Whitework Christmas Lights

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Contents

Background

With the launch of my latest kit design, I thought I would write about it and some of the background. If you have been following my blogs, I volunteered to write this without any prompting from the team.

Early last year, a hen party approached me to do a small workshop on Whitework.  This workshop was my first time doing a craft workshop for a group of ladies at a hen party. They wanted a small craft session and had asked me to design a suitable Whitework design for the Bride to be and then show everybody how to do the needlework. This was a fun task, coming up with a suitable design with the guidelines being – the Bride to be loved ‘folksy’ designs and to keep in line with a wedding.

So, the design that came together for that workshop was my “Floral Heart” design. I did not think that when I designed it for the hen party group it would have proved as popular as it has this year. With lockdown and not being able to hold workshops, I developed kits which enabled everyone to try out new crafts at home. The Floral Heart continues to be one of the most popular needlework kits.

Later the same year I was asked to facilitate a six-week course covering Traditional Needlework. This got me thinking about the different methods of needlework and the history of each one. It was an interesting project and even though I had done lots of needlework in the past, it was great to get more in-depth with each one and the history of each craft.

Whitework was one of the crafts that I was teaching and it is such an elegant embroidery. It is funny how there are different names for the different types of needlework and yet they use the same stitches at times. Redwork uses the same stitches (at times) and yet it is different from Whitework.

The Origin of Whitework

Whitework embroidery originated in India and China, then became popular in the West during the 15th century. It refers to any embroidery technique in which the stitching is the same colour as the foundation fabric. Whitework was traditionally worked with white thread on white fabric and used for church linens, underwear, bridal and christening wear. It is also the forerunner to the fabric Broderie Anglaise which is a whitework needlework technique consisting of embroidery, cutwork and needle lace. I am sure many of us remember wearing dresses or shirts made from Broderie Anglaise.

It seems that many countries or regions have their own form of Whitework. Ayrshire work, a form of Whitework used mostly for christening gowns was developed in Scotland during the 19th century. Ireland also has their own form of Whitework which is known as Mountmellick and has quite a distinctive finish to the Whitework as it had a crocheted edge to the work. There is also drawn thread work, pulled thread work, Hardanger, just to name a few, which are all really connected back to Whitework. So really Whitework covers such a range of different needlework techniques.

Various techniques were employed to make the stitches stand out against the white background. The type of thread that is used to help give it the look, is a Perle cotton or Coton a border. This thread tends to be thicker than 6-stranded embroidery cotton and has a matt finish which sets off the white embroidery against the white fabric.

Vintage Whitework
Vintage Whitework

Whitework Designs

With teaching the Whitework to groups, I designed a few simple designs which proved to be a great success. With lockdown this year and not being able to conduct workshops, I decided to release kits and the two whitework designs that I had taught previously, proved to be very popular as kits. It is great to see how popular this needlework is and it got me thinking of how elegant Whitework would be with a Christmas theme. It was also due to the fact that I had been asked during the year to teach a Christmas whitework class during November. I think we were all hoping that lockdown would be over and workshops could resume as before. Unfortunately, that workshop was cancelled due to restrictions being in place. However, I was able to teach it to another group which was great to be able to do. The class stitched one of the designs and thoroughly enjoyed learning the techniques.

After that workshop, I came home and decided that the design would be lovely in a free-standing frame and have two different designs. Which is what I did, I wrote the pattern and decided on the stitches to be used and stitched the two designs up in the white cotton and added a bit of sparkle in the design by using silver thread to stitch the stars. It certainly adds that bit of elegance into a simple needlework design and I will be displaying it with pride over the Christmas period.

Christmas Kits

So, in time for Christmas, I am releasing the kits to make these two whitework designs. They would make great presents to give to someone, or even for yourself so you can make the designs to display in your home over Christmas. The kits contain everything you need to stitch the two designs. I also have them available in pattern form. The anchor Coton a Broder and metallic silver thread is also available online, along with the freestanding duo black picture frame to complete your two whitework designs.

If you enjoy needlework and hand stitch, I know you will enjoy stitching these two whitework Christmas Lights.

The Hen Party Block of the Month (BOM)

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The Launch

So, with the launch of a new Block of the Month quilt design, I thought it would be an opportunity to attempt another blog post.  Hopefully, I will be more comfortable with writing the posts, the more posts I do. I have no problems writing up posts on my Facebook page, but somehow, when my team encourage me to write, I shake internally and panic sets over me; All I am thinking is, how on earth do I write a post that is interesting and relevant? 

So, this new BOM that is launching is a quilt that I designed and worked on a couple of years ago, but I never got round to launching due to several factors. But I can now finally sit down and get it started or finished? I guess I am also a bit nervous about releasing it. It is a bit like releasing apart of myself out into the world and hoping that it will be able to cope on its own in the big world. But enough sentiment for now. 

Designing the Quilt

I loved designing this quilt, and there is quite a story behind this particular quilt.

I have come to know hens on a different level since my daughter started keeping chickens. Her love for them (and the love they have for her) is so apparent, and I have come to respect them all for their quirky personalities. Each hen is so different you could almost swear that they understand everything you say to them. We have a couple of hens that insist on laying their eggs in a kitchen cupboard, which has to have a blanket inside. Others love to check out the grocery bags when you come back from the supermarket to see if you bought any treats for them. We have hand-reared chicks when the mother hen hasn’t been able to cope, and we have also helped chicks on their journey out of an egg. We have nursed ill hens back to life. There is also a sad part of keeping hens. Alyssa has comforted them on their final journey to the rainbow bridge and talked to them while they pass, so they know they are loved and not alone in their final journey. Watching her gift with the hens is amazing. Our life with chickens is certainly not dull! You really get to understand where the saying ‘Henpecked’ and ‘Pecking order’ come from.

Inktense

This quilt began when I found the love of colouring with Inktense pencils and incorporating that with embroidery. (I also had a charm pack that I didn’t know what to do with) These coloured and stitched blocks are a tribune to our lovely quirky hens and what they would be like if they had their own Hen Party. A Hen Party could also be taken for the party that a bride has before her wedding, so with a twist and a bit of quirky hen humour, this quilt is in honour of how hens would have their own hen party.

Quilt Design

The quilt is in seven monthly patterns and will be released around the middle of each month. The first pattern gives you the instructions on how to make the hourglass blocks that complete the quilt in the final pattern, so you can work away on these blocks at your own pace. Each month a new block will be released with the full-size template for each coloured block. Don’t worry if you haven’t done the colouring technique before, I have given detailed instructions for working with Inktense pencils and the list of colours that I have used for each block. It is more about having fun colouring in your own hen blocks.

So, Month One – Gossiping, is now available in our online shop for both the printed or PDF pattern. I hope you enjoy making it as much as I enjoyed designing it.

Sheepskin Slippers

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Many of you know that I moved here to Northern Ireland from New Zealand. I spent most of my life in New Zealand, and my children were born in New Zealand. We all see Northern Ireland as our home and love it here. However, there are a few things that I miss about New Zealand, that you can’t get here in Northern Ireland.

I miss Pineapple Lumps (sweets, but kiwis call them lollies), Lemon & Paeroa (a lovely fizzy drink that is unique). Onion dip (made from a packet of dried onion soup and a tin of reduced cream) which you have with potato chips (crisps), Milo (a hot chocolate drink) and amazing marshmallow centred chocolate covered Easter Eggs, Oh, and not forgetting the Chocolate Fish (pink marshmallow cover in chocolate, shaped like a fish). My taste buds are going into overdrive as I am writing this. Thankfully, a few years ago, I discovered a London based company that stocked all the Kiwi speciality food (along with Australia and South Africa) so all of us ‘imports’ could buy our fav foodstuffs from home. So once (or twice) a year, I treat the family to all those favourites.

 

Sorry, I got a bit side-tracked in explaining the true Kiwi items that we grew up with and miss as they are not available here. It was the mention of the pineapple lumps and marshmallow Easter eggs. There is one other item that we grew up with and I forgot completely about until my oldest daughter reminded me when she was expecting Lucas last year.

She asked me to make Lucas some of the sheepskin slippers I made for the girls when they were babies and toddlers. These slippers are very much a Kiwi icon and very popular. They are so warm in the winters and cool in the warmer months. Being made from sheepskin means that the outer soles are nonslip, which is great for when they were learning to walk. This meant no slipping on wooden floors. They were warm and cosy on their feet as the sheepskin was inside. The upper part was either knitted or crocheted which meant that the entire slipper was soft and pliable on their feet, right from birth. I had completely forgotten about these slippers, as it had been over 15 years since I had made them for Alyssa.

Sheepskin Slipper

Being New Zealand – the land of the sheep (& the long white cloud), it was easy to go down to a local tannery and get some sheepskin offcuts or even buy the kit with the soles ready cut and with holes to make the slippers. However, being in Northern Ireland, the task of finding suitable sheepskin offcuts was slightly more difficult and there was nowhere to buy the sole kits (other than buying direct from New Zealand). I had long since lost my original pattern and could not find a pattern for the knitted slipper uppers.

Sheepskin Slipers

So last year, I made up a couple after doing a few experiments in the designing process. Suitable sheepskin proved to be harder to find but I got some which I could make a couple of pairs. Lucas lived in the slippers.

Fast forward to October this year (and Lucas’s first birthday) – Latisha asked if I could make some more slippers as he had grown out of the ones I had previously made. So I really got my thinking hat on. I needed to be able to source a good reliable place to obtain suitable sheepskin, which I did, the bonus being that the skins have been treated specially to be used next to babies’ skin. I then had to work out, write and test suitable patterns for the slipper tops (after input from Latisha about what was the best design for the babies’ feet) and be able to have several sizes available. So I have finally got a pattern written for knitted slipper tops from sizes new born through to 2 years old. I will be doing a crochet version as well.

Full Range

These slippers are amazing and so practical and stylish, while being cosy and pliable for babies’ feet. I knew that I wanted to share this Kiwi tradition and product with everyone here. These slippers really work well with the tops being made from handspun yarn – it truly makes these totally natural and all from the sheep (so to speak). I have used both hand dyed and natural handspun in my samples and love how rustic they look.

So, I then got to thinking on how it would be great to offer these in kit form – pair of soles (with holes ready to use) and the corresponding size pattern to make up a pair. I decided to leave out the yarn, mainly to keep the cost down and also to leave the option to you, so you could either buy handspun yarn or use your own. I am also thinking of offering ready-made slippers as well which will be packaged in a lovely linen bag which would make a lovely gift for that special baby ….

Christmas Twenty Twenty

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Is it that time already?

It is now the start of November, and we are still in a semi lockdown situation with COVID. We are all pretty fed up with the whole thing or starting to accept that this could be the ‘new normal’. I know that I don’t want to accept either option, but 2020 has been a year that we want to forget. It is hard to believe that Christmas is only a few weeks away and we may not be able to have our customary Christmas celebrations. As we may not be able to socialise, it will be a very quiet Christmas for many of us.

I have already started to accept that it will be a quiet Christmas and we may not have the same day planned as we usually would have. However, I am still planning on putting up my decorations and creating a lovely peaceful Christmas theme in the house, so we have something to look forward to.

I know I don’t want to be dwelling on what we are missing out on with the restrictions, BUT, focusing on What we are thankful for.

During the months coming up to Christmas I love making new decorations to put up in the house and even making Christmas themed gifts for friends and family. I really start to get into the whole Christmas spirit in this way. I thought I would share with you, photos from our past Christmases and all the handmade Christmas decorations I have up around the house. I take down all of my pictures on the walls and replace them with Christmas themed wall-hangings and pictures. The collection grows each year as I usually end up doing a new one (sometimes two or three) each year. Some of them are 15 years old. These are from when we moved to Northern Ireland, though I did bring one or two really special ones. It was nice starting again and building up the collection each year. Since I had the opportunity to ‘rebuild’ my Christmas collection, I decided that most of it would be handmade. Our tree decorations are all handmade over the years and they bring so memories each year as we decorate the year, as we had spent many an evening as a family enjoying the crafting and being together.

Christmas Decorations

Future Designs

I love to design Christmas designs/patterns. My favourite designs would be the Christmas mice that I did last year and they have proved to be very popular to everyone. I have plans to add to the collection and unfortunately I was unable to do the one I had planned next …. But I will be working on that one in the New Year to be added to the design collection. I know that I am a bit behind this year in releasing new Christmas designs but the year has crept up on me ….

I have quite a few Christmas themed designs that I did last year and never got round to actually releasing them so I thought it would be a great opportunity to do it this month and give you the opportunity to start making some new Christmas themed designs for either yourself or someone else. There is a good variety coming up, from Inktense/Stitchery designs; Redwork designs and machine piecing. I am teaching a Whitework workshop (hopefully) this month where I designed a special Christmas themed whitework design. I will be releasing this design in a kit form as well this month.

So there are plenty of new designs and projects to look forward to. I look forward to showing you sneak photos closer to their releases throughout the month of November.

Lest We Forget

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Back in late 2019, I was asked if I would design something to celebrate VE Day, which was to be celebrated in May 2020, and then to teach it in several workshops. I was humbled and excited to be approached about coming up with a design to remember such an important occasion. 

I knew that I had to include the soldier and the well-known saying – Lest we forget – that we associate with Remembrance. I wanted to have poppies and also to bring Inktense colouring into the design. So, my design came to be.

So, fast forward to March 2020 and the world came to a complete standstill with the COVID-19 which meant that all planned workshops had to be cancelled. This was a difficult decision, but the world was going on an unknown journey and no one knew what would be the conclusion to it all. I know many thought it would be gone within a couple of months and life would go back to normal. Many would not have thought that we would still be in this semi lockdown and ‘new’ normal in October. 

Strangely enough, we can apply this to our current situation; So many people have died from this virus, many that should not have lost their lives. I believe that we should not forget those that have gone because of this virus.

But back to the design; With the workshops being cancelled, I had to think of other ways the design could be available to those that wanted to make it. So, the idea of kits came about and it has proved so popular, more than I could ever have envisioned. I have created two types of kits – uncoloured one, for those that want to do their own colouring with the Inktense pencils and a coloured one, for those that are not able to do the colouring. The coloured kits are hand painted by me and each one is unique, no two are the same.  

This panel would be lovely to hang on display every year to commemorate the fallen or even at any time. We are coming up to Remembrance Day, which would be great to have this panel ready for then. So why not get a kit and do one up for yourself or a friend so they can remember the fallen. 

Autumn and my Woolly Acorns

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Well, its time for my second post. The team that is helping me or trying very hard to get me into a routine of creating interesting articles. Now, you all know me and I would rather be crafting and being creative than sitting at my computer. Below is my second attempt at writing a blog. 

Autumn is finally here; the nights are drawing in and, as summer fades away into memory the autumn colours are coming out. I love autumn with the leaves on the trees changing into gorgeous golden colours. And, the best part is the harvest of apples, blackberries and other autumn produce. 

Being able to bring autumn indoors is such a special treat, there is nothing that says autumn more than a collection of pumpkins, apples, berries and acorns. 

Woolly Acorns

I like quirky and unusual decorations to have indoors, ones that create conversations. For me, woolly acorns fit that bill. They are cute and different but are easy to make. They look great set in a vintage china dish or a rustic bowl. 

The woollen fabric that creates the acorns fits in well with the natural acorn caps. 

 I have created these woollen acorns into kits which includes the template, photo tutorial, stuffing, acorn caps and fabric to make 20 woollen acorns. The fabric in the kits are a mixture of colours and textures, so each kit is entirely different. I have limited kits, and once they are gone, there is no more. So why not grab a kit and have some fun creating your own woollen acorns. They are easy enough for children to make. 

Where did it all begin

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A New Start

So, where did it all begin? Well, after all of the discussion on Facebook, my new site is finally live. On reflection, this has been a difficult few months. The fantastic team that has helped me with the site and the shop have kept me focussed, and I can admit that it is not easy. Within the current Covid-19 restrictions, they have built kits, fed me, bullied me, tidied my stock room and kept my dream alive. They do not want to be named as they feel this site is about Nifty Needles, my family and me. I hope over the next few months they may change their minds and I can introduce them to you all.

Go Live

On the last weekend of testing the site, we made the decision that we were ready to go live. This decision meant no more work on the site. Feeling drained, and with time on my hands, I started to think about the journey that has taken me to where I am now. In this, my first real Blog Post, I would like to share some of my thoughts and feelings.

The Past

Going back a few years, I was in a very stressful job with no job satisfaction, office politics and no prospect for promotion. I am sure some of you know what I was experiencing. I was also a single mum with a young daughter with autism. Now, I know being a single mum is not easy, but getting time off for childcare and appointments was a significant issue.

Crafting

OK, that is enough about that. So, crafting then. I have always enjoyed crafting; actually, all arts and crafts in general. The satisfaction we get when using our hands to produce a piece of artwork or craftwork is addictive in the best possible way. What is even better is being able to pass on those skills to other people. I was fortunate that my mother was a dressmaker. When I was seven years old, she taught me cross-stitch and how to use a sewing machine. I started knitting and crocheting when I was twelve years old.

More Crafting

You may be surprised to hear that I do not have a particular craft that I love above all others. Over time this may have led to a surplus of unfinished projects that I am always just about to finish. I do know that I am not the only person in this situation. If I had to pick something, it might be needlework and applique on quilts over machine pieced quilts. I am not overly fond of foundation paper piecing. I must admit I am not too fond of sewing up seams in knitted garments; for that reason, I taught myself top-down knitting. Finally, I do prefer knitting over crochet.

The Present

So, this is where I am now. I love that I earn a living from doing what I enjoy. Crafting is a great stress reliever, and I want to share this with others. I like to encourage mental wellbeing by running classes and workshops. Taking the journey into designing and writing patterns was a leap of trust in my ability, but one I have enjoyed. The biggest compliment I can receive is somebody buying one of my designs and making it up.

Maybe The Future

If you have read this far, thank you. Please take time to look at the whole site. I will welcome feedback and suggestions for improvements.

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