Sunday, 28 December 2014

Cotswolds and New Year greetings

Before Christmas, I was so busy preparing for the arrival of family visitors that my intended post didn't appear. We had a wonderful time - busy, noisy and great fun and the grandchildren were a delight as always.

Now, however, that everyone has gone home, this small piece (a suggestion of the ploughed Cotswold countryside in winter or a hint of those beautiful Scottish heather-covered hills before snowfall) comes instead to wish all the bloggers who visit my blog and those who leave kind and encouraging comments a happy and creative New Year.


May you continue to enjoy and share your artistic life with fabric and needle, paper and print, brush and canvas or whatever excites you ... I know I will be seeking you out with great pleasure in the year ahead.

Season's Greetings
Margaret

Friday, 19 December 2014

Flavour of the year

It has seemed this year that certain colours came in certain months for me so here is a small taster of the last few months for me - not as wide and varied as I would have liked as my recent computer problems are still not resolved and I don't have access to my large library of photos ... or indeed any before September.

There was much red in Utah in September ...


 ... and terracotta, of course terracotta, everywhere we looked ...


... Then teasels in Gloucestershire in October ...


... and then rich reds ...


... and surprising greens in November in Gloucestershire ...



...then soft brown in a wonderful 16th century ceiling ...



... and black and white, both in Cheshire in December (and in every other month come to that ...)


Now, here's to next year and another search for colour. It's been a pleasure.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Paper folding and Christmas cards

Every year, I make my own Christmas cards. This is always a pleasure but there is also always a stage at the beginning of the process when I'm planning what do. Sometimes, I begin with one thought, try things out and then abandon the whole thing for a different approach.

This was definitely the case this time. I make over 100 cards and things have to be simple and quick and with as much impact as I can muster so I began by getting out my embellisher (needle felting machine) to do something strictly textile. I couldn't get things right, and time pressing, I turned to paper with teabag folding. 

Here you will find some of the results, all using commercially produced paper (time an issue, remember) - three different colour ways and two different basic folds. 

(Hopefully) sophisticated silver ...


Bold blue ...


And that traditional British symbol of winter and Christmas, the robin ...


Both these folds, along with several other more time-consuming ones, can be found in Teabag Folded Greetings Cards by Kim Reygate 




Sunday, 30 November 2014

Stitching bridges

In the last week or so, I've been trying out stitching on a bridge shadows photo I took in the US in September. This time my aim was to accentuate and develop the graphic qualities of the image - black and white contrast, shape and simplicity - rather than to interrupt it and mask it a little as I've tried before.

Small sections are shown here.



I'm planning to do something larger - perhaps a composite piece - once I've tried out a few more ideas. Maybe it will contain both approaches or something different again. Time will tell ...


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Blind drawing and talking

Last night, I talked to a local art group about the keeping of sketch books. It was a most enjoyable evening ... and I gleaned some useful information on the use of Adobe Photoshop into the bargain. It just shows how you can learn information as well as imparting it when you give a talk. There is also something about standing up and talking in front of an audience to sort out what you really think about a subject.

Towards the end of the evening, I demonstrated the use of blind drawing, a technique I always enjoy, and then cropped the resulting images with various windows to show some possibilities. Because of the need to talk and explain what I was doing while I worked, I found this surprisingly tricky. Still there were some interesting results (for me at least!) and I've added these to this post.

It has to be said that I'm not sure I convinced all my audience that this was a useful drawing technique but three people asked for full details of the book I recommended (Drawing Projects by Nick Maslin and Jack Southern - mentioned here before) so I count this as a definite success!



The whole still life I set up with some overlaying ...


A snippet cropped from the image ...


And another turned through 90* ...


And a seed head done with sneaky peeks ...


That second one may generate a small print block, perhaps. Time will tell ...




Monday, 24 November 2014

Autumn's Paradox

I came across a quote about autumn the other day on Donna Watson's blog, Layers (always lots to think about there).

"All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite." Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces.

The fruits of autumn - black grapes on a vine in the garden of Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire.

The quote brought a hint of the positive on a chilly grey November afternoon when the mind seems to be so focused on the end of the year and the natural world in these latitudes going into the long brown unproductive sleep.

Last week, the (Wiltshire) River Avon near Malmesbury lined with trees in the last throes of autumn and not yet quite brown.

I might now be more positive about the last days of autumn.




Friday, 21 November 2014

Travelling to find brown

This month's Roy post features the colour brown. I have seen so much of this colour in all its guises in recent months.  

In September, there were the myriad browns of the American Canyonlands. Then looking through my photos from more local visits, I find lots of example taken in the past few weeks. Looking out of my window as I write, there are the varied browns of late autumn in our garden and in the fields and hedgerows around us. It has been very mild here in  the UK. We've had no snow nor even much frost yet and so autumn colour has stayed late.

Though limited by a very nasty virus infestation on my PC (and no sign yet of the technician who is due to come and fix it), I've posted below what I can from my iPad. 

First there is a view of The Grand Canyon with its extraordinary range of warm russet browns in the evening light.


... and an example in muted dusty earth browns - a wall painting by Hopi artist Frank Kaboti inside the Desert View Watchtower, about 100 metres from the first photo ....


... and redundant machinery in a rich brown on the Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona ...


Closer to home, the next photo shows rows of sand-coloured chairs on the wonderful patterned floor in Liverpool Cathedral ...


Then there were these fantastic old bikes found in a National Trust property at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire ...


And last of all, that hint of local autumn colour - a russet beech tree near our closest town of Malmesbury.


If you're new to Roy's adventures, further explanation can be found over on Julie Booth's blog here.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Liverpool Cathedral 2

I promised further photos of our visit to Liverpool Cathedral the week before last. I'm still having significant problems with my PC and am limited to my iPad ... so no fancy stuff with my photos for this post. However, buying a small gadget that plugs straight into my iPad and let's me upload photos directly from my camera card is some progress and has allowed me to get these images on screen.

One thing that really caught my eye as we walked round the cathedral was the great range of tile patterns in the floor of the nave - black and white so really not a surprise that I've included them just now! Here is a small sample ...








That last motif extends right down the length of the nave. The perspective was amazing. ( Excuse that ghostly shadow .... )


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Disrupting Shadows

Whilst I was away in Scotland, I had time to play with bridge shadow photos taken when I was in Pennsylvania recently.

I had printed them out onto paper before I left and taken black backing paper and a glue stick - all very low-tech.

On a rainy afternoon, I set to work tearing each photo into haphazard strips and sticking them onto the black backing paper leaving spaces as I went. The aim was to insert irregular black lines into the image to disrupt it and increase the level of abstraction.


Both images all very busy and lots more ideas to play with ... but a beginning ...

Friday, 14 November 2014

Liverpool Cathedral 1

I've been away and so silent for the last week - because I have only today worked out how to post photos using my iPad and photos from my phone. Ah, the wonders of technology! Here are my meagre efforts. (Just wish I was a faster learner...)

On our way to Scotland recently, we spent time with friends near Liverpool and visited the extraordinary Liverpool Cathedral.


What an amazing space it was - vast and vaulted - the largest cathedral in Britain ... and another surprise, built in the 20th century, starting in 1902 and not completed until 1978.

Much more when I'm home ...


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Exhibiting in Stroud

I spent Monday in the George Room, Stroud, putting up Great Western Embroiderers' exhibition Stitching A Cotswold Art, with members Ruth Hayman and Margaret Griffiths, and with our husbands giving much needed technical assistance. Very, very many thanks to all.

Fifteen members of the group exhibited in all and a small selection of the work can be seen below. From all the photos I took, I've mostly chosen some corners to show you. It's funny how corners seem to show off work so well. Perhaps it's something about gentle shadows or the implied intimacy of pieces facing and interacting with one another. More general views will appear shortly on our group blog here. Attributions are generally from left to right in the photos.


First of all above, there is work by Ruth Hayman (that glorious coat and the large Arboretum panel) and Pat Roberts' Winter Sun. Ruth's coat contains boiled wool from sweaters my husband and I donated to her for the purpose - hence its title of Friendship and Old Jumpers. Then there is some work of mine that you may recognise - the Stone Wall Group and Tree Sections.


Here, there is work by Maggie Harris (the lovely loosely gathered Colour Studies 3 panel and the three black and white pieces To Stitch or Not to Stitch) and Ruth Hayman's vivid Autumn Approaching - and also the Cotswold geology panel I called Beneath our Feet ...


And above is a rich blue corner with work by Debbie Turner (a batik hanging called Willows  and the large Good Luck Quilt), by Margaret Griffiths (her Sun setting on Cricklade Meadow series) and by Pat Roberts (River Bed Fantasy  and Winter Cheer) ...

Last of all below is a general view of a visitor enjoying work by Anita Barratt, Margaret Griffiths, Judy Joiner and Margaret Sadler... May there be many more visitors like her!


If you should wish to visit and are near enough to able to do so, details can be found in the thumb-nail to the right and on the Subscription Rooms website here.

Since the room may occasionally be closed during our exhibition, visitors are advised to contact the Subscription Rooms before planning a special visit.


Friday, 31 October 2014

On blogging and hopping and thinking about how I work


I was recently invited to join the Around the World Blog Hop – a forum for anyone involved in the creative arts to answer four questions about themselves and their work. This involvement can include writing, painting, textiles, book art, photography, sculpture and anything else you can think of, I guess.


Lisa McGarry was my ‘sponsor’. I discovered Lisa, an American artist living in Italy, and her lovely blog Arzigogolare  via that of Julie Booth in a moment of idle browsing in the way of these things. What a pleasure it was on that first visit to find her crisp, clear photographs filled with warm Italian light and her fascinating artist’s books which have featured in various publications including 500 Artist’sBooks by Julie Chen. You can share my great pleasure in her work here.

For any new readers of this blog, I put myself and my work firmly in the category of stitched textiles (or fiber art if you prefer), though I also take photographs – lots and lots of them – and draw, print and generally explore ideas through whatever medium seems appropriate. But for this post, I’m going to answer the four blog hop questions in relation to my textiles – weaving and stitch - and to include photographs of my work and things that seem relevant as I go along.

Before I do that though, I feel I want to provide some background. Artistic activities of one kind or another have been at the centre of things for me for most of my life. I’ve looked, watched (both of those very important), thrown pots, drawn, taken photographs, painted (occasionally), and now woven and stitched.


It seems to be part of my internal make up. I am not happy unless I can be creative and I am utterly unable to imagine life without the opportunity to be involved in it all.

Art has been part of my life since I was a child. My mother was an artist – a painter – and I grew up surrounded by the paraphernalia of painting. I can still remember the smell of the artists’ oils as I walked in through the front door in my teens on my return home from school. Shown here is a pastel by my mother. This was a new departure for her. It was done when she was in her 60s and was beginning to find the whole business and mess of oil painting tedious. It is particularly precious to me for its memories of her and of a place.


I know my mother approached the world in essentially visual terms – as indeed do I. I notice colours and shapes and patterns long before I begin to appreciate function. I see spatial relationships between objects and how they relate to one another before I notice the detail of their construction. When my husband and I are buying furniture or household goods, I will have taken in the visual appearance of the object and how it relates to what we already have while my husband (a scientist, not that I want to stereotype him) will have attempted to discover how the thing works and how robust or well-made it is – pressing the knobs and turning the object upside down (if he can). We are a good combination, perhaps, but we also display a fascinating difference in approach.

I have never worked professionally as an artist in any way though I would very much have liked to. I studied graphic art during teacher training but, as was true for many of my generation after the war, I was encouraged to opt for a ‘safe’ job. After a relatively brief time teaching Geography and English in secondary schools, I worked as a Leaning Support Teacher working with primary age children with Special Educational Needs (which I enjoyed very much). I suppose much of what I did when I was working could have been loosely called ‘creative’ – but only very loosely. 

Since I retired, then, I have been making up for lost time, taking online courses, going to workshops, and reading anything I could lay my hands on. I love it - every aspect of it - and it enriches my life in a way I could only have guessed at when I set out seven years ago.
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And now to those four crucial questions posed by the blog hop. The first of these asks me to describe what I am working on currently. This is difficult for me because I’m very much between projects just now. As I posted last week, I’m finishing off various pieces for an exhibition which opens next Tuesday. As always, I find I’ve left things rather to the last minute for various reasons and this week finds me busy framing and mounting and putting in last minute stitches.

As I work though, I have lots of thoughts whirring around in my head, mostly relating to photos taken on a recent trip to the USA about which I’ve blogged several times since it made a big impression on me. It looks to me as if I will be trying to develop my black and white work further and relating it this time perhaps to bridges and grid structures, developing the abstract aspects of these through enlargement of the images, cropping them and embellishing with stitch.

Other thoughts that I may pursue relate to some specific ideas that have developed during my exploration of trees and walls and their patterns. These ‘sub’ ideas have been put on the back burner waiting for more time. One, a 3D piece, I posted about here earlier this week and I may now pick that up while I develop my less formed achitectural and bridge ideas.

The second question in the blog hop asks me to describe how my work differs from others in its genre. I feel that I am still very much developing as an artist – who isn’t? – but as I started in this field rather late in my life, I have a long way to go in developing my style of work and am very much feeling my way. 

All I think I can offer at the moment is that perhaps my stitch work differs from many others in its genre through the interrelationships between the photographs I take, the use of monochrome or a limited palette to develop the graphic aspects of these images, and the embellishment through stitch. As with so many people, I think it's in the combination of these three elements and in the subject matter chosen that any difference can be found.

I create my work as I do really because it is the only way I feel I am able to do it. It is what seems natural to me and appropriate to the expression of the design ideas I develop. It comes from deep within me and I guess it is an expression of how I see the world.

Through my photographs, I enjoy looking for the unusual angles that could lead into a piece of art work, rather than taking in the whole view. Ideas are often very speculative at the time I take the photos. I see bare trees silhouetted against a gentle winter sky and feel the urge to look right up into the branches, camera in hand, and photograph but I often have no idea where it will lead at the time.

Thinking up ideas has never been a problem for me. I always have many, many ideas wandering around in my head, often several versions offer themselves for a textile image for development. For me, certainly early on in the journey, the problem was that I had ideas above my station in life! They were way above and beyond my technical skill to execute them satisfactorily which was at one and the same time frustrating and challenging.

These days, as my skills have improved, things are better and less frustrating. Also, while I know that skills and techniques are important in showing ideas effectively, perhaps I’m less concerned to create total technical accuracy and more interested in getting the right general effect, the right feel. I have learnt that a few loose ends or slightly wandering machine lines can add life and interest to a piece.

I like to have choice as I work – although choice can itself be a difficult friend. It can allow dithering and indecision and lack of focus if I’m not careful. Still, I tend to have several things on the go at once because I find one idea feeds into another, helping me to solve design and technical problems in a more flexible way. I am a great believer in letting the quietness of the mind work on things. When one piece of work is giving trouble, I set it to one side and take up another, giving my mind time to work, often subconsciously.

The last thing that the blog hop asks of me is an explanation of how my creative process works but I need to set this in context. My inspiration and the focus for my work is almost always landscape - the rhythms, lines of movement, patterns, shapes and outlines to be found locally or further afield. I see inspiration all around me, in field patterns, wandering roads, animal tracks, the form of skeletal dead trees or the outline of hills. Consequently, much of my stitching is linear and wandering in nature. As my work has developed, it has become more and more abstract and increasingly focused on line and pattern rather than realism and I see this as a trend that I want to continue. 

Because of this, I spend much time at the beginning of a train of thought thinking as freely as I can around ideas and techniques. I play. I have learnt not to see this as trivial and an indulgence but as essential - though it is very pleasurable and liberating. I indulge the 'what if', the 'off piste' and the seemingly unrelated thoughts that force their way into my mind. 

I go out with my camera to take photos specifically for new work. I search through existing files on my computer for appropriate images I've taken previously and look through my collection of paper images for anything that seems appropriate to include. Then I get to work drawing, printing, cropping images and manipulating them in Adobe Photoshop and physically cutting them up for rearrangement. If I feel the need, I do stitch or weaving experiments to work out how to proceed. I know none of this is unique to me and that I handle fabric and thread, paint roller and brush little differently from anyone else but I find the combination of things I do essential in developing ideas.

I amass all this material in a large journal-like sketchbook, repositioning the pages to put things that seem to spark thoughts next to one another. As I've described before, this is a record of the emergence of ideas for me and is very precious to me. I find working in these books to be so stimulating that I sometimes suspect that book art may be a way forward for me in the future - but that is for the future. 

All this often apparently random preparation seems essential for me. Once I feel that I've found a way of working that I want to pursue, the process becomes very simple. Using very low-tech techniques such as a large brush, a paint roller or gelli printing plate, I prepare a simple ground, often on white cotton. I like the uncontrolled, accidental and often indistinct shapes that these media create. The prepared cloth then becomes one of the staring points for my stitch.

Next I print the images I have generated from my photographs onto more of the cotton sheeting, and then cut them up randomly. I add these small snippets to the ground, offering them up until I'm satisfied with the balance they give to the cloth. I then stitch intuitively, almost always by hand. I follow the cloth and what it says to me, maintaining the balance between one element and the next. I try to choose the lines or shapes of stitch that represent what I see in the landscape around me. 

I almost always find hand stitching is what I want to do, although occasionally I may include some machine stitch to give a contrast in weight and style of stitch. With hand stitching, I love the feeling of the cloth in my hand and the control I have over each individual stitch. It is like drawing in thread. If the line of stitch seems somehow wrong, I can unpick and reposition easily in the manner of a painter working on a canvas. 

My weaving works in much the same way. After the experimentation and the choice of threads, yarns and other materials I want to put through the warp, the work is intuitive and largely unplanned before I begin. The piece shown at the start of this post was completed in just this way. 
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Now I would like to introduce you to the work of two blogging friends, both textile artists - Sharron Deacon Begg and Olga Norris. Their work and their blogs are very different but both catch my eye with every post and provide me with great enjoyment and stimulation.

Thicket Study 1
I first came across Sharron Deacon Begg's work when she became a member of my blog not all that long after I first began to post. From the beginning, I loved the strong design quality of her work - her pen and ink drawings - and admired so much her skill with the sewing machine – something I find very hard to do with control. She calls her blog Thread Painter and that choice of title is no accident. It describes exactly what she does – she ‘paints’ lovely images of her native Canada with machine stitch.

Through her stitch, she evokes a deep sense of place. Recently, perhaps she has been particularly inspired by winter landscapes. In her post of earlier this week, there is a pen and ink drawing of a conifer covered in snow. I can feel the biting cold, hear the muffled sighing of the trees under snow and see the wind buffeting those snow-covered branches – beautiful! Clicking on the the links button at the top of her blog reveals a sketchbook of wonderful drawings. You can see the beauty of her work here on threadpaintersart.blogspot.co.uk.

I really can't remember how I first came across Olga Norris and her work. I have been following her blog almost since I began my own. Olga has not felt that she could commit to being fully involved in this blog hop but has said that she is very happy for me to introduce her in this post. She has also promised to blog around the questions posed by the blog hop. In fact, I have just checked her blog and have found the post already written. Please do read what she has to say. 

Both her blog and her work - she is a maker of beautiful quilts - are unusual and fascinating. She describes herself as a designer, maker and artist and she makes both small pieces and larger whole cloth work in the form of quilts. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is featured in Approaches to Stitch edited by Maggie Grey at d4daisy books.

Her pieces are figurative and I particularly love the generality of the figures she chooses to draw and reproduce digitally. Each shows pairs, groups or a single figure which could be of any race, any nationality, rich or poor, and each suggests tantalising stories about relationships and the human condition. 

Her enormous knowledge of art and the art world means that she opens my eyes to something new almost every time I read a new post. Her blog always makes a fascinating read and you can find it here at threadingthoughts.blogspot.co.uk. 

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Writing this blog hop post has been a most interesting exercise.It has made me look with a new perspective at what I do and why and how I do it. It has prompted the thought that I should think more often about these basic questions. I shall be so interested to see what Sharron and perhaps Olga have to say. Now though, I'm off to investigate the blog hop posts of Lisa's other two artists, Susan Bowers and Eric Adama. Links to their blogs can be found on Lisa's blog hop post of last week.

Monday, 27 October 2014

What counts as a Sketchbook?

I often include pages or single drawings from my sketchbooks in my blog posts and they are an important part of my practice. I've been asked by a friend to give a talk next month to a local art group about sketchbooks and how I use them and this has concentrated my mind - that and the buying of an iPad, and the small amount of time spent playing with it recently.

All this has prompted me to consider how I define the word sketchbook and to think about how I use my variants and why.

In general, for me it's a storage method for all those ideas, experiments and workings around things (I love that especially) that happen as a piece of work evolves. I include notes to myself that record thoughts as I work or reflections on what I've done. Some of my sketchbooks contain casual drawings, textile samples (like this one here), photographs I've taken or collected, scraps of memorabilia, visual amusements, photos of work by other artists and things that idly catch my eye and get recorded. These may never be used further or they may pop up, often unbidden, to be used at sometime in the future.

Sketchbooks, of course, come in an enormous range of sizes and formats and I own many. I love them all. I own large ones that I use more like journals to record my progress towards work, tiny ones that fit easily in a pocket or a bag for carrying around for those casual on the spot drawings when I'm out and about, and various square shaped ones that seem particularly adaptable. One of these is a favourite one of medium size that seems to be a particularly good receptacle for more considered and planned drawings. This one feels to me like a silent and listening friend and is particularly precious to me right now. I have shown pictures from it on this blog many times before.


I enclose above a page from a recent large journal, showing some of my 'working around the subject' of the recent black and white pieces. It also shows work by Denise Jones that seemed relevant to me. I came across her work last year in the Pop Up gallery at a favourite haunt of mine, Brewery Arts in Cirencester. A quick look at her work on the website (that I'd not seen till now) shows a rather uncanny similarity to some of my recent thoughts ... 3D and more trees!

Of course, the storage of material may not be in book form at all. Some of this stuff may be too big, too bulky or oddly shaped to fit in a book and finds itself stored in a box or on a 'record shelf' in my work room with associated things. Earlier this year I made some 3 D pieces and I have kept the paper mock-ups of those. Another one is planned (but not yet made) and shown here.

There is something special about the book form though. It is beautifully tactile. It has a special sense of entity that holds the work together - a sort of cocoon protecting the work - and provides a record of all the time spent.

It also has a great advantage for me - I'm inherently untidy and things get lost. A book keeps everything together, is easily carried about and can be flicked through as I search for ideas or reflect on what I have been doing.

To this range of storage possibilities, in my mind I will now be adding my iPad. I plan to use it for quick sketches and drawings, particularly when I'm out and about. So far, with very little time available, I've tried out the little package called Paper that I mentioned in a previous post. It seems very limited in scope but I do like the way it organises and displays completed drawings - in a book-style format with 'pages' that can be turned over with a brush of the hand. As a way of storing drawings in an accessible way, it certainly seems to qualify as a sketch book.

Also, of course, now I've taken this tack, there is my long-used PC. It stores thousands of photographs I've taken - some just because I like what I see and want to give it permanence, others deliberately for a particular project. I have special files in my directory for all sorts of textile-related topics so that I can find what I want quickly and easily (at least that's the intention!)

This then has set me thinking still further. There is of course blogging - definitely a diary of what I think and do but is it an online sketchbook? It has become part of my process and  I can certainly look through my blog and review what I've done in the past.

It seems to contextualise my work and give it a presence, offering a way to receive feedback and reassurance. Perhaps, in fact, that is the special contribution of the blog post. It records thoughts and gives the work a presence in a way nothing else does.

There are lots of other thoughts on this topic buzzing around in my head just now ... I may post further later when I have more sketchbook work to show.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Glimpses of an exhibition

I realise there's been very little work output shown on my blog recently. I haven't been idle but almost no new work has been done. I haven't even had time to think much about what is to follow from here - and certainly not had time to do significant experimenting that might be interesting to show.

I have been much too busy finishing, preparing and framing my work for - Stitching A Cotswold Art in the Subscription Rooms, Stroud, Glos at the beginning of November. Further details can be found right in the thumbnail and in a post from last month.

To show something of what I'll be exhibiting, here is a selection of snippets.

Of trees ...


... of walls ...




 ... and of a (not yet finished) geology panel with heavy hand stitching.


And now back to work ... I can put it off no longer!