Thursday, 26 June 2014

Cotton, silk and a well-dressed tree

I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that given we were following the ancient Silk Routes, textiles were rather a recurring feature of our recent trip! So I thought that I would share some of them with you.

Everywhere that we went in Uzbekistan we were told that cotton was one of their major crops, so you can imagine how delighted I was to hear that! I certainly had visions of being spoilt for choice when deciding what to buy as a reminder of the trip. Strangely it didn't quite work out like that and although there were lots of cotton scarves around I only found one shop in Samarkand that sold fabric lengths.

Cotton fabric

Needless to say I bought some! I haven't decided yet what to do with it but I am sure that I will think of something :)

Wrapped tree Bukhara

For reasons that were never apparent, several trees in the courtyard of a Madrahsa in Bukhara were sporting these wonderful fabric wrappings. Fabric bombing Uzbek style, maybe ??

As you know by now, I can never resist a market and Samarkand had a great daily market and even better a treasure trove of a haberdashery right next door.

Thread seller Samarkand

This lovely lady came over all coy when I asked to take her photograph, but as I had just handed over the cash for a large bundle of her silk embroidery threads, she couldn't be too shy :)

Trimmings stall

Her fellow trader didn't do quite so well out of me, as I was able to resist the yards and yards of glittery gold trim, but along with a fellow traveller did succumb to a couple of the embroidered ribbons. The ribbons were sold as a cut length but had a plain black section in the middle, which you can just see in the middle ribbon in the picture. It took us ages to work out why they were like this and I can't claim any credit for the answer to the puzzle. We discovered that the ribbons were meant for trimming the cuffs of the loose trousers that the local women wore under their kaftan-like tops, so would necessarily be sold as pairs. It all made sense then :)

Embroidery and applique featured heavily in many of the finished items that I saw along the way, from these lovely bags

Applique bags Khiva

to these beautiful embroidered cushions.

Embroidered cushions Khiva

The cushions were made at a design collective workshop, where you were able to see the process of their production from start to finish, including examples of the natural resources used to produce the dyes.

Dye sources Khiva

I had heard of some of these before, but pomegranate as a dye was a new one on me. It produces the most vibrant yellow though, doesn't it? The white balls on the plate to the left are the silk cocoons.

As you can see in the cushions and bags above, the embroidery and applique motifs used in many of the designs were very stylised. In one of the museums we visited in Bukhara they had exhibits of the stamps used to print motifs on fabric.

Silk fabric and fabric stamp, Bukhara Summer Palace

The one above dated from the late 18th Century/early 19th Century.

I found a more modern version of these in one of the stalls at the back of the covered market in Bukhara.

Embroidery templates, Bukhara

The stallholder said that these were embroidery templates. They were made of a cardboard like material and were apparently hand-drawn and cut. She said that they were to be stitched over to give a raised, I suppose couched, effect. You will not be surprised to read that some of these might have found their way into my suitcase! I am hoping to use them as a reusable template for applique or embroidery rather than as a one-off embroidery template, but that is a job (and post) for another day.

My final textile-related photo for this post is this rather wonderful machine spied in the haberdashery in Samarkand.

Sewing machine Samarkand

It looks very complicated and maybe even dangerous! I thought that it might be an overlocker but not having one of those myself I wasn't sure. I am sure someone out there though will have the answer :)

On another note entirely if you have made anything Christmas or holiday related this month, don't forget to link up to Ho, Ho, Ho and on We Sew, which is over at Weekend Doings, there is a sweet mini charm pack up for grabs for one lucky linker.

As ever linking up to

Really Random

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

New to Me in June

Welcome to another month of

Is it me or are these monthly link ups coming round faster every month?? Whatever the case I hope you have had a good and productive month, I can't wait to see what you have all been trying out this month.

I actually have a few New to Me activities to report on this month.

First up, my first ever baby quilt, which I am pleased to report has now been received and is in use.

Callum's Quilt

Then my rather less successful first attempt at improv chevrons :)

Fat Stash Brit Bee June block 1

However, if I just call it improv and ignore the fact that I was aiming for chevrons it starts to look fine!

More improv, this time embroidery for my first ever Embroiderers' Guild workshop

 And finally I had my first tutorial proposal accepted for publication on the Sew Mama Sew blog!

Completed bag garden

So, that's what I have been up to that was New to Me in June. Now it's your turn, as ever please help to spread the word by linking back to this post in your post and/or adding the blog button to your sidebar.

Grab button for Celtic Thistle Stitches

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Check out the other links and leave a comment along the way. The emphasis of this link party is to celebrate the trying of something new, whether it works out exactly as planned or not, so a little encouragement here and there would not go amiss! 

The link will remain open until 23.59GMT on June 30th, so you have plenty of time to try something new and link up and join the party :)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Recording inspiration

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a talk given by a local textile artist, Ailish Henderson. Ailish brought along examples of her amazing work and talked about where her inspiration comes from, which was fascinating.

Ailish's background was in fine arts before becoming immersed in the world of textiles and it certainly shows both in her work and in the way she records the things that inspire her work.

Having dabbled in free-form machine embroidery I was particularly taken by the results of Ailish's exercise to "stitch her sketch without lifting the needle".

Oh to be able to produce something as lovely as the couple under the umbrella!

To the right of the wacky and wonderful Alice-in-Wonderland themed textile birthday cake, (how much fun must that have been to make!) you can just see one of Ailish's sketchbooks. These were the most fascinating part of the afternoon for me. Sketchbook really doesn't do them justice, they were works of art in their own right, and a world away from what I had previously thought of as a sketchbook.

The pages above were crammed with sketches, bits of fabric, lace, beads, lines of poetry and other text. They were a wonderful insight into the development of a project and the host of inspirations that informed the final outcome.

Having almost no drawing ability myself, I generally rely on photos when I am looking for inspiration, which is undoubtedly why I am still ploughing through the hundreds of photos that I took on the Silk Route trip :) I have never, though, considered keeping such a detailed record of the thought process of a project but came away thinking that maybe I should give it a go.

Do you record the inspiration for your projects and if you do, how do you do it? I would love to know.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

B is for Bread, Brass and Bukhara

Don't worry I am not going to work my way through the alphabet with posts about our Silk Route trip, but I couldn't resist this one :)

Our first stop in Uzbekistan was the stunning city of Bukhara, which I have to admit that I had never heard of before our trip. Before the trip I thought that Samarkand or Tashkent would be the highlights of the trip, but in fact Bukhara was by far our favourite stop.

Bukhara Madrasah
Certainly an abundance of buildings like this Madrassah above contributed to our enjoyment of the stay here. The Madrassahs, of which there were several in the city, were built as Higher Education institutions for students of subjects such as theology and law. Each one we saw was more stunning than the last, and as you can probably see in the photo above, there was no end of quilt pattern inspiration in the tiling!

Chor-Minor Minaret, Bukhara

Although not as lavish as many, the Chor-Minor Madrassah above was one of my favourite buildings in Bukhara. Compared to some of the more flamboyant buildings around it was very understated, and comparatively recent in that it was only built in 1807, but it was a little, hidden gem. The building you can see was actually the gatehouse to a much larger Madrassah, which has since been destroyed. The four Minarets, which give the building its' name are said to represent the four major religions, so the tiling decorations on each are slightly different - even more quilt inspiration!

And how about bread as a source of quilting inspiration too?

Bread stamps Bukhara

The stamps on the spice stall in the market are used to stamp the local flatbreads, but wouldn't they make great quilting stencils?

Stamped bread Samarkand market

This is what the bread looks like after it has been stamped and baked, and delicious it was too. There were all sorts of customs about how the bread could be broken that were soon forgotten once the smell of the fresh bread hit at mealtimes :)

On a stall not far from the spice stall I came across these wonderful sewing aids!

Brass Scissors, Bukhara

I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that a couple of them might just have found their way into my suitcase :) I am pleased to report that they are functional as well as beautiful as they are as sharp as a razor.

I shall just close this travelogue post with a few more views of the stunning sights to be seen in Bukhara.

The Poi-Kalyan Complex

Poi-Kalyan Complex, Bukhara

The Samanid Mausoleum, reputed to be the most beautiful and precious building in Central Asia

Samanid Mausoleum, Bukhara

and the Kalijan Minaret, known as the Tower of Death due to propensity of rulers to throw criminals from the top of the tower to their deaths. The last recorded execution happening as recently as 1920, during the Russian Revolution.

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara

Hope I have given you a flavour of this wonderful city, it is definitely one to add to your bucket list!

Linking up to

Really Random

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Ready for my close-up?

My tutorial for this Binocular Bag is on the Sew Mama Sew blog today!

Completed bag garden

Now it just so happens that my husband bought himself a pair of binoculars for our Silk Route trip and has since found them very useful for making sure he doesn't miss any of the action at the cricket! The bag that came with the binoculars was a particularly boring black so was definitely ripe for replacement :) That's another present ticked off of the list then.

This month's link party is hosted by Martha at Weekend Doings. If you haven't come across Martha before do check out her blog, she is an amazing knitter, quilter, gardener and baker and posts the most marvellous photos. Her baking photos are guaranteed to make me feel hungry :)

If you are new to the party, let me fill you in on the details. Paula and I decided at the end of last year that Christmas 2014 was going to be different, this time round there would be no late-night sewing sessions or frantic last-minute dashes to the Post Office. This time we were going to work on Christmas and Holiday projects throughout the year so come December we would be so organised we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves :)

We decided to share our plans with our blogging friends and invite them to be organised too, with a monthly Link Party to provide a gentle nudge. In addition, each month we have a giveaway prize for one lucky linker!

This months giveaway prize is a mini charm pack of Be Jolly by Moda from the lovely people at The Fat Quarter Shop So, if you want to be in with a chance of winning this to help you get ahead of the pack with your Christmas crafting head on over to Weekend Doings and link up your Christmas and Holiday projects for June.

As ever we are very grateful to all of our lovely sponsors, who have generously provided a lovely variety of prizes to tempt you.

Quilting Fabric at the Fat Quarter Shop
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Posie: Rosy Little Things

Friday, 13 June 2014

Playing with abstract

Last weekend I took a class run by the local branch of the Embroiderers' Guild, to work with silk fibres and stitching to create a semi-abstract landscape. Well out of my comfort zone as you can imagine :)

The class tutor was the wonderful and very patient Pat Ashton Smith who brought along several examples of her beautiful work to encourage and inspire us.

Having never taken an embroidery class, and certainly never with a group of talented embroiderers I was a bit nervous to say the least, but the ladies in the class couldn't have been more welcoming.

We had been asked to bring along a photo for inspiration and I chose a view from our recent Silk Route trip as my source of inspiration.

Magpie in Almaty
This photo was taken from our hotel balcony and shows the spectacular mountains surrounding the city of Almaty. We were fortunate enough to drive up into the mountains later that day and it was equally as stunning looking down on the city.

Armed with my photo and some of these lovely threads bought in a haberdashery in Samarkand, I set off to the class.

Pat provided us each with a pack of Silk Cocoon strippings, which sound much less attractive than they were! They are apparently what is left of the cocoon when the silk thread is removed and are a fluffy, soft handful of fibre. The strippings also contain a natural glue within them, which would be utilised later in the creation of the piece.

We were given free rein in the glorious jumble that was Pat's silk fibre stash, and it was as much fun as it sounds! Having picked our silks we started pulling apart our Silk Cocoon strippings to create the base of our textured landscape.

The base is built up of layers of Silk Cocoon strippings, which are then overlaid with the teased out silk fibres. The base is quite deep at this stage and certainly doesn't look like something that will lend itself to embroidery.

The magic though is in the next stage.

 The base and fibres are sandwiched between two sheets of parchment paper and ironed with a medium-hot iron. The heat of the iron releases the natural glue in the Silk Cocoon strippings and bonds the fibres together. This was when the ladies amongst us who had been particularly generous with the application of their silk fibres learnt to rue that decision! The silk fibres only bonded where they came into direct contact with the cocoon strippings, so heavily overlapping sections were almost impossible to bond. This wasn't particularly a problem if the loose fibres were intended to be stitched down with the embroidery, but wasn't so great if they were to make up a large part of a hedge, or sky.

Fortunately, most of my fibres bonded well enough and those that were maybe a bit loose would eventually be covered up with the embroidery for the trees.

So, here is how my piece is looking now! At the class I added the seed stitching for the mountain crevices and some back stitch for the sky. At home I have enjoyed using some variegated threads purchased at the class to add in the trees, I have no idea what the stitch I have used for them is called as I discovered it in a quilting and embroidery book that I bought in Tallinn, so the text is all in Estonian! I am sure someone will rectify that when I go to the next class though :)

Next up is some more stitching for the bare branches in the foreground and to work out how to add the magpie! All suggestions welcome :)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Quick gift for Father's Day

When the lovely Kellie at Plush Addict asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest tutorial for her blog featuring some fabric from her wonderful store, she didn't need to ask twice :)

At the same time my son was looking for a new and improved holder for his CD's on his long drives to and from work. Having all your CD's fall out as you round a bend is not a great idea, it seems!

Visor CD Wallet

If you know a music-loving motorist that would appreciate a handmade gift this coming Father's Day, head on over to Plush Addict to find out how to make your own Visor CD wallet.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Waiting for Wonky

This month's block request for the Fat Stash Brit Bee came from Nikki, who requested a scrappy Improv block along the lines of the blocks in Lu Summer's Quilt Improv quilt book.

Now, as it happens I have Lu Summer's book as my parents gave me a copy for Christmas. It is a lovely book, but like Nikki I have only browsed through it and dreamt of making something similar but never actually got around to it. Time to pull out the book then and have a go!

Nikki sent a lovely bundle of scraps that easily separated into a warm and a cool pile so that's what I did. Next up I browsed through the book and thought that I might have a go at Lu's Quarter Circle block. Then I decided against that, I might be happy attempting curved seams for myself but I am certainly not up to inflicting my attempts at curved seams AND improv on anyone else just yet :)

Chevrons seemed like a better way to go!

Fat Stash Brit Bee June block 1

Well, it didn't quite work out as planned as you can see!

It was only as I was putting the strips together that I realised I had completely skipped the instruction to change the strip placement from lower to higher on the second and fourth strips. As you have probably guessed by now from several other mishaps, angles and more specifically visualising them in fabric really isn't my thing. Perhaps I should have stuck to curves after all :)

Somewhat chastened by my lack of chevrons in the first block I decided to play safe, surely not the point of improv I know, and go back to basics.

Fat Stash Brit Bee June block 2

This block is reminiscent of the slab blocks from the Sunday Morning Quilts book that I made for my first Bee. I hope it fits the bill.

Do tell me how you tackle improv piecing, as clearly I could do with some tips!

Linking up to
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