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Tote Bag Workshop

September 18, 2011

Here are some images from one of my workshops. We are all keen to replace plastic carriers with re-usable bags and there are scores of them out there boasting their green credentials. So continuing a personal theme of  “Waste not Want Not” here is an example of one made from remnants and old clothes.  The process is documented from start to finish with my good friend Kate as the student. She has basic machine sewing skills and with guidance from myself completed the bag in a day; allowing for  a good deal of chatting and cups of tea along the way. Kate brought some remnants and old clothes to cut up including a man’s shirts and jeans. (fig.1)

fig 2. Pieces cut and laid out to match template

Using a template for the basic overall shape of one side, pieces of different remnants were cut and laid out allowing approx’ 3/4 cm overlap for joining. Each design is unique to the individual making it.  The same process is repeated for the second side. The blue bias binding was cut long enough to continue around to the other side, visually holding the whole design together. (fig 2)

fig 3. Making flower template

The flower motif on the green fabric was really striking so using tracing paper Kate made a template of it and cut one out of the blue stripe shirt.  (fig 3)

This was appliqued onto the background fabric using a contrast colour thread and  a close wide zigzag.

fig 4. applying flower motif

fig 5. Kate positioning the pocket for best effect

Kate was keen to use a pocket off her old jeans and add it onto her bag. It is nearly impossible to unstitch a jeans pocket so the best method is to cut round the pocket leaving approx’ 1-2 cms of the background denim around the pocket and using that to applique the pocket in place. (fig 5) As you can see it is important to lay out all the pieces prior to assembling in order to work out which pieces to sew together first and in what way. The pieces hidden by the blue binding were overlapped and sewn together with straight stitch. the raw edges would be hidden under the blue binding.

The  section of shirt front was first sewn along the edges of the button opening to keep it together and then the raw edge carefully folded under, pinned and neatly stitched in contrast thread.

Once the main elements of the bag were assembled and the 2 sides attached along one side smaller details could be added. The flower motif was used again but on a smaller scale and capitalising on some rather nice printed fabric that made up the pocket linings of the old jeans. (fig 6)

fig 6. Decorative pocket lining is used to create another flower motif

fig 8. straps pinned in place

The lining and straps were next to be assembled. The straps are made from a wide strip of fabric folded in at the edges and then folded in half and machine stitched along each edge. (fig 8)

The sides and base of the main bag and lining are joined next leaving the corners open. An opening needs to be left in the lining for turning through. The corners are then folded diagonally to create the square sides and base. (fig 9)

fig 9. Square corner assembly.

Once all the elements are made they can be assembled. The right sides of the main bag and lining are slotted together facing each other with the straps at this point hidden in between the two layers. The top edge is pinned and firmly stitched, double stitching across each strap to add strength. (fig 10)

fig 10. bag and lining assembly.

Using the opening left in the base of the lining turn bag right sides out and ease into shape. The straps will appear, the opening can be neatly stitched and the lining pushed inside the bag.

For a professional finish top stitch carefully about 1cm from the top edge through all the layers. (fig 11)

fig 11. Top stitched edge.

The bag is completed and ready for action. It is sturdy but soft enough to fold up when not in use. Can be washed on a warm gentle program or by hand depending on the fabrics you used.

Completed bag.

Completed bag, pocket side.

Shirt manipulation

March 29, 2011

Gingham 50s dress idea Charlotte Spence

Take one man’s shirt, a mannequin and some pins and experiment with manipulating it around the form. I have found this to be a really helpful way of getting students to explore new possibilities and break away from pre-conceived ideas. It can lead to whole garment design ideas or dynamic and unique design features. Designers at all levels regularly use fabric and mannequins to literally ‘model’ their ideas on the stand. Using a pre existing garment gives it an alternative edge and can create some unexpected outcomes. The collars, cuffs and button details etc can be manipulated in all sorts of ways. Other garments work as well and rotating them sideways, upside down etc just adds to the endless possibilities for design outcomes. Trousers become jackets, shirts become dresses etc, etc.

Twisted neckline detail - Anastasia Ysemeni

The candy stripes on this shirt add to this sumptuous idea.  This has the potential to make a really statement neckline or detail on a garment. This method creates conceptual ideas which can then be developed into an actual garment but careful pinning, cutting and sewing can result in wearable garments directly from other garments. is  a website dedicated to just that.

More unusual design details.

……….. I used this same idea in a recent collaboration project ‘Yours Frankly‘ in which I designed and developed costumes for 6 dancers using old shirts. I will be putting up a whole post dedicated to that project in the near future.

I really like the potential for new ideas that this method offers. It is great for students who have little or no pattern cutting experience and those who find drawing their ideas more difficult. It helps to develop an understanding of how fabric can be manipulated, how it falls, pleats and the nature of fabric actually wrapped around  a 3D form. Garments are after all intrinsically 3D and it is understanding that element that really helps.  Thanks to the students who let me record their work.


Lovely twist and drape features in this unusual design - Naomi Sherman


March 24, 2011

No Man's land as seen at The Gallery, Birmingham Botanical Gardens sept 2010

Not my usual theme, but I wanted to submit work to the Midlands Textile Forum exhibition, Exotica. The work had to be small, unframed and based on the botanical gardens or similar. I wasn’t able to make it to The Birmingham Botanical Gardens so I based my work on my own garden. I n the process of building my Studio the garden was more of a building site and I was inspired by the few brave plants still attempting to fight their way to the surface and the weather worn surfaces of piles of rubble, planking and old building materials. Paper collage, stitching and manipulated masking tape are stitched over painted calico.

No Man's land - close up section

Art Windows 2010

December 12, 2010

Blah, Blah Work made for Vivid hair Salon as part of Art Windows 2010

Art Windows running for the second year was yet again a really successful part of the whole open studios event. Artists displayed work in shops and businesses throughout the open studios period as a way of promoting their studios. Most artists remained with the same shops and several really rose to the challenge of producing specific work for the shop or presenting work in a manor that fitted the location. Lix Anelli actual drew her piece on Giorno’s window with non permenant pens. Daniel and Roger Bradley create a series of photos as part of their ‘Growing old Playfully’ series and fitted them in to Kenny’s small top windows; as well as building wooden plinths to display photos in Dolland and Atchinson Opticians  now Boots Opticians).  My piece ‘Blah, Blah’ was specifically designed for Vivid hair salon was framed in between perspex so it can be viewed from both sides.  Shown here with white paper behind it so the text can be seen clearly. I’m pleased to say Adam at Vivid has asked if the salon can retain the piece.


Open Studios

December 1, 2010

Well Northampton Open Studios has come and gone and despite being a great success for me has re-affirmed my status as world’s worst blogger. However better late than never here is how it went.

New Studio opening

The studio was set up and running with little time to spare and looked pretty good. Trying to show an installation that incorporated a dance film and a more traditional exhibition of 2D work was tricky. I blacked out the many windows and had a movable black curtain over the double doors so I could alternate between day light and blackout. This worked fine and the atmosphere with the film running was nicely intimate.


'Mortality' 145 x 135 cms mixed media and stitch. Pair of mixed media and stitched pieces from 'Briony' series.

A range of visitors came aged from 12 to 80+ and feedback was lively and positive. A wonderful couple in their 80’s came and we had a really in-depth chat about the postcard installation, related monologue and Art work. Despite him being almost deaf and her suffering from a debilitating eye condition they were enthusiastic and energetic. With the lights on full and the monologue volume at maximum we defeated all obstacles. A credit to the power of a good relationship they were clearly soul mates. As they left he secretly put some money in my hand and picked up one of my cards with the word ‘Love” stitched in to it. Who says romance is dead.


Yours Frankly Installation


Featured in the studio was a version of the installation created for the collaborative work produced as part of the ‘Yours Frankly‘ event in Leeds 2009. Working in collaboration with dancer and choreographer Briony Marsten work was research and explored on the theme of distance collaboration. All immediate forms of communication were banned and only time based communication was allowed. ‘Gifts‘ were exchanged using standard postal services and each artist free to respond as they saw fit. The text show was a letter on which a series of postcards exchanges were based. The exchanges quickly expanded to include complete strangers and were received from all over the UK and as far away as New York.

Side view of Installation and accompanying text.

The Monologue

From the many postcards received a monologue was devised; the single voice performed by myself and recorded by Hannah Fearnley was the voices of many who had responded honestly and candidly to the emotive theme of relationships and breaking up. Angry, sad, frustrated, confused and elated the emotions and feelings were reflected through one voice but representative of many.  The 2D work was all produced in response to the collaborative process and extended further the overall theme. Most visitors listened to the monologue on the head phones and said they were really impressed with experiencing a more unusual and interactive Open studios event.

I had some of my larger pieces displayed but the majority I showed as a digital portfolio. I managed to show a number of smaller pieces and these proved to be so popular that there were none left to enter for the Leicester open 2010.

Studio Image - Yours Frankly Installation, 'Prove me Wrong' 105 x 103 cm mixed media, organza and stitch, 2 pieces from Black and White series all part of 'Yours Frankly' collaboration project.

Blog up date! Progress on Studio

June 17, 2010

Who said blogging was easy? I am trying to create a gallery (see gallery page) to show my work but it certainly isn’t intuitive. I can get an image up there now but editing and adding the text is a nightmare. Thanks to friends Marilyn and Alex I am making progress but it is slow.

The new studio is well on the way to being completed and I will post some photos soon ( If I can master the art). Now I have to figure out how to construct my installation for open studios.  The work created during collaboration with Briony Marsten, dancer and choreographer culminated in a dynamic multi-media show at The Loft in Leeds. The show involved live dance, an exhibition, films, installation etc, etc. The aim for Open Studios is to re-create part of the multi-media experience with, suspended elements, projected images/film and a sound piece. It works best at night so I may black the space out.  I have started work on experimental elements to show alongside it and more finished pieces. This year, in response to comments that my work is too big for the average wall, I am endeavouring to create some smaller pieces. Watch this space!

Forthcoming Events

June 5, 2010

Section of 'Yours Frankly' Installation, The Loft, Leeds.

Northampton Open Studios 2010

I will be opening my brand new studio as part of Northampton Open Studios sept 3rd – 19th 2010. The culmination of 18 months hard work (mostly by my devoted partner although I did help demolish out buildings, concrete footings, paint etc). It has been an exciting process seeing the shell grow into a real building and now a working space. Also the aim is to showcase some of the work done whilst collaborating with Briony Marston, dancer, choreographer and lecturer; including the multi-media installation and related work.

The Northampton Open Studios Launch Exhibition is at Kelmarsh Hall this year and promises to be a really spectacular start to the Open Studios event.  Make time over the August bank holiday weekend 29th/30th to visit this one-off event. Alongside  the exhibition of work by the participating artists there will be a whole series of activities including live music from The Strung Out Sisters, an African drumming band, Classic motorbikes, a Pimm’s tent and chocolate fountain etc etc. Bring a picnic, entry is free and yes that includes entry into Kelmarsh Hall itself.

Art Windows

Back for the second year this successful event will showcase a number of artists including myself in shop windows all round Harborough town centre. I am hoping to surprise and delight you with a piece specially created for Vivid, a mini taster of the Installation that will be showing in my studio. As last year there will be a prize draw but this year we have nearly 10 prizes including a meal at The old Barn Inn- Gloosten, A handbag from Labels are Less, £30 to spend in Christians, drinks and cake at Cafe Nero to name just a few.  3rd – 19th September 2010

Quinns Bookshop and Art Gallery

Throughout September another diverse exhibition from The Harborough Artist Cluster Group.  Quinns continues to support this event, a regular feature  in their exhibition diary.  Pop in and see what’s new this year.