The Unbroken Thread: slideshow photograph 1
The Unbroken Thread: slideshow photograph 2
The Unbroken Thread: slideshow photograph 3
The Unbroken Thread: slideshow photograph 4
The Unbroken Thread: slideshow photograph 5


Blue Bird – stitching in ‘negative space’

The Blue Bird is almost finished – only the long and short shading to do now! Stitching the design on the bird’s head, chest and throat was really interesting. Usually we stitch to fill in an area with a design or a texture, as you can see below.

DSCF5145 500x375 Blue Bird   stitching in negative space

There are special areas to be filled in with stem stitch or, for the flower, satin stitch. The remaining spaces are then filled with seeding – a favourite of mine!

DSCF5418 500x333 Blue Bird   stitching in negative space

At the back of the head is an area filled first with long laid stitches which are couched down with a diagonal trellis stitch held down with tiny holding stitches where the trellis stitches cross.

DSCF5414 500x367 Blue Bird   stitching in negative space

This process is the same for both the blue head and the shoulder area which is stitched in beautiful green thread (see below). Instead of stem stitch, split stitch is called for and, as before, the areas not filled solidly with color are filled with the more delicate seeding.

DSCF5429 500x333 Blue Bird   stitching in negative space

Then we come to the ‘negative space’ stitching. I learned about negative space taking an art class and I understand the concept. Negative space is the space around and between shapes. In the case of the Blue Bird, the flowers and leaves in the royal blue area are all delineated by the negative space being filled with laid stitches filling the void. The solid blue draws your attention to what isn’t stitched rather than what is stitched.

DSCF5430 500x333 Blue Bird   stitching in negative space

I just love the change from texture and color, highlighting the design, to texture and color being the background, making the design pop out. If you look at the yellow stitching, your eye is drawn to and notices the shapes stitched in yellow. Now look at the dark blue area just above and notice that your eye sees the white spaces, not the blue spaces. Very cool.

Of course, for an artist like Nicola, this is second nature. For myself, still a developing artist, realising that negative space techniques can be used in stitching as well as in those clever black and white designs (see below) where one sees either a vase of two silhouettes was a revelation.

NegativeSpace Vase Blue Bird   stitching in negative space


I found it a bit fiddly to stitch the dark blue laid work accurately so the edges of the white shapes were clear and sharp. Somehow, any slightly misplaced stitch really showed in that negative space. It wasn’t difficult, I simply had to be very accurate about where I placed my needle.

Have you ever worked on a project where negative space is used? Did you find it tricky to stitch? Leave a comment and let us know how it went and if you discovered any tricks!




Lady Anne’s Needlework Retreat – I’ve been waiting to tell you!!!

Unbelievably, on September 26, I’m flying to England for 5 days to join the Lady Anne’s Needlework Retreat with Phillipa Turnbull! I am the luckiest person in the world!

You all know how much I admire Phillipa Turnbull and her work and how much I love her crewelwork designs and kits. She was my very first teacher and just today I’ve been stitching on the Leven’s Hall Pillowe, taking delight in a rarely used stitch called Raised Leaf. ( more about that later! )

You probably can imagine how excited I am and will understand how much I’m looking forward to sharing every single wonderful minute with all of you! 

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The needlework for this Retreat is based on the design on Lady Anne’s jacket, as seen in her portrait. We will create two versions of a vine and coil design from the jacket. Tuition with Phillipa and Meredith Willett will take place throughout the retreat. Guest tutors and lecturers play a pivotal role in our retreat. With Meredith, we will use gold and silk threads on a woven linen ground fabric. With Phillipa, we will embroider the same design in crewel work on Jacobean linen twill. With Jacqui Carey, we will learn Elizabethan stitches from her recent research. All of us will work with each tutor, exploring the technique in which that tutor specialises. Special permission to use this design has been received from the owner of Lady Anne`s original portrait, Lord Hothfield.

The beautiful woman you see in the portrait above is far more than a pretty face in a lovely dress; she was the redoubtable and determined Anne Clifford, countess of Pembroke, Dorset and Montgomery (1590-1676), who spent much of her life in a long and complex legal battle to obtain the rights to her inheritance. Her story is amazing and, having read the two books about her life, I cannot imagine the social and legal pressures she faced when fighting for her lands. For a short version of her story, visit the Lady Anne’s biography here

Here are the places I’ll be going and some of the wonderful things I’ll get to see and share with all of you!

After my flight through London to Leeds, an overnight in Leeds and a train ride, I will arrive in Appleby in Westmoreland. This is where we will be staying for the first three days.

bjy58 500x333 Lady Annes Needlework Retreat   Ive been waiting to tell you!!!

During our time in Appleby in Westmoreland we will have three different classes,  one with each tutor and talks from our very special teachers and lecturers: Jacqui Carey, from Devon, England, author of “Sweet Bags” and “Elizabethan Stitches”; Meredith Willett, from Kentucky, USA, Canvas Work & Needlepoint Specialist and of course, Phillipa Turnbull, from Appleby, England, Historic British Crewel Work Specialist.

On Sunday we all travel a short distance to Hutton-in-the-Forest for an Elizabethan Banquet with Lord and Lady Inglewood.

Aerial Photograph 05 500x333 Lady Annes Needlework Retreat   Ive been waiting to tell you!!!

Hutton-in-the-Forest is an ancient Cumbrian house dating from c. 1350 when the Pele Tower was built as one of many pele towers built in Cumberland by wealthy families who were highly aware of the threat from the Scots to the north. The pele tower originally had a moat.

dining room 01 500x333 Lady Annes Needlework Retreat   Ive been waiting to tell you!!!

Above is the formal dining room in the house. I would be VERY surprised if we eat here, since the furniture is priceless, but I certainly am looking forward to seeing this stunning house and surrounding gardens!

The last evening that we are in Appleby we will get the opportunity to see Phillip’s own textile collection and have supper at Pembroke Hall. I’ve seen some of her collection at the Knitting and Stitching show and can’t wait to see the rest!

The next morning we travel to Holker Hall where we will have a private tour of the house, followed by lunch and ample time to explore the house and gardens.

HH 223x223 TheLibrary 2 Lady Annes Needlework Retreat   Ive been waiting to tell you!!!

Above is a photo of the Library at Holker Hall. The earliest records of a house on the present site of Holker Hall date back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. From then until the present day it has been the home of three families: Preston, Lowther and Cavendish. The Estate has never been bought or sold but has passed by inheritance through the family line, with each generation leaving its impression, either by planning and altering the landscape or by changing the house by adding, re-facing, embellishing or even rebuilding – as was necessary after the disastrous fire of 1871.

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Mid-afternoon we travel to Ravenglass, a small coastal village in Cumbria. There we will settle into our new hotels and then go on to Muncaster Castle for a delightful evening. We begin with welcome drinks followed by dinner with the Pennington Family. After dinner we will hear a talk by Jacqui Hyman entitled “Travels Down the Silk Route with Phyllida’s Father”.

The next morning we return for three talks about the textile collection at Muncaster Castle: Jacqui Hyman on “The Silk Route Collection” ; Phillipa Turnbull on “The Muncaster Crewel Collection” and Meredith Willett on “Needlepoint Treasures”. Our heads full of knowledge, we have lunch followed by time to explore Muncaster Castle, gardens, World Owl Centre, church & shop.

the library 500x333 Lady Annes Needlework Retreat   Ive been waiting to tell you!!!

During the early afternoon, during our exploring time, I am particularly looking forward to seeing the library at Muncaster Castle!  In the later afternoon we will have a lecture from Jacqui Hyman on Egyptain Textiles and we have further classes with our tutors working on our embroidery projects. Then back to Ravenglass for dinner and a good night’s sleep!

The next morning we drive through the Scottish Borders to the Burrell Museum in Glasgow, which is where I must leave the retreat and return to real life.

There are a few people who I must thank in advance for giving me the opportunity to be take this trip where I can meet and learn from all these extraordinary people: Phillipa Turnbull, first foremost and forever, my Heads of School, Stephanie Jansen and Valerie Hardt (for giving me time off from teaching) and my husband who supports me 100% in everything stitch related.

And, of course, all of you dear readers, who give me the chance to share everything I have and will experience on my journey ever deeper into the world of embroidery.


Philipa ad 2 Lady Annes Needlework Retreat   Ive been waiting to tell you!!!















Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

It was W O N D E R F U L! The holiday flat was wonderful, my walk through the town was wonderful, the cake I ate was wonderful but most especially Luzine Happel’s Exhibition was wonderful.

Four large rooms filled with stunning, beautiful stitched white work. Interspersed were items from the region you would find in a German household not that long ago: a spinning wheel, a wool carding seat and comb, wine and water jugs, and a leather family Bible among other things.

The holiday flat we stayed in was about a 30 minute walk through town. Although the sky looked threatening, the rain never fell and I enjoyed walking past the old half timbered buildings and the Jugendstil homes with the Hartz Mountains in the background.

IMG 2615 Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

Outside the building where the exhibition was being held was a small, discrete sign. One could miss it if you didn’t know to look!

IMG 2623 Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

The exhibition was full, however, with people from all over the region coming to look.

IMG 2642 Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

The Schwalm Whitework items were beautifully displayed, often with treasured family heirlooms alongside.

IMG 2734 Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

In one corner was this box filled with the small caps the women of the area wear on top of their heads when in traditional dress. It was a burst of color in an otherwise mainly white exhibition!

IMG 2715 Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

The exhibits were numbered and there was a list of who had stitched which piece, when it had been stitched and sometimes special things to look for in the piece.

IMG 2709 Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

There were so many little crowns, each one stitch by Luzine Happel and mounted and framed in these lovely wooden, with gold edge, frames. The frames complimented the little crown perfectly!

IMG 2774 Luzine Happel Exhibition in Eschwege!

After more than two hours, during which I had time to talk briefly with Luzine Happel (there were so many people asking her questions that she was quite overwhelmed!) , it was time for the exhibition to close. I walked into the town center which was about 10 minutes away and decided to treat myself to some gooseberry and cream cake and a cup of delicious German coffee. What a wonderful, wonderful day!

If you would like to see more photos of Eschwege, click here to be taken to the Flickr album of photos I took on my walk through town.

If you would like to see many more photos of items from the exhibition click here to be taken to the Flickr album of exhibition photos.

I did order a book of Schwalm Crown Designs, the Schwalm Bird Tree design and a book of Open Needleweaving Patterns. After seeing such inspiring work I want to create something just as beautiful!