Monday, 17 September 2012

Sherry is the way to go!

I've just realised I haven't got round to blogging about my amazing 2 day freehand machine embroidery workshop with Louise Gardiner yet. It was absolutely AMAZING. I met a lovely bunch of ladies and we spent most of the time staring in awe at Louise literally painting pictures with her sewing machine in front of our eyes. I would soo recommend this course. I came away feeling totally inspired.

For those of you who don't know, Louise Gardiner is a textile artist who uses freehand machine embroidery alongside drawing, painting and applique to create beautiful pieces of art. I first became aware of her work at Bristol Children's Hospital of all places where some of her work was being displayed. Its a long story which you can read about here. I immediately went home and googled her (as you do!) and was very excited to see her featured on Kirstie's Homemade Home a few weeks later. Kirsty described freehand machine embroidery as the 'crack cocaine' of crafting and I have to agree. Its pretty addictive. I must have dropped some pretty big hints because for my birthday this year, my other half booked me in for one of Louise's 2 day workshops at the Bedruthan Steps Hotel in Cornwall (a gorgeous family friendly hotel with Spa). The whole family went for a 3 day holiday. Jon entertained the children while I sewed!

I knew that I would l like Louise as soon as she offered me sherry at 10am on the first morning. My kind of gal! This was to get us all loosened up ready for what was to come next....

Add in a bit of Drum & Bass music and we were all ready to go but not with sewing machines!

The first part of the course was about mark making and drawing and letting yourself go. It was about experimenting with different textures. We were all given a pen and had to mark make to different types of music with our eyes closed!!

Yes really! Its actually really liberating. Try it at home. I was really put off art at school because I couldn't draw perfect photographic representations of things so I never draw at home. This was all about having fun and having the confidence to do what you like. To draw a bit like a child would draw I guess without being self conscious.

Worse was to come! We then had to draw the person opposite us without looking down at what we were drawing and without taking the pen off the paper. Its was really hard and also pretty embarrassing staring at someone you've just met whilst trying to draw them! Louise was great and gave us all the confidence to give it a try even when our finished versions looked like this. Below are my 3 attempts. She then informed us that we would be sewing over one of our drawings and making it into a portrait. I have to admit to being horrified at this point. Had she not seen my drawings?? I desperately wanted to sew something else instead. Its actually very clever to do this because it makes you do something outside of your comfort zone. I wasn't allowed to do flowers or hearts or cupcakes or whatever safe thing I would have gone for. It was about challenging myself.

We are all in shock!

Lower those feed dogs and let the sewing commence.................

The next stage was to sew a border for our pictures. Basically just sewing like crazy round the edge of our canvas fabric. No plan or design. Just trying out new things, different textures and shapes. At one point Louise said that if the back looks interesting then turn it over and make the back the front! This was quite hard for me. I like things being ordered and tend to follow instructions to the letter. This was all about letting go and knowing that you can do anything you want to. There are no rules!!

Each stage was broken up with demo's from Louise where we basically all just stared in awe at her amazing skills with a machine.

We traced our pictures onto tracing paper and taped them to the back of our canvas with masking tape and then machined around the picture over the tracing paper so we had a basic outline in stitches on the front. Then we needed to add fabric and stitching and colour and texture.

We practiced painting techniques to add colour

and stitching and applique skills

Look at the detail on this eye (clearly not my work!)

Little details which bring the pictures alive. We were encouraged to turn our portraits into caricatures and give them personalities and quirky characters. This allowed us to go off and do mad things with colour and texture.

We added fabric. Louise simply taped bits of fabric on the front of the canvas and then turned it over and used the tracing paper drawing on the back to know where to stitch around each detail. She then trimmed the fabric by hand using tiny scissors. No normal applique techniques here!

The texture in her characters hairs below was made by simply chopping up bits of fabric and stitching over them in a completely random way using gold thread.

This feather earring was a piece of fabric with greeny gold thread sewn over the top. Completely sewn by eye without a pattern or drawing.

More fabulous machining on the bow tie.

Want to see our finished works? A completely mental gallery of mad women!!

This is mine (I have a love/hate relationship with her!)

and this is Louise, the Queen of Freehand Machine Embroidery and the nicest, loveliest, most confidence building  teacher EVER. It was a great course. Hard at times but Louise has a way of encouraging you along and you finish feeling totally inspired and wishing the course could go on for a week.

All that was left was for me to do was this

and a bit of this

Louise is running 2 extra workshops in November and December in her studio near Manchester. You can find out more here. Drop some BIG hints!! She is on Twitter too so go and say hi


  1. Wow, gorgeous gorgeous stuff. I'm very jealous!

    1. It was THE best birthday present ever (and probably the most expensive!).

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  3. It looks as though you had great fun!

  4. This looks like SUCH an amazing experience.. I'm so jealous! Your portrait looks fabulous :)

  5. I'd like to know which of them is you?! Sounds fab must do!x

  6. This looks fantastic. It was the one thing on Kirsti's craft show that I felt..I MUST do this. What an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing!

  7. You can tell you had a really lovely time. It does look a lot of fun.
    Carol xx

  8. Wow that looks like a fantastic course! All the portraits are brilliant.

  9. What a fab course - lucky you! I think your portrait pic is brilliant. Now I think Annie and I will give it a go on our next fun day Monday!!

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