Monday, 13 November 2017

Two New(ish) Books

Some of you will remember, and will have purchased, my needle lace and needle weaving stitch guide books. 

I put those books together as a teaching tool, a place where all of the techniques relating to either needle lace or needle weaving, as one would use them in hand embroidery, were in one place with easy access.  I then sent a copy of each to Mary Corbet who reviewed them on her blog.  If you want to read that review (and its update) you'll find it here.

And things went crazy! As they always do when Mary Corbet says something about anything. With justification of course. Mary is always worth listening to, no matter how clever you are (or think you are).

As a result of Mary's post, Search Press asked me if they could publish them on my behalf. I have a great relationship with Search Press in the UK, because they publish my other books in conjunction with Metz Press in South Africa. They redesigned the books to suit their regular format and those books are now available.

Actually, they're been available for a while but as I have only just received stock of them, I have held back on writing about them until now.

So, what do you need to know if you already have them in the old format?

The content of each book is identical to what it was before. If you buy the new editions you won't find any additional stitches or information but what you will find is strong binding, books that are really well put together. I really am not trying to tempt you here, just raving a bit because they really are nice.

The way they have been put together allows you to be able to put a magnetic board and ruler under each page, having folded the covers back. This makes it easy to keep track of where you are. I will be putting together a short video clip of how this works, so watch out for that.

For those of you that would like to order them from me, you will find them here and here on my website.

If you are in South Africa, then it would probably be where you would want to order them from. You will also be able to find them at places like Exclusive Books, Bargain Books, CNA and, of course, on

If, however, you are elsewhere in the world you will find it cheaper from the shipping point of view to order them from places like Amazon (here and here), Book Depository (here and here) or, of course, you local needle work supplier. I know that a lot of the needle work suppliers that I deal with in Australia and New Zealand have got them in already, so it's a good idea to check with them first if you're in that part of the world.

Unlike my other books and also my forthcoming book, Crewel Creatures, these two books are stitch and technique guides. They do not include any projects, are a reference for you to use in your own embroidery, rather like those stitch guide books from days gone by (the TH de Dillmont book, Mary Thomas's book, the Weldon's book) and those from recent times, my favourites being the A-Z guides put together by Inspirations Magazine and now published by Search Press.

I have already received a couple of emails from those who have enjoyed my other books asking me how they're going to use these books and to this end I have spent the afternoon putting a lot of information onto the product pages for these books on my website. That information includes the designs that, in each instance, use the techniques described in these new books.

So, even if you are going to order from a supplier close to you, it might be worth looking at the product pages here and here. When you get to these pages scroll down to where there are lists of designs. Each one has a link ascribed to it and a simple click will take you to the page for each of those designs that use either needle lace or needle weaving techniques - or both in many cases.

It goes without saying that my forthcoming book, Crewel Creatures, features quite a few needle lace and needle weaving stitches. When that is ready for launch, I will add the relevant designs to the product pages for these two books.

The most useful way to use all of these stitches is in crazy patchwork either in conjunction my own book, Hand Stitched Crazy Patchwork, or any other crazy patchwork that you'd like to try.

So, having inundated you with information today, I promise to shut up for a while. Life is busy and somehow, becomes compartmentalised. I stitch every single day, but then I'm also doing diagrams, writing, dealing with order issues, couriers, post office, website.........and so it goes on. Then just when everything seems to be going smoothly, a dog gets sick (two of them last week because I have altogether far too many dogs), so they have to go to the vet.

'm sorry that both of these got done on the same day and I hope I haven't (in the words of my wonderful son) cooked your collective brains. If I have, I apologise.

Till next time (which will be a while, I promise)


Showcasing Crewel Creatures

About ten days ago I received the first proofs of Crewel Creatures from Metz Press. That's always an exciting time for me because I am always amazed at how Wilsia Metz and Liezl Maree take my ramblings along with the photos from the photo shoot and weave them into a work of art. They have, once again, produced a beautiful book.

Some years ago I spotted a painting of an owl in the window of an art gallery in a quaint village area of Montreal. Although it was probably in what is known as the 'steam punk' style, it was the clock face tummy that caught my eye. I obsessed for the rest of my Canadian trip over how I could interpret that idea, particularly the tummy, in Jacobean embroidery. Owlfred was the result and while I was stitching him it dawned on me that there was absolutely no reason to stop with an owl, why not other animals and birds?

It's been about two years in the making and Crewel Creatures is the result of those imaginings.

In the book you will find:

The shell of a tortoise is an area which cries out for Jacobean elements. Norman, as he is known, is colourful and decorative.

Living in Africa, as I do it was inevitable that I would choose to interpret the animals and birds that reside on this continent. Audrey is worked, not in the normal colours of an ostrich but rather, in the colours of the Klein Karoo, the area in South Africa where you would expect to find these large flightless birds.

Having enjoyed Owlfred, I wanted to do another owl for the book. One in full flight, about to pounce on the rat that, as is happens, ate my ethernet cables at about the time I was dreaming about it, the rhodent that left me with no internet for a while. Maureen is a big girl. She needed to be large if the Jacobean elements were going to look like anything at all so she is a long project but really will take pride of place on any wall when completed and framed.

To my mind, the hood of a cobra is an area just waiting for Jacobean embellishment. Despite this, a snake is a subject that may not appeal to many even though it often formed a part of the old Jacobean Tree of Life pieces, so it took a while to make the decision to include Janet and of course, she needed to be a happy and pretty snake. So, plenty of small glass pearls and a smile on her face. I have to say, I did enjoy stitching her.


hat could be more African than an elephant and also, the next and final design, a Rhino. Shirley is a stylised elephant with large, decorative ears. It is those larger ears that distinguish the African from the Asian elephant and, having seen images of so many decorative elephants that come from Asia, it was very difficult to not automatically fill her with red and gold elements. Instead, she is altogether more muted which, despite the common belief that Africa is mostly a continent of bright orange sunsets and brightly coloured Ndebele art, are very much the shades that you will find on this most colourful of continents.

Both of these animals are on the endangered list, the Rhino critically so with Rhino poaching being one of the great scourges of our time. At least every week there will be footage and mention of Rhino slaughter on our local television news and all of this because far away men from another continent believe that its horn, ground into powder, is an aphrodisiac. I had a lot of fun with Roger's hide and the trees behind him - using a freestyle variety of stitches to create texture.

I'm privileged to have seen both of these large animals many times, and in their natural habitat. I hope that they will still be around for future generations to be equally privileged.

So, when will you be able to get this book?

As mentioned, it is still in its production phase. I expect to have copies in late February to early March, that being for the South African market. With regard to the rest of the world, that will be a little later, around the beginning of June. It is available for pre-order on Amazon, Book Depository, Fishpond and I would imagine other book websites No pressure then for the author. It's quite nerve wracking when you're still busy with it and it's already out there. If you click on the book site links above you will be able to pre-order right now. But best not to tell me you've done that. It's nail biting stuff until I receive the advance copies and know it's real.

As soon as I get boxes of the book available in my studio, the packs will go online. They will be the normal packs that we provide - i.e. print packs, bead packs, thread packs and speciality thread packs. Obviously you will need the book for the instructions and we provide the packs to make it easier for you. No tracing onto fabric, no trying to source threads and beads from all over the place. All in one place from us.

But what are you going to do in the meantime if you would like to start on a creature. Maybe this will solve your problem.

We have full kits of Owlfred available on our website at a discounted price. Well, only 8 of them because that's what we have in stock. We've got them at that price until the end of November so if you want one at a good price, probably get there quite quickly. Click here and you'll be taken to the place where you can order one.

So, that's Crewel Creatures.

I'm afraid that you're going to be hearing from me again very soon because I also have two other new books. I'm going to write a separate newsletter about that, just so that we don't mix things up too much.

Till then, Hazel

Thursday, 7 July 2016

I Want A Refund

It is now the first week of the seventh month of the year and, having given it a six-month trial, I think I would like to send 2016 back - and get a refund.

It has gone by in a haze of puppies, canine mastitis, more visits to the vet than I can count, rushing up to Zimbabwe for the Harare Needlework Guild’s bi-annual competition, going straight on to South East Asia for the Inspirations Mekong cruise, and then coming back to surgery for myself and – as a result of some complications - having to cancel my trip out to Australia to teach at Koala Conventions.

Apart from not getting any time to write on this blog, the people that I need to apologise to are those that had booked to do my workshops in Brisbane. I am going to admit, right here and now, that I have to take some of the blame. I should have gone to the doctor sooner than I did but I was hand-rearing puppies. Hungry mouths are hard to ignore. Much easier to just put up with some, albeit rather alarming, tummy grumbles. Once you’ve ignored it once or twice, it is easy to keep ignoring it and travel off to countries that have either doubtful medical care, or speak in a language that you can neither speak nor understand.

However. I am better, with a surprisingly clear head. I didn’t realise that it had been fuzzy for a long time. Obviously I had forgotten what normal feels like. That happens when things slowly creep up on you. We have two gorgeous Boxer Weapons Of Mass Distraction (gosh, what a delight they are), five hand-picked families are enjoying their Boxer puppies and, having found myself stuck at home when I didn’t expect to be, I am catching up.

I started this embroidery business on my dining room table. As time went on, I outgrew that space – and anyway, one needs a dining room table for family meals. Our study was not nearly big enough for all the things that were needing storage space and certainly did not have enough working room for extra staff, so I converted first one side of our double garage, then the other side, then the servants’ quarters and eventually the store room (all in the same building). If the truth be told, we could do with still more space and I will probably add a room onto that building in time but, in the meantime, I am making an attempt to go digital to the extent that I can and to that end there is now a section for Downloadable Patterns on our website.

Over the last twenty-five years I have brought out a lot of designs for both embroidery and beadwork. At the beginning I designed a lot of simple patterns, ones that are still useful to embroiderers who are at the beginning of their embroidery journey. I don’t put those out as kits anymore but, it has been pointed out to me, there are many stitchers out there who would like to have access to these. That there is still a demand for not only less complicated stitching but also, smaller projects.

Along with beadwork patterns, I am slowly converting all of my older designs into downloadable patterns. Having got far better at layout, I am updating that. Since I started doing this I have gone from hand-drawing stitch diagrams to doing them on computer, which produces a much-superior result. Even my photographs have improved. So, as my time allows I am slowly wading through the whole lot, editing, redoing the instructions, inserting better images, and as I complete each one, I upload it here.

From time to time, I get a request for a kit that I have discontinued. Those patterns are all going to eventually be available as Downloadables. Please do have a look at them. There might be something that takes your fancy, or even something that you wanted, had asked for, and was told it had been discontinued. Likewise, if there is something that you can no longer get from me, please let me know because I would probably be able to convert that pattern ahead of others.

I have been on the receiving end of dire warnings about unscrupulous customers who will buy one design and print out many copies for every member of the sewing circle, their mothers, aunties and even their daughter’s gay friend who is into needlework. I am sure that this is possible, but I have chosen to trust the better side of human nature.

Each embroidery pattern comprises the line drawing with instructions for how to transfer it to fabric, colour images of the completed embroidery, full stitching instructions with diagrams and a stitch guide, and a full list of the materials needed to complete the project.

The beadwork patterns give you comprehensive instructions on how to complete the project, with diagrams, colour images and, as with the embroidery patterns, a full list of all of the materials needed – along with a suggestion that you use the recommended beads, crystals, pearls, etc. in colours of your choice. Because there are beads and then there are beads. You don’t get the same result if you use rubbish beads. You just don’t.

And now I’m going to leave you with a photograph of Colin and Lily. Every single puppy from Brenda and Neville’s litter went to a hand-picked home, homes where I knew they would be loved, spoilt, fed properly and taken to the vet if they were sick. I’m in regular contact with all of the new owners and these delightful animals are giving their families as much pleasure as we are getting from our two. All of them are proving that the only reason to breed a litter of puppies is to pass on good temperament.

Colin is very much like his father, Neville. A huge and gentle giant with absolutely nothing between his ears. No IQ whatsoever, just galumphs around all clumsy and looking confused. And so affectionate. Lily is as affectionate, very much like her mother, Brenda. Sparky, naughty, bright eyed and convinced that she is a lap dog, even though she is now getting a bit big for that. I kept her for our son and as the weeks went by I realised that we were getting into an impossible situation. One where it would be impossible for me to let go of her, and impossible for her to leave the pack to which she is so bonded.

Then we discovered that our neighbours were moving to another city. So, we bought the house, my son moved in yesterday, I’ve checked that the perimeter walls and fences are secure, next week our builder is knocking a space into the dividing wall, which will give all the dogs access to both properties, and Lily will never leave home.

Is that not a perfect solution?

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

My New Book – at last

I am ashamed to say that my new book has been available for a few weeks and only now am I able to tell you that it is available on my website, as are the packs for the projects in the book. There are 8 reasons for this delay and I’ll talk about those later.

I told you all about the new book in November last year and you can read my blog post here.

Designed and written for both quilters and embroiderers, there are over 160 techniques in the book so, even if you don’t want to do the projects that I have done, you will nevertheless find a wealth of information on how to do a range of techniques. These include quilting, crazy patch piecing, embroidery stitches, ribbon embroidery stitches, simple tatting, needle lace, needle weaving, bead embroidery and even simple beading techniques – all of them used to embellish crazy patchwork. But not just crazy patchwork. Most of these techniques can be used in any kind of needle work.

My publisher described it to me as ‘encyclopaedic’, and yes, there is a lot of information in there.

You will be able to buy the book on my website. We are about to publish a brand new website which is why I’m not going to give you the actual links. Go to and follow the links to BOOKS in the ONLINE SHOP.

If it is the packs for the projects that you want, they are available in the KITS section of the ONLINE SHOP under the HAND STITCHED CRAZY PATCHWORK section. As always, you will be able to buy the full kits or, if you prefer, the separate packs, i.e. thread, special threads, bead packs, print packs, fabric packs and so on.

If you have a registered account on our website you will also be getting a newsletter in the near future, asking you to update your PIN number on the site. As mentioned above, we will shortly be going live with a brand new website and whilst we can transfer all of the information in your user account to the new website, we can’t access your PIN number. Hence the email that you will receive, asking you to click on a link to update your PIN. You won’t have to change that number, so don’t worry about that. It’s more a confirmation really. Just click on the link and do what it asks you to do just to prove that you are an actual person and not a virtual being, robot, hologram, etc.

The website should have been ready by now but, once again, because of the aforementioned 8 reasons, I have not found the time to ‘sit on’ the web man, to pester him to get it ready by the time the new book is available. You do have to do this thing because they are busy and tend to forget the dates that are so important to you.

And now for the 8 reasons.

I announced the birth of our Boxer puppies in my last blog post. They are now five weeks old and along the way it has been a little difficult. Brenda, the proud mother, developed life threatening mastitis when they were about five days old. The sort where she went from just fine at seven in the evening to a medical emergency which necessitated my calling out a veterinary surgeon at 11 at night.

A day later, having been put onto oral treatment, she had an allergic reaction to penicillin so thereafter she had to be taken in daily for injections. It got worse with two eruptions and just as she was beginning to look brighter she developed a different infection in another teat. So, a different antibiotic and back to daily veterinary hospital trips.

Needless to say, through all of this the puppies remained hungry and I was to be found doing four hourly feeds, night and day, sterilising bottles, mixing puppy formula. All that stuff. Just like having new born babies. Along the way we lost the tiniest puppy, not from lack of care but because he had a congenital problem which meant that he wasn’t going to survive, no matter how hard we tried.

I am, however, pleased to report that all of that is behind us. We have 8 naughty little devils, eating us out of house and home, and causing general mayhem.

Mother is much better and teaching them how to dig in the flower beds.

And I am not even going to mention what has to be cleaned up, great big piles of it. It’s hard to fathom where it all comes from.

And they are a complete and utter delight. I can sit for hours just watching them sleep, let alone watching what they get up to in their playful periods. I don’t breed puppies that often – the last time was twenty years ago – and I’m not sure that I will do it again so I am savouring every precious moment until they go to their new homes. And we have lovely homes for every single one of them. Hand picked for hand reared babies. Couldn’t hope for more.

We are keeping Colin, who is just like his Dad, Neville. The reason why we bred this litter in the first place. We had to pass on the best Boxer temperament on the planet.

Here is Colin.

He and his siblings are the reason why the new book ‘launch’ has all been a bit delayed. It is, however, now available and whilst I hope you will forgive my tardiness, I am sure you will all agree that I had 8 very good reasons.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Something so exciting....

One of the joys of what I do is that I get to travel to places various and exotic to pass on my knowledge and experience of embroidery.

I really am one of the luckiest people I know because not only do I meet wonderful, like-minded people who become friends, if only via the email machine, but I get to travel to places that I may not have chosen to go to if left to my own devices. Without exception, when I land up in these places I have gone there with no expectations whatsoever and it is those trips that end up being the best surprises.

It happens every time, but the one that does stand out in my mind is the cruise down the Mekong that I did with Inspirations Magazine in late-2014. Cambodia and Vietnam had not ever been in my mind as somewhere that I would like to visit one day. Yes, I was probably curious about what had happened there because at the time of both countries’ upheavals I was either in my late teens or a young mother with new babies, not really interested in the rest of the world. I was also not aware that there was much to see, from a ‘sights’ point of view, so it was not on my radar when Fiona and Susan invited me to teach on their first cruise down the Mekong. I said that, of course, I would go and in a sense, left it at that. I was, anyway, having a very busy year and it was just another place that I needed to get to in 2014.

I flew out of Johannesburg, having heaved a sigh of relief because I’d managed to get myself and my passport onto the plane in time, and promptly fell asleep. Not the demeanour of a terribly excited person.

And what a surprise was in store for me. From the moment we landed in Siem Reap in Cambodia, to the time we flew out of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, at the end of our cruise it made for an experience that I will always cherish.

From fabulous hotels, to ancient temples, colourful markets, floating villages, interesting and unusual smells, great service on a five-star boat and the fabulous South East Asian people, it never stopped. Our fellow cruisers were out for the same experience along with learning some embroidery from Susan and myself. My experience of teaching on that cruise was very special because we had so much time to, not only get to know our students but, also, to really teach each technique more properly than we might otherwise have been able to do at, say, a convention where time is usually a bit limited. You can add to that the fact that for Fiona and Susan, nothing was too much trouble. If someone needed to know something they found the answer. They provided care beyond the call of duty for every single person, not to mention their sparkling company and wit.

So, when Laura emailed me from Inspirations to ask me if I would consider teaching on another Mekong Cruise, I did not hesitate. I can certainly do all of that again. In fact, yes, I’m first in the queue.

It’s all happening from the 15th to the 22nd of May and all I really want to say is that if you are thinking that it may be something that you might possibly do, don’t hesitate. Do it.

It doesn’t matter if, like me, you are a frequent and jaded traveler that has been to a lot of different places. Or if you are someone that has not, in the past, ventured too far from home. It will be an experience that you have never had before and will treasure forever. I also think that, in today’s world, it is one of the parts of the world that is safe to travel to. We’ve all, inevitably, become a little nervous in the light of various recent and present threats to travelers, but I have to say that I have absolutely no qualms about this trip. Nice people, well organised and as safe an adventure as you can expect to have.

Have a look at this and this, then go to the cruise website. After which, get hold of Laura by email at You can, of course, book on the website too, but I am sure Laura will be quite happy to receive your person emails.

So, all that’s left to say on the subject, is I look forward to meeting you. We’re going to have a fabulous time.

Quickly before I close, I have a small announcement as under.

BLOMKAMP: Neville and Brenda are delighted to announce the birth of Colin, Roger, Frank, Norman, Shirley, Maureen, Audrey, Janet and Linda by Caesarean Section at 6 pm on Wednesday 24th February. Mother and babies well, father confused and grandmother running around with bottles of puppy formula.

And 24 hours later, recovering well from the Caesarean Section, utterly focused on her beautiful brood.

Happy times, clever Mummy and now I’m off to feed babies! It’s a huge litter, so I’m helping with supplementary feeding.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Hand Stitched Crazy Patchwork

If you are one of those people that creates things with your hands, you really are very lucky.

Apart from the calming effect that handwork has, using your hands to do meaningful tasks benefits both your physical and mental health. I know that it benefits me, curbs depression and boredom, gives me purpose. It definitely calms me and as I mellow with age it tends to make me so laid back that I am almost horizontal. Nothing wrong with that and I feel real sympathy for those that have not discovered the joy of handwork. We all know them – those that say that life is boring (how can you ever be bored I ask, with tears in my eyes), those that look for their kicks at the bottom of a bottle or those that spend their time mall-cruising munching on medication. Sad, really.

For those of us that have discovered handwork and, in particular, those of us that discovered it early in life, the chances are we’ve tried the lot. I have. From watercolours to miniatures, dressmaking to felting. And everything in between. The only thing I have never tried is pottery. The idea didn’t grab me, bit messy. But needlework, done with my hands, no machine involved? What can I say? In reality, I have devoted all of my spare time and much of my life to it.

I think it would not be unfair to say that most hand-stitchers have tried all of the different arts associated with their passion. Quilting, beadwork, lace making, embroidery, patchwork. They’ve probably also enjoyed crochet, knitting and tatting. But seldom do they combine these different arts.

Some years ago I started building a doll’s house. One twelfth scale, everything made with my own hands and a few simple tools. It gave me the opportunity to use every craft that I had ever learnt. From wood carving to gilding, stitching to moulding with polymer clay. I was in my element and, particularly because I was forced to be innovative. I was so pleased with myself when I worked out how to make a wooden floor that looked like the real thing, using a roll of oak strip that kitchen-builders use down the sides of cupboard doors and a carton of wood filler.

In my mind, crazy patchwork is the needlework equivalent of that doll’s house. It is an opportunity to use every kind of needle art that you have ever learnt.

When I stitch, I spend some of the time thinking up what I am going to do in the future. A few years ago I had this thought that I would like to embellish crazy patch in such a way that not one thing is bought and stitched on, nothing should come out of a stash and, definitely, nothing that decorates it should be a machine-made applique or strip of lace. Everything that forms the embellishment should be made with nothing more than a needle, a thread, some beads and my own imagination. I tucked the idea behind one of my ears for future consideration.

It was still sitting neatly behind my left ear when my fabulous publisher and I were sharing far too much French Red in Paris a few years ago. She asked me if I could write a book for quilters. I said no, I’m not an expert on quilting. Then suddenly, fuelled by Bordeaux and Beaujolais, this crazy patch thing came screaming out from behind said ear. And that was it. Or rather, this is it.

Two of the projects in the book include crazy patchwork panels that have been put together with a sewing machine but, other than that, everything has been made by hand with a needle. What you might call ‘crazy patch from scratch’.

That necessarily means that there are a lot of techniques’ galleries in the first half of the book. These include embroidery, bead embroidery, silk ribbon embroidery, beadwork, tatting, needle weaving and needle lace techniques’ galleries. That’s for the embellishment. There is a techniques’ gallery for crazy patching and also simple quilting techniques for finishing off. We decided to count the number of techniques the other day and it came to something in the region of 160, depending on how you count it. For that reason alone, we are hoping that the book will be of interest to all sorts of needle artists from quilters to embroiderers. Even if the actual projects are not necessarily something they would want to do.

However. I had such fun working up the projects. I was barely restricted by lines, I could use every technique that I had ever played with and I could invent different ways to use them.

Gussy Up

This is the first project in the book and is truly ‘crazy patch from scratch’. I drew a circle with a large soup plate, ruled some lines to resemble crazy patchwork and then had fun. I filled the blocks with either needle weaving or otherwise, crewel embroidery stitches that created a background that loosely resembled fabric. And then I embellished. No applique, but daisies embroidered with thread. No buttons, but three-dimensional flowers made one bead at a time with beautiful Miyuki beads and beading thread. No machine made lace, but needle lace techniques stitched through the fabric to resemble insertion lace, then threaded with Di van Niekerk’s hand painted silk ribbon. Silk ribbon roses, bead embroidery, tatting and even some simple beading techniques that are generally used to make necklaces or bracelets, rethought to resemble braid. Of all the designs in the book, I had the most fun with this one.


The embroidery in the middle, although resembling crewel work is largely done with needle weaving, needle lace and bead embroidery, with a few crewel stitches pulling the whole thing together. The outside border is, as with the previous project, crazy patch from scratch. Every block is a needle weaving technique and where the two parts of the design meet, the intersection is worked with a beadwork jewellery technique.

My friend Pat van Wyk took my line drawing, enlarged it and (being a hand quilter at heart) recreated it with applique and traditional crazy patch techniques. A photograph of the exquisite cushion that she made it into appears in the book.

Waiting For Santa

The cuff of this Christmas stocking is, like the previous two projects, worked from scratch. Just lines on the fabric to resemble crazy patch, then lots of fun filling in with once again, a selection of all of the techniques – embroidery, silk ribbon embroidery, beadwork, needle lace, needle weaving, tatting…….and the pattern to make up the stocking is in the book.

Rambling Vine

If you thought that I might have forgotten my readers who are embroiderers pure and simple, then the Rambling Vine design would put your mind at rest. It is a wall hanging (or whatever you would like to make it) that comprises an ornate Jacobean-style embroidered branch lying adjacent to a panel of traditionally-worked crazy patch, machine stitched with 15 different fabrics onto a natural-coloured linen/cotton blend base. And madly embellished, in line with the general style of this book.

There are of course, needle artists out there who don’t want to embroider and to show them that they don’t have to, my friend Margie Breetzke has worked the Jacobean panel using a combination of applique techniques, bead embroidery and simple embroidery stitches. A photograph of the stunning result is in the book.

Savannah Winter

The day before I started this project, I had driven back from Johannesburg through the dry Highveld, as we call it in South Africa. A long, straight, flat, rather boring drive, it was mid-winter and everything at first glance appeared to be dead, dry and frigid with frost. I was, however, in the right frame of mind, not ever having really noticed how splendid the colours were on previous drives at the same time of year. For the better part of six hours I watched the road through my windscreen, all the time marvelling at the colours that were there. The gold and khaki of the dry grass, the grey-blue of the winter sky, the purple of the mountains in the distance, the green of the few evergreen trees, the crystal of the frost on the ground and some pink. When I got to Harrismith, decided it was time for a break and took off my sunglasses, I realised there was no pink in the landscape. It was my rose-tinted spectacles. But, what the heck, it’s a nice addition to the palette and so it was included.

This project is machine-pieced crazy patchwork, the embellishment is of course, all hand worked using the same variety of techniques and I have made it into a lid for a covered basket.


Once again, Liezl Maree, Metz Press’s amazing book designer has taken my ramblings and turned them into a masterpiece. Between us all we think that we’ve caught all the errors and typos in the interminable proof reading process (if we haven't, please forgive us - with the best will in the world, it's an impossible task) and it goes off to print this week.

The publishers, the printers, the ship that brings it to us from Malaysia, the warehouses, the distributors and any other players that I may not have mentioned, are working to a schedule that will mean that it is available from the 15th of March 2016.

And where to get it?

If you want to pre-order you can do so at:

If you’re in South Africa, or indeed anywhere on the African continent, it’s not up there yet but you will be able to get if from:

  • this website;
  • Takealot, who have taken over and really do deliver. I know. I order from them all the time.

With this book I set out to show readers and needle artists that they can combine the needle arts. All it takes is imagination and many enjoyable, calming hours. I hope that my intention will be achieved.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

So, you want to teach embroidery?

I spend a lot of time in front of my television because that is where I do my embroidery. After we’ve caught up with what’s going on in the world by watching the 6.30 news, my husband settles down in front of his computer to prepare for the next day in court, or to catch up on what he hasn’t done because he’s been in court for too many days in a row, and I turf in a disc to indulge in escapism while I stitch away happily. I’m fairly choosy about what I watch and spend an enormous amount of time, effort, and not a little money, finding good drama series, movies and so on, usually British and Australian – good stories, deep mysteries, and human beings that don’t look like they’ve had too much plastic surgery.

Something that I notice, all too often, is that if a drama is set in a country town during the years of the Second World War or the couple of decades thereafter, there is a minor villain that turns up in every episode. The gossip and the scandalmonger, the one who is in charge of every cake sale in the village hall, the lady who turns up at every event, every party and every drama, big or small. She knows about every unmarried girl who shouldn’t be pregnant, but is. She’s got the low down on every married person who is sleeping with someone other than their spouse. Want to know who is having money troubles? Ask her. Which marriages are going through a rough patch? She’ll tell you, and add her opinion at the same time. She’s usually a portly lady, terribly well groomed, awfully self-righteous and always a very active member of the Woman’s Institute or the Country Woman’s Association. If she isn’t the chair person, then she wants to be and that forms part of the story. A stereotype? Yes. But stereotypes develop because those people exist and are in everyone’s face.

These strident and buxom matrons influenced the lives of women in villages, town, suburbs and even cities. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and, although it wasn’t their heyday, they existed and still exerted their particular brand of poison. An adult woman could not bake a cake, make a pot of jam, pickle a cucumber or thread a needle without their input and, usually, their disapproval. And she certainly couldn’t teach anyone else how to do any of those things without their accreditation, their approval and their rules. There were rules and they had to be followed, whether they were logical and practical. Or not.

In my lifetime women have become independent and, having got themselves educated for something other than nursing, teaching or secretarial work, are out there telling people what to do. They are not prepared to listen to petty rules, don’t care a less about gossip, have learnt that provided their conscience is clear, that’s all that matters. These gossipy ladies and their organisations still exist of course but their influence, happily, has waned. You can now pick up a needle on your own and, if you want to, you can teach what you do without their accreditation, their disapproval and their scandal.

There are many of you out there who would either like, or have been asked, to become tutors of embroidery. And you can do that, particularly if you have something really great to offer. I’ve taught embroidery for more than twenty five years and, whilst I certainly don’t have all the answers (who ever does), I’m posting this edited version of an article I wrote for a local stitching magazine a few years ago.

I am going to pose a bundle of questions and in so doing try to help you decide whether teaching is for you. If you are a tutor, read this anyway. It may cover some things you haven’t thought of before. And if you think I’ve left something out, email me.

Do you have an expert knowledge of embroidery?

It goes without saying that you should not even consider tutoring if you don’t know what you are talking about. It is important to have an in-depth knowledge because not only are you likely to be tutoring ladies who know a lot already, but you are going to be asked questions that you may not be able to answer. No person should ever be expected to know absolutely everything there is to know. That’s unrealistic. If, however, you don’t know very much at all, find something else to do. Too many people set themselves up as tutors after one lesson and three weeks of practice. That gives all tutors a bad name and it’s not fair to the good ones. Besides, if someone is going to pay you to teach them, it is fraudulent to know less than you claim. It is not enough that you enjoy what you are doing.

Are you a natural teacher?

This might sound like a rather stupid question, but it is an important one. It is not sufficient to have a good knowledge of your craft, to be fabulously creative or even alarmingly adept at what you do. When a person sets out to learn something she will want to have a teacher who is understanding and endlessly patient. She will be looking for someone who is kind and prepared to show her something over and over again, if she cannot grasp it the first time. She is also looking for a person who is a good communicator and can demonstrate in a way that she can understand. If you are not this sort of person you can stop reading now.

Are you a people person?

If you are going to be tutoring often, you have to like people. You have to enjoy their company and they should enjoy yours. You might start off teaching a few specific workshops but as time goes on you are likely to end up with regulars. These are the people that come to you once a week, every week, for years on end. Many of them don’t necessarily want to learn something at every class. For them, it is the time they set aside to do their embroidery, away from their daily grind. They want to enjoy not only what they are doing, but also the social side of the class. For these people you are less of a teacher and more of a hostess. So, if you don’t like entertaining people, it’s not going to work for you.

Are you confident?

You can also stop reading if you are a shy and nervous little doormat. Whilst being patient, kind and understanding, you cannot be submissive. Inevitably, somewhere along the line, Mrs Bossy with an overbearing personality will turn up and she will want to dominate the class. You cannot let her do that. Or, you might find that Mrs Pampered walks through your door. This person is used to having people run around her, acquiescing to her every demand. She will expect you to similarly fall in line, in the sweetest way. She will smile, say please and thank you, and always play helpless. If you are too polite to take control of her you are going to end up with a huge problem. The first part of the problem is that you will begin to dislike her and the second part is that your other students will begin to dislike you, because you are allowing her to take up all your time, leaving none for them. If you are going to teach a class, particularly if it is a big one, you must have the confidence to control that class without becoming Mrs Bossy yourself.

Are you thick-skinned?

There are a lot of bad-mannered people out there. I’m not talking about the person who may not like an aspect of the work that you have created and are tutoring. That person usually asks if she can put something else in its place and that’s hardly something to get offended about. Each person has her own taste. I’m talking about the person who comes onto your property for a class and sees fit to criticize your garden or the way you have decorated your home. That same person will comment on your parenting style, how you dress and the way you have trained your dogs. She has awful manners and she is always offensive. And just when you thought you’d seen everything, she will pick a flower in your garden. Without asking. If you can’t put up with offensive people, don’t teach, especially from a home studio.

Are you perceptive?

You are going to end up with students of all types. You are going to have demanding ladies who want to get all your attention. You need to be perceptive enough to realize what they are doing and stop them. That’s the one side of the coin. The other is Mrs Mouse who doesn’t like to make a fuss, so she won’t let you know that she didn’t understand something, or that she is finished what she is doing and needs to be taught the next thing. She’s not going to tell you her needs, you need to perceive them. The best way to pick up this student is to keep an eagle eye and ALWAYS circulate during the class. (By doing this you will also pick up if someone is doing something wrong, or badly. This will save you time later when you would otherwise have to undo a terrible mistake that has gone too far.)

Are you quick to judge?

You might get the impression that one of your students is a nasty person. Don’t be too quick to judge because as time goes on you may well discover that she has marital problems, an abusive husband, a delinquent child or a difficult parent. She might suffer from a medical problem or depression. Many ladies take up craft classes to escape into a better world than the one they are living in. By encouraging what they do and providing a happy environment for them to do it in, you are helping them to have a few pleasant hours a week. In time, and with understanding, they usually turn into nice people. Interestingly you will often find that the other ladies in the class will pick up on the problem and will inadvertently help you by making her feel welcome, special and part of the group. Once again, though, that is the one side of the coin. The other side is Mrs Terminally-Enraged who is so angry with life that she spends the entire class bitching. That lady pulls everyone down and you need to be brave enough to ask her to leave. If you don’t, the other ladies in the class will be the ones to go.

Are you ethical?

My first point talks about having an in-depth knowledge of your art. It would not be ethical to teach it if you didn’t. Ethics, however, go deeper than that. They are linked to professionalism, they require that you are honest and they require that you continue educating yourself in order to offer a high standard. It goes further still. It requires that you don’t teach other artists’ designs without their knowledge and permission. It requires that you don’t infringe copyright or, as important, allow your students to infringe copyright in your studio. I think that it requires that your classes do not become a hotbed of gossip and scandal. It certainly requires that you don’t denigrate shops and other tutors, or poach their students. And if your students or staff bad-mouth absent class members, other tutors or shops, put a stop to the conversation or, at the very least, don’t participate. It requires that you are kind. If you think that something a student has done is awful, keep it to yourself. Find a tactful way of getting her to change it. And don’t get into religious discussions. Just don’t.

Are you passionate and can you pass that on?

The best tutors are those that are teaching not for the money they earn, but because they are passionate about what they are doing. They exude joy and enthusiasm and in so doing pass that on to their students. Tutors should not regard what they are doing as ‘just a job’ because that attitude won’t enthuse and inspire their students. And don’t think that you can demonstrate your enthusiasm by working on your own projects during a class. That’s not on. Your students have paid you for your time. Give it to them without distraction.

Do you know enough to be flexible?

Students come in all shapes and sizes, levels of ability and levels of aptitude. There are some students who don’t have, for example, the same spatial ability that others might have. Most students are right handed, but there are a few who are left handed. You need to have enough knowledge of your art to suggest a viable and good alternative to something that they cannot cope with. You need to be dexterous enough to teach a left-handed student if you are right-handed. If someone doesn’t like a technique that you have used in a particular part of a design, you must have the knowledge to pull out all the alternatives so that she can choose what to do instead. Students work at the pace they are capable of. Very soon into any workshop you will have students working at different stages. You need to be able to cope with this.

Are you an organized person?

This is an extremely important question. There can be nothing worse than for a student to pay for a class only to find that the tutor fusses around not knowing what she’s going to teach and not knowing what comes next, that there are no notes or that she doesn’t have everything at hand to complete the project.

  • Before offering a class you must have worked out a lesson plan, even if it’s only in your head. You need to have divided up the hours in such a way that you make sure you can get through everything that needs to be covered, without rushing at the end. Be realistic when you work this out and don’t try to cover too much in one lesson. You must allow for the pace of the students, even if you, yourself, can do it faster.
  • In advertising your workshop you must describe it clearly and fully and if it is not suitable for beginners, state that in bold letters. In that way you will cover yourself when the shop or convention you are teaching at has booked students who have never threaded a needle. These incapable ones will of course say that they didn’t know it wasn’t for beginners, but it isn’t your fault that they didn’t read what the advert said in the brochure, or that the staff who took the booking didn’t tell them. You need to refund them their money and suggest they leave because it won’t be fair to the others if they are held back by ladies who shouldn’t be there.
  • You need to work out a list of what students need to bring to the class and get it to them well in advance.
  • Any tools that they may need to use must be available to them. They can be tools that you provide or tools for them to buy – but they must be available. The same applies to materials.
  • You need to provide well written and properly illustrated notes or instructions. And you must do them yourself. It is illegal to photocopy someone else’s instructions, or to photocopy from books. In order to do this you need to have a computer, scanner and printer as well as the skills required to operate them.
  • The only person who is not allowed to be a latecomer is the tutor. You need to be ready and waiting, with everything set out long before a class begins.

Do you have the right teaching venue?

Whether you are teaching from a home studio or teaching at a shop or community hall, the teaching area should be suitable.
  • You must have sufficient space for students to spread themselves out, the chairs should be comfortable and there should be enough light. Natural light may not be sufficient, so additional lighting is often necessary.
  • Consider the noise levels in the general area of where you are going to teach. It is not only difficult to teach above outside noise, it is un-relaxing for students if a teaching area is too noisy.
  • Don’t forget that your students will require parking.
  • Consider whether you need to provide heating or air conditioning and make sure there is an available toilet and wash basin, with a cake of soap and a towel.
  • Consider how you are going to provide refreshments during breaks in teaching. A mid-morning or mid-afternoon break is vital. It enables students to rest their eyes and stop concentrating for a while. Remember, you know what you are doing and your students don’t. They have to concentrate harder than you do.
  • You are also allowed to make your own rules if you are teaching from your own home studio. One of my rules is that if you don’t like, or are scared of, dogs don’t come to my classes because the dogs come too. Now who would have thought that I would have made that rule?
  • You are also allowed to tell people that they can’t bring their children/grandchildren/visiting nieces and nephews. An adult class is not the right place for them. They distract everyone and must be left at home. With a babysitter.

Do you want to make your first million teaching your art?

I only have bad news here, I’m afraid. You won’t make lots of money. You won’t even be able to support yourself. You need to find out what the going rate is, either country-wide or in your area. You can’t charge that, or even close to that, if you are just starting out. So, don’t give up your day-job unless you have a rich husband or an inheritance. Because you will starve, and so will your children.

What are your aims?

This may sound like a silly question, but bear with me here. Ask yourself: ‘is my intention to merely host a stitching morning or do I want to seriously teach, promote and keep embroidery alive and flourishing?’ There’s a big difference between the two. If you want to call yourself a tutor you must choose the latter and you should communicate that to your students. If you don’t, you will not be allowed to moan and feel bitter if you end up with a class full of ladies who are just looking for a coffee morning, albeit one that they pay for.

How are you going to cope with problems?

There are the obvious problems like electricity blackouts, water-cuts, tools breaking, a greater response than you expected which could cause you to run out of stock, possibly weather and the possibility of you coming down with a nasty bug on the day you have a class. You need to make contingency plans for these things. However, if you are a tutor you will be teaching human beings and you will encounter human quirks. I could write a book on the many quirks that I have encountered but that would take a very long time, so I’m going to list just a few of the problems that I haven’t touched on yet and suggest ways of dealing with them.

  • Mrs ADHD: More often than not a student who is battling with a concept, or one who is demanding, is not concentrating and not listening. This could be because she keeps answering her phone or because she spends her time chatting to the person next to her, or it could be that she genuinely battles to concentrate. You need to sit next to this person and make sure that she is listening and every time her eyes get that glazed look, stop and ask her to listen. Pull her back from her daydream. It will be time worth spending.
  • The Late Mrs Crafter: Whether it is because of traffic or a car problem, or because she is a bad mannered person who is always late, the latecomer should not be allowed to disturb a class that has already started. She should be encouraged to sit down quietly and wait until you are able to get to her.
  • Mrs Value-For-Money: This is the student who comes to class now and then, maybe once a month. In the class that she attends she wants to get enough out of you to keep her going for the next month and will constantly be demanding your attention to the detriment of the other ladies in the class. You need to be strict with Mrs Value-For-Money. Only give her attention when her turn comes, otherwise you will run yourself ragged and that’s not fair to you. You also have to make sure that she has grasped what you have shown her, because very often she hasn’t. She wants to quickly move onto the next thing and suck you dry so she has decided that she’ll work it out properly at home. If you stick to your guns she will eventually accept it, or leave and that’s okay too.
  • Mrs Blame-Game: This person is seldom one of your regular students. You encounter her at Conventions and similar events. She is the person that always arrives early and then immediately criticises the article you are going to teach. She will say she doesn’t like the colour, or the fabric you have used. I used to wonder why a person would book to do a workshop if she didn’t like the article and then I realized that had nothing to do with it. She is sure that she is going to fail and is setting things up, from the start, to blame you. Nip that in the bud by offering to refund her money and allowing her to leave before the workshop even starts. If she chooses to stay you need, somehow, to make it clear that the deal is that she can’t blame you, particularly if everyone else in the class manages. Mrs Blame Game is also the person who didn’t enjoy her workshop, either because she should never have booked to do it in the first place or for whatever reason, she didn’t cope. She will blame you. If everyone else coped and enjoyed the class, let it slide over you. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
  • Mrs I-Have-My-Own-Ideas: Like Mrs Blame-Game, this person is someone you usually encounter away from your home studio. She doesn’t want to do it your way, use the materials in the kit (wanting to use inappropriate materials instead) or to follow your instructions. You need to nip this in the bud immediately by telling her that she has paid you to teach her because you are the expert. That she is welcome to do what she wants with the techniques when she gets home but that while she is at your workshop she needs to follow your instructions and use your materials. Because, if you don’t do that she will blame you at the end of the day when she’s made a mess because her colours are wrong, or her materials were of inferior quality.
  • Mrs BYOB: On a party invitation that means Bring Your Own Bottle. In my studio it means (Don’t) Bring Your Own Beads. I stock all the embroidery and beading requisites with which I teach in my studio, or I provide a full kit. I don’t mind if somebody brings threads that they already own – provided they are of acceptable quality, which they usually are. The problem arises with beads. I only stock good quality beads because they produce good quality items and I place a huge emphasis on using quality materials. Why put in all the hours it takes to make something if you are going to use inferior materials. Mrs BYOB doesn’t agree. She wants to go down to the wholesalers and buy rubbish. Seed beads that are all sorts of shapes with sharp edges, where the sizing is irregular, the holes are off-centre and the colours fade. She will then want me to teach her with these beads and will be disappointed when her necklace either breaks or doesn’t look like mine. Do not let her do this. Make strict rules for Mrs BYOB and don’t deviate.
  • Mrs Inferiority-Complex: If you bide your time you will eventually find out that this poor soul has no confidence because she is dominated at home, comes from a culture where women are lesser beings, or has a medical problem. She is convinced that she won’t get it right and it is up to you to applaud every step that she does correctly. Show it off to the rest of the class, tell her how fabulous it is and watch her grow. It’s very rewarding when she blossoms.
  • The Duchess: We all know this person. She has travelled more widely, has more wisdom, has cleverer children or children with bigger problems, she is pompous, has huge pretensions and an inflated idea of her status in life, usually because she is married to someone who she perceives to be at the top somewhere. (My news for her is that it is 2015 and a woman is only allowed to claim status if the achievements are hers, not her husband’s.) She has an opinion on every subject that is discussed around the table and she always knows better. She is a pain. Don’t let her overwhelm the class. Change the subject. Every time.
  • Mrs Nothing’s-Good-Enough: This is the person who has unreasonable expectations. It’s not because your standards are lower than they should be but because she has those same unreasonable expectations at the supermarket, at the hairdresser, when she’s buying a car or even filling up with petrol. Nothing will ever be good enough for her or happen quickly enough. She is also the one who will complain about the price of everything. She will always try to get the rest of the class to agree with her, on everything. Get rid of her. She’s trouble and she’s not going to change.
  • Mrs Full-Ownership: For whatever reason, there are people in this world who think that because they have been to one lesson or they have bought one of your designs, they own you. They think that this gives them the right to phone you at 10 o’clock at night, on a Sunday afternoon or at 6.30 in the morning. If you then ask them to phone back during business hours, they are offended. First of all, decide what your business hours are and stick to them. Only give your mobile phone number out because that way you can identify the caller and decide whether or not you want to answer the phone. Phones in recent years now give you the option of sending a text instead of answering the call. Mine gives my business hours and invites the caller to phone then. There’s always the chance, then, that they will look up your land line number and phone you on that, so your family needs to know that they have to tell after hours callers that you are in the shower. We don’t have that problem at the moment. The cordless phone is lost. Buried under something, probably, and its battery has gone flat, so we can’t even ring it to see where it is. So then, don’t put it past Mrs Full-Ownership to then arrive at your gate. I have a sign on my gate stating what times I’m available, even if my car is parked in the driveway. And I stick to it. There is no such thing as an embroidery emergency so I ignore Mrs Full-Ownership and she eventually learns that I am entitled to my own leisure and family time. My daughter and her friends call that passive-aggressive!
  • Mrs Grand-Coffee-Morning: This is the lady that’s bored. She hasn’t got enough to do in her life and regards the classes she attends as grand social occasions. She will spend the time chatting to everyone around her, not allowing them to get on with what they want to learn, emitting huge woops of laughter and generally disrupting everything. She might even decide that your eats aren’t up to scratch and start arriving with boot-loads of cake, which will then keep you running around all morning fetching sharp knives, cake plates, cake forks and napkins. And before you know it, she’s got everyone’s birthdays recorded and is demanding that they bring the eats during the week of their birthday. If she’s just a once-off event student, you need to tactfully ask her to leave the others alone and if she’s one of your regular students, like Mrs Terminally-Enraged, you may need to ask her to leave if you can’t bring her under control.
  • Mrs WI: These ladies are a problem when you first start teaching. They know that you are still finding your feet and are waiting, ready to dispute much of what you say. You sometimes wonder if they have come there, not to learn, but to put you in your place. My standard reply to that is along of the lines of creativity, by its very nature, cannot have rules. You may have to repeat that often and they might eventually get the message. That you don’t care about petty rules, that the proof of what you are teaching is in the finished result. Fortunately, as you get better and gain a reputation, they tend to either stay away of keep their opinions to themselves.
  • The most difficult thing to deal with, and one that you need to make decisions on before you set up any studio, is the special-needs person. Very often a mother has a mentally-handicapped daughter and she will have decided that it would be nice if she joined a group of stitchers. My experience is that it doesn’t work. You will need to spend a disproportionate amount of time with her. More troubling, and depending on the extent of her handicap, aspects of her behaviour can cause discomfort to others. This is not fair to your other students and it turns you into a glorified babysitter. As harsh as I might sound here, my advice is to avoid the situation altogether.

Have you changed your mind?

So, there you have it. All the gory details. You need to know the logistics. And you must know the pitfalls, be prepared for them and stand firm. If you don’t, you will give up something that you would otherwise have enjoyed doing. And that would be a pity. If you are the right kind of person to be a tutor, have something worthwhile to offer to the community and being forewarned, you can put up with the downside (which doesn’t happen most of the time), it is so rewarding. It is wonderful to watch a shy, insecure women blossom as she creates something that she is proud of and it is even strangely satisfying when you realize that Mrs Full Ownership has got the message and is no longer phoning you at midnight. It will drive you to improve your skills and to invent new concepts. You will learn from, and often be inspired by, your students. You will get a special kind of thrill when someone who started with you as a beginner is suddenly designing her own pieces and they are being published. Many of your students will become good friends and, if you persevere you can even turn bad-mannered ladies into polite and pleasant citizens. Takes patience though.

Depending on the time that you have available and the type of commitment you are prepared to give to tutoring, you can end up traveling the country and even to other parts of the world, meeting like-minded people. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the best way to travel and make friends. I have made so many that I could get myself into trouble just about anywhere and find someone that I know to tell me where to find the best motor mechanic, hospital or doctor. Don’t be fooled, it is hard, hard work but…………… the harder you work the luckier you get! And I feel very lucky.