen or touched but is there to be ‘read’ in the negative space between the lines of stitching."
I would really recommend the book Text in Textile Art by Sara Impey published in 2013 by Batsford Books, it features the work of many other artists and is a practical guide on how to create text on cloth in numerous ways.
Many thanks also to Michael Wickes for the photographs of Between the Lines.
The Start of my Entrepreneurial Journey - create what you want to see in the world January 30, 2016 16:15
Next week I take up my place on the Entrepreneurial Spark business accelerator programme in Leeds. Back in December I had to submit a business plan and pitch my vision to a team of professionals. It was scary, but I got through it and on February 3rd I will be on the 7.30am train to boot camp.
For the next 6 months I will have a lot of input from people with business and financial expertise. I will have an office space to work from and be part of a network of entrepreneurs with access to industry-specific mentors, growth consultants and lots more.
My aim is simple - to develop, produce and sell products that I would like to see in the world. In a nutshell they will be "Beautiful Tools for Creative People".
During the past 5 years I have been teaching sewing. In that time I have learnt that modern makers are stylish, unique and colourful people. However, a lot of the kit they buy to work with is uniform, functional and uninspiring. I hope to change that. I want my customers to be as excited when an essential sewing item from the Jenni Smith Studio arrives in the post, as they are when a new bundle of designer fabric is delivered. I want them to buy gifts for crafty friends that they know they will love, and also that they know will do the job properly. Quality notions made like in the good old days. Needles from Redditch, scissors from Sheffield and handcrafted tools made to last. Products that people are excited to work with to make their beautiful projects.
I currently have a handful at the prototype stage so watch this space!
Here are some of my lovely making friends...
My big dream is also to make enough money to fund grass roots craft projects in the UK and abroad. I would love to be able to facilitate education so that young people don't lose out on their heritage. One of the most inspiritonal women to me is Miss Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth who lived at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire in the early Twentieth century, just 40 minutes from my home.
Rachel was a maker, teacher, collector and activist. She demystified textile craft, which she believed (much ahead of her time) aided wellbeing. Her house was open to all who wanted to learn new skills and her ethos was "Cherish the past, adorn the present, create for the future".
My starting point is applying for funding to set up local clubs teaching textile art to children, but there is scope for lots more development, and this will be integral to my business plan.
So a big thank you to everyone who has helped me so far. I have been picking everybody's brains in class, and my family and friends are probably a bit fed up of my endless sewing-related ramblings. But fingers crossed you will all be testing out products in the coming year.
It turns out that the average age of an entrepreneur is 40, which is fast approaching for me, so it might be the right time to give it a go! I just have to get my head round the 6.30am alarm call and I may have to start drinking coffee!
You can read all about Entrepreneurial Spark, which is a nationwide scheme at http://www.entrepreneurial-spark.com
You can find out more about the amazing Miss Rachel at http://www.gawthorpetextiles.org.uk/about
Teaching Alex and Brad from Aurifil how to sew a tie January 14, 2016 08:05
A few weeks ago I spent the day teaching Alex and Brad the basics of sewing. They spend their days surrounded by thread and creative people at Quilt Market and other International Shows, so they were keen to give it a try. Not wanting an easy challenge they chose to make a tie - a project considerably harder than it looks and which drove contestants on the Great British Sewing Bee to tears. They didn't cry. Here's a little video to watch….
2015 - The Year of the Communal Quilt January 08, 2016 20:48
So I have been quilting now for 10 years, though by no means prolifically. On average I have stitched 2 or 3 each year for close family and friends. However looking back at 2015, all of the projects I have been involved with have been communal. I realised this is the reason why I love this particular craft so much. Quilts can grow from a single idea, shared with like-minded people. For me, much of their charm comes from the multiple personalities that piece them; individual styles collaborating to make something unique.
The quilts I have helped to make have celebrated births and marriages: they have been sent to siblings separated in the care system: they have raised money for charity and also offered support when someone is unwell. I can't think of any situation when the gift of a quilt wouldn't make you feel better - they are beautiful to look at, soft to touch and cosy to snuggle beneath, like a giant comfort blanket. They also express kindness through the many hours dedicated to completing each stage of the making process. All these reasons sum up why quilting is very special to me: I also know it is a passion that I will have for life because it can take you in so many creative directions, and help to build special friendships.
Here is a quick glimpse at the 5 communal quilts I helped to make in 2015:-
First up was a quilt for baby Tommy made during a weekend in the Yorkshire Dales in January. We chose unisex colours (from Umbrella Prints, Dashwood Studio and Kona) as we planned it before he was born.
We added the prarie points so it was tactile.
We drank cocktails and hand quilted into the early hours in pretty bad light but had a lovely time making it together.
Tommy's mum Caroline would usually have been away with us, so doing something for her felt right.
Next up were a number of quilts made by the Leeds Modern Quilt Guild for the Sibling's Together Charity. Brothers and sisters separated in the care system are brought together to spend quality time in each other's company at a camp in the UK each August. As a group we made 9 quilts from scratch using donated fabric.
Again we had a deadline so there were a few late night sew-ins at my house to finish them in time. The two Cheerio block quilts shown here were made by me and my friends Kay, Angela and Catherine. Trusty IKEA duvet covers were used for the back.
The Liberty Hearts community quilt was a project I set up to raise money for a local charity Outside the Box. It is a cafe run by adults with learning difficulties where I often go to eat and drink.
I chose a simple block, raided my Liberty stash and emailed my friends and people who regularly attend my sewing classes. Within days I had completed hearts arriving through my door (definitely the best bit). I pieced them together and then had a very kind offer from Elaine at the Quilt Cabin in Hebden Bridge to quilt it on her long arm machine.
We sold raffle tickets over a number of weeks and raised a total of £790 which I was very happy about. The winner was one of my loveliest and most creative friends Annmarie, who had also made 2 hearts, so it couldn't have gone to a better home.
Quilt number 4 came about all of a sudden. Lisa from Simply Solids was sneakily getting married. Obviously she needed a quilt to celebrate. Her close friend Justine emailed around in a bit of a panic and sent across the fabric (Gardenvale) with instructions in the post. Another emergency rendezvous was planned at my house (with the obligatory prosecco and cheese and biscuits). Just a few weeks later, with the help of fabulous quilter Trudi Wood we had a beautiful quilt for the newlyweds:-
And finally, just before Christmas a friend became unwell and so my crafty gang and I stepped in to help with an unfinished project. Within two weeks we had sourced fabrics, cut them out and completed a double quilt. However, it is fair to say we were selective and nobody has yet offered to take on the Passacaglia Millefiore quilt also in progress!
There are hundreds of other heart-warming quilt stories out there. They pop up on Instagram and other social media regularly, and always remind me why it is such a special community to be part of.
Who knows what collaborative quilt projects will emerge in 2016.
Meeting the Aurifil team in Milan December 16, 2015 22:31
My last post talked about Aurifil products in some detail - in fact my friend Nicky kindly said I sounded like quite a nerd. However, my main reason for visiting Milan was to meet the team and find out more about the company and its history. Here I am going to share some snippets from my day.
Aurifil CEO Elena Gregotti grew up surrounded by the sewing industry. In 1957 her father Angelo founded Studio Auriga, and the company started producing punched program. In their neighbouring factory she showed me a vintage multi needle embroidery machine similar to that purchased by her father in post-war Italy.
In that period the designs were each individually punched into paper by a manually operated punch, and decorative patterns would then be created onto cloth.
Elena described very fond memories of observing these procedures as a young girl, amazed at the fine work and attention to detail needed to get the right results.
The family business developed and Studio Auriga now deals in very high tech Japanese Tajima embroidery machines, all of which I saw in action in the sister factory in Saronno.
They use amazing laser technology to cut designs on cloth as tough as leather, make intricate lace for haute couture and produce fine art pictures in collaboration with famous photographer Steve McCurry. The picture below has 4.6 million stitches, 87 thread colours and took several months to make – it was amazing in the flesh.
Elena also explained to me the meaning of the name Aurifil, which if pronounced correctly would sound like ow-re-fill, but unless you are Italian is just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.
The Studio Auriga logo features Auriga himself and is the Latin word for the driver of a chariot. He is seen below with embroidery machines in place of horses. When the new thread business was developed in 2007 (Aurifil USA) they wanted to keep it attached to the original brand so took the “Auri” stem and added “fil” as filo is the Italian word for thread.
Elena’s passion and enthusiasm for Aurifil is matched by that of CBDO Alex Veronelli. His father co-founded the company back in 1983. Alex’s commitment to the brand is demonstrated through his mastery of social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and more recently Persicope. He genuinely loves what he does and has put the company right at the centre of the quilting world for both modern and traditional crafters. When we met I had one of those awkward moments when you feel like you know somebody because you have followed them in the virtual world and don't quite know what to say! However, my degree in Italian helped me along and we had a nice chat. I also met lots of other lovely people working behind the scenes.
During my day in Milan what I did learn is that many of the people at Aurifil HQ don’t really sew –with the exception of Elly in the Artistic Department who loves cross-stitch. So my next mission is to try and change this. My first volunteers are Brad and Alex, pictured below. They have opted to make a tie, to look the part when hanging out in Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world. No pressure.
We are meeting up later this month so watch this space for updates. I may even have figured out how to Periscope the lesson and broadcast live by then. If not perhaps Mr Veronelli can help us out!
Check out @studioauriga on Twitter for a really good insight into the Tajima embroidery machines and videos of them in action.
For more information on historical embroidery techniques check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punched_tape
Thank you for stopping by.
My trip to Aurifil HQ in Milan December 01, 2015 11:00 3 Comments
Recently I spent a day at Aurifil HQ in Milan, invited by the very lovely Brad Mitchell who is the UK sales manager and, as it turns out, grew up just down the road from me in West Yorkshire. During my day in Saronno I learnt about the history of the company, saw the production process at the factory and planned my first collaboration with them at the Craft, Hobby and Stitch show in the UK next February (yippee).
I love Aurifil thread like so many other people out there and bought my first batch from Lisa and Justine at Simply Solids who have a really good supply here in England. I not only use it for quilting but also for producing my textile art. In my Crafty Fox picture he is sat using Aurifil for the quilt he is making. I used 50 wt cotton to hand piece the blocks in this quilt (which is just 8 inches square in the original). Linen and Lana threads were used to add details to the fox's fur. Metallic Brillo thread was perfect for small details like the pins and needle and Aurifloss added pops of colour for the pin heads (french knots) and on the cushions.
I also use Aurifil in some of the dressmaking that I do.
I tend to use 50wt spools for constructing loose-fitting cotton and silk garments and 40wt for sewing wool and heavier cloth. I have also used 28wt for decorative stitching on both denim and leather and 12wt for hand quilting (more online tutorials on these subjects coming soon!)
It’s a fact that Aurifil is high quality. We all know that Egyptian cotton sheets are the finest and most luxurious so the same applies to the thread which as a raw material is extra long staple cotton produced in Egypt (mako) and only exported in limited amounts.
The Lana range (in Italian lana means wool) is also super high quality with the raw materials coming from Merino sheep in Austrailia, world famous for producing the finest and softest wool there is. It is 12wt and I used it here on this picture I stitched during a workshop with textile artist Gillian Travis.
To put it briefly (as there are so many other blog posts out there on this subject) the main advantages over other threads are:
- Aurifil is produced in a way that any lint is burnt away and so it doesn’t leave a lot of fluff in your machine that makes it unhappy and prone to jamming.
- It is very good value because you get 1300m on a spool which costs approx. £8.50 in the UK. A Gutterman spool that looks about the same size has just 800m of thread on it and very little price difference – rrp is around £7, just £1.50 less for 500m less thread.
- The most popular 50wt thread is very fine but strong so to put it simply you get a lot more thread on your bobbin, and have to change is a lot less often than when using other cottons. As running out of bobbin thread is my pet hate when sewing this fact makes me very happy.
- It is also very strong but easy to unpick and breaks easily with a seam ripper without distorting the fabric you are using.
The danger is that it is very hard to purchase just one spool of Aurifil when you see it, the special collection cases are especially tempting, so perhaps you buy more than you need and think the cost is higher (or is that just me?) I also love the very traditional wooden spools used for the floss and was a bit giddy when I came across boxes full of these at the factory.
So Aurifil is great, everybody should have some and gradually it is arriving in more haberdasheries and shops around the UK. In my next post I will tell you a bit more about our collaboration and the history of the company and its name. So please pop back soon.
My Crafty Fox picture is available as a card and print in my online shop (I ship worldwide):-
You can buy Aurifil from these stockists and more in the UK :-
Please also feel free to make comments, I am quite new to blogging and it would be nice to have some feedback!
Yorkshire and Proud Part One - Inspiration from the Local Landscape November 01, 2015 07:30
I was born in Leeds and though I have travelled a lot in the past, my home is now in Ilkley, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. My friends would say that I have a fairly strong Northern accent and I see myself very much as a Yorkshire lass: I am pretty hardy in cold weather, I love a brisk walk on the wild moors just like the Brontë sisters many moons ago, and I drink a lot of tea.
A lot of my recent quilt art has been directly inspired by the landscape that surrounds my home.
First up are the very famous Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor. These huge formations are made of millstone grit and are so named because one is large, with the smaller one sitting close to it, like a cow and calf. According to local legend, the Calf was split from the Cow when the giant Rombald was fleeing an enemy, and stamped on the rock as he leapt across the valley. Hundreds of people come here to climb and explore the moors with fantastic views across the valley.
The first picture I made is a literal interpretation of them. I used foundation paper piecing to make the iconic shapes of the landscape and a mixture of Liberty prints and silk for the grass. I then machine quilted the swirls in the sky and textures of the fauna. The border fabric features bicycles and was designed for Liberty of London by Grayson Perry, it is a print named Philippa after his wife. I thought this was very appropriate as Ilkley has the largest cycling club in the country with over 1000 members (though I am not one of them!)
I was very fortunate on the eveining I went to have a go at photographing this print in situ to bump into local professional photographer Chris North, who was flying his drone to get some shots of the rocks at sunset. He very kindly helped me out and sent across some beautiful images.
Next up came the idea to create a picture featuring the Cow and Calf as animals, and there is no shortage of livestock in the surrounding fields here to observe.
I used wool spun down the road at Marton Mill in Otley, which is beautifully soft, for the Cow and Calf. The quilt design was inspired by The Heart and Crosses coverlet dating from 1875, which I have admired many times on visits to The National Quilt Museum in York. I used dark grey in the centre to echo the rock formations and surrounded them with colours I associate with the local moorland which is rich with heather, bracken, elderflowers and bilberries. The quilting was all stitched by hand on the original artwork. I am really pleased that this image is now making its way into the nurseries and bedrooms of local children.
Then we have The Yorkshire Rose.
Once again this is made with fabrics from Liberty of London including Grayson Perry's bicycles in two colourways. It is machine quilted with metallic silver thread. I stitched it during the build up to the Tour de France in 2014 when the race passed through Ilkley, an amazing event that I will never forget.
It is quite funny because the majority of my immediate family, including my parents, grandparents and two older sisters were all born across the border in Lancashire. My brother and I were born in Yorkshire. Historically there is rivalry between the two counties (the Wars of the Roses) and it manifests itself in daily life, for example my dad supports Burnley Football club and my children support Leeds United. So when my dad saw this piece he did politely ask if I might be making a red Lancashire rose any time soon, but I haven't quite got around to it yet!
What I have been sewing in the last few weeks is another picture with the Cow and Calf, soon to be printed as a christmas card. I pictured them snuggled up on the sofa under a quilted blanket in their christmas jumpers and party hats, at the end of a busy day of celebrating. The bikes are in there again too, this time as wallpaper! The picture here is unedited and ready to go off and be transformed into cards which hopefully some of you will want to buy!
All other products mentioned in this post are available as cards and prints in my online shop. Thanks for stopping by.
#My Liberty - The Edwyn Collins Quilt October 07, 2015 22:13
The quilt pictured here covers my bed at home and my husband Paul and I sleep under it every night. It features three Liberty prints including Ornithology by Edwyn Collins from the Art Rocks Collection, as well as some remnants from my wedding dress. I made it in 2012 whilst heavily pregnant with my third child, and there is a story behind how and why it came about.
I met musician Edwyn Collins and his wife Grace Maxwell in 2011 when helping with an exhibition of his bird drawings at the 108 gallery in Harrogate. I knew his music because of the 1991 hit 'A Girl Like You', rather than his earlier career with Orange Juice. I had also been greatly moved when reading the book Falling and Laughing: the restoration of Edwyn Collins written by Grace and published a year earlier.
The book tells the story of how in 2005 Edwyn suffered a double brain haemorrhage, which left him partially paralyzed and only able to say his wife’s name, the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘The Possibilities Are Endless’. This story was made in to a beautiful and captivating film by directors Lovelace and Hall last year and to quote MOJO it is "a poetic testimony to the power of love and the indomitability of the human spirit".
The exhibition featured many of Edwyn's studies of birds. His life long interest in ornithology began as a young boy and at the age of nine he swapped one of his own drawings for a sketch of a bird by a friend of the family, the wonderful Scottish artist James McIntosh Patrick; a drawing which he still treasures today. In the late 1970's Edwyn found his first job at Glasgow Parks Department, employed to illustrate the native urban Scottish birdlife for educational pamphlets. Years later, inspired by a book on British Birdlife Illustrations by the Victorian artist Archibald Thorburn he began to draw as part of his rehabilitation after the stroke. Edwyn is right handed but lost the use of his right hand and so had to start again from scratch. Each of the drawings are dated and the early ones are, by his own admission, quite crude. However they all demonstrate real skill and integrity as well as great determination to improve by challenging oneself.
As I saw the show come together I fell in love with Edwyn's drawing of a Puffin and I decided to save up and buy it. Though it may sound sentimental having it in my home is a reminder of life's fragility and how love is the most important thing of all. Edwyn and Grace are remarkable people and their story really touched me.
Several months after the exhibition I was so excited when I was browsing Liberty's latest Art Fabric Collection (as I always do) and saw that they had collaborated with Edwyn to create prints using his bird drawings - including my puffin! I had to make a quilt from this fabric to complement my original drawing. So I bought a metre and mixed it with 2 other prints.
I didn't want to cut into the bird fabric too much as it is so beautiful, so I chose a simple, brick-style layout and combined it with other solid and low volume materials. The pop of orange colour is Marimekko and is a remnant from the bedroom curtains I had just finished before starting the quilt. I hand quilted it as it is King Size using different coloured cottons and some embroidery threads.
The final element was adding a couple of the flowers from my wedding dress. I chose a pretty inexpensive gown back in 2003 with an organza layer on top. By the end of the evening, and lots of pretty wild dancing, it was totally ruined and had torn in a number of places. I eventually decided to throw away the main dress and just keep the organza, which sat in the kid's dressing up box for a while and kept making me feel that I really should try and preserve it! One day I had the idea to stitch three of the flowers into the quilt. They were very flimsy so I used a fusible web to adhere them and hand stitched around the petals. I don't think they will stay in place forever, and the kids have picked off most of the beads that were once there, but I love that it is an integral part of the quilt.
Just a couple of weeks after finishing the quilt I had my son Ellis (now 3) and we spent a lot of time snuggled beneath it. All stories in our home are read to the children in our bed at night, under the quilt, and I hope it will be passed on as a family heirloom, along with the story of how and why I made it.
There is more information on Edwyn and his Ornithology range on the Liberty blog: http://www.liberty.co.uk/blog/9324/liberty-rocks-edwyn-collins/
It is also well worth having a look at the website of the film The Possibilities are Endless and watching it if you get the chance - http://www.thepossibilities.co.uk/about.html
The photograph of Edwyn is from The Guardian article http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2013/mar/18/edwyn-collins-understated-stream