Category Archives: hand embroidery


I’m spending as much time admiring this, and running my fingers over it, as i am stitching 🙂  I’ve been trying new angles with the camera, hoping it shows the texture and dimension, as i wish you could see and touch it in person! first rondelle done first rondelle done c I see a few areas where i will add more of the bars too–using photographs gives a more objective view!

These will be the last photos for awhile of this section, because it’s going to have to be covered and protected while i work the other areas. The detached buttonhole bars are strong for their size, but i fear catching them on something as i move the cloth around. I’ve hooked fingernails, pins and needles, needle keeps and assorted other strange things before on “flatter” work, so this could be a nightmare snare if left free!


unparalyzed: great news

arlee barr_how The Light Bends_2015



I have been paralyzed since i entered this and two other pieces for the “Materialities” exhibit, and/or catalogue. I’ve done only a wee bit of stitching in the last month, a very wee bit, as i can’t seem to focus and do anything. I received an email today from the SDA executive director and am very very pleased to say that “How the Light Bends” was accepted for the 2015 Surface Design Association “Materialities: Contemporary Textile Arts” catalogue.

I have to admit reading the first email that i had not been accepted into the exhibition was a bit disappointing, in fact honestly,  i was devastated until i opened this particular email…and the catalogue will be around longer than the exhibit 🙂 🙂 🙂

Again, this piece is 21×26, ecoprinted and rusted cottons, with fabric manipulation and every embroidery stitch worked by hand.


Receiving this news was wonderful, and maybe the needles will come out again soon.


wrangling part duex

Still checking out possibilities.


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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in hand embroidery, Jam Days, media experiments


thread wrangling

I’ve been wanting to incorporate a few new stitches into my vocabulary, so decided that pekinese stitch looks wonderful in a heavier weight thread. Here in a Perle #10, a plain old cotton crochet thread, it creates a wonderful textural line. There’s a notable difference in the look when you let the loop go under, rather than over, extending the use and effect a bit more. Combining two colours makes it more interesting as well.

pekinese stitch C


I also discovered this one, the “overtwist”, via Mary Corbett‘s link to a video by Alison Cole about a 17thC embroidered piece (hers is a SLOW loading site, have patience!). FABulous texture, especially piled up and done with variegated thread, but i’m not sure where it will go  on the piece i am sampling for, or if i will even use it at this time. I hesitate to call it an actual stitch, as it’s more thread manipulation than conventional embroidery stitch. Left is the perle #10, which compacted down and created a heavier mossy effect.The right is a variegated silk perle (#12?), which didn’t want to go all the way down but created some interesting extensions and cones!

overtwist 1 C

overtwist 1b C

overtwist depths C

I found i had to push the twists down to the fabric surface, hold the snarl with my thumb and gently pull the twisted thread through–you can’t pull hard, or all of it or it just goes right through really snarly! The thread also stayed twisted and i was able to get at least 4 “pulls” before i had to retwist. This “stitch” also uses a LOT of thread–the white and ecru started as 24″ lengths, “covering” a half inch with lots of space between actually, 4 “stitches” for each colour! The silk variegated was about 18″ and extends about an inch or so with 4 pass throughs also. Obviously then the original 17th C work must have been horrendously expensive at the time–no running to the store to replenish a run-out-of thread! I think too i will fuse a bit of something to the back to prevent the stitches from pulling through from the front and back, as they are very loose on the surface.

Learn something new every day and you know you’re not dead!


Stitch Combo Extreme workshop, wrap-up

Intense workshop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My brain is both exhilarated and exhausted upon completion of the three-day workshop taught by Karin Millson and myself. My own machine skills have been tightened and added to, my hand embroidery takes on new meaning, knowledge has been imparted to other artists to carry their take on the subjects, and we are both thrilled that it went so well, for us *and* the participants. Thank you SO much for the faith and trust you put in us, the attentive listening and sharp questioning, and the joy you all brought to the table. You are/were a wonderful, talented, explorative and amazing bunch of artists to work with and to teach!!!!!!!!!!


Where do i start? Our venue was in North Glenmore Park at the Canoe Club, with spectacular views of the park and right over the reservoir, a huge many-windowed room with plenty of elbow and table space. The eleven of us were able to spread out comfortably on large tables, with a separate paint area easily accessible to the kitchen for clean ups.


empty room SCE workshop

not so empty

The only problem we had was that it was COLD, and the light was bad, even with all the windows, because it was grey and miserable outside! We made up for it *inside* though 🙂

room with a view

The focus of this dual workshop was technique, not “project”, so Karin started the weekend for us by teaching us how to “abuse” our machines! If you’ve ever really read your machine’s manual, you’ll note there is never anywhere noted that you can circumvent certain controls, especially on the bobbin case. In fact, a lot of times if you tell your tuner-upper/repair guy what you’ve been doing with your machine other than that tidy hem stitch with perfectly matched tensions top and bottom, they will tell you that voids the warranty!!! (Don’t tell them that, tell them a grandchild *may* have touched it 😉 )

k worktable

Now, long time readers may remember that i have hated my machine, not so affectionately named Lalage (not mine above, that’s Karin’s trusty Bernina), because she is bluntly put, a Bad machine, lazy, unresponsive, clunky and bitchy. She’s not a top of the line expensive too-many-features Prima Dona, but a reputable “home use” brand with a few extra features (more than half of which i don’t really use or care about). I’ve fought with her for almost 5 years, wanted to throw her out the window, replace her and have barely touched her in the last year and a bit. Really, we’ve been rarely on even semi-polite speaking terms!

Under Karin’s expert guidance, i may come to like her, if not get to the point of loving or admiring her. (The machine i mean, not Karin, whom i have the utmost respect and admiration!)  I must admit too that i have not a lot of photos for this section of the workshop, as i was learning as well! Karin taught the first day and a half, i the second half and third day, with all of us doing a bit of overlap on the machine as people added to fabric to react to. (And Karin learned from me during my teaching portion so it worked well for everyone 🙂 )

I won’t go into detail about how we adjusted tensions, as that’s Karin’s purview and she wants to teach this again–as students we have to remember that this is part of a teacher’s lesson plan and earnings, so don’t share “How’s” after a workshop, show your results! Another point to mention is that it is Bad Form to enter something you have made in a workshop in an exhibition–this is simply “not done” if you wish to be respected as an artist who while you have taken the technique lesson, doesn’t mean you have mastered it yet. Make it your own FIRST. Whatever you made in that workshop is the direct influence and under guidance of the teacher–*you* are not an artist yet with the technique! Not being nasty here, just truthful. Also, workshops don’t get listed on CV’s: anyone can take a workshop, (anyone can teach them too!), it does not mean you are good at it, or that it will automatically give you any more cachet, particularly/even if it’s a “name” teacher. I’ve seem examples of this and i shudder—sometimes i want to ask “Really? Then what did you learn, because i don’t see skill or development resulting!” Workshops are about individuality, adding to your skills, not copying the Teach, or taking for granted what you have learned. I say that even as a teacher, and certainly i say it as a student.

Ahem, i digress.

So, i have always been afraid to mess with the tension on my machine(s). Yes, i knew you could do it, but without actual physical-right-there help, i didn’t want to mess up things and not be able to take it back to regular settings. What if i broke something? What if i snarled things so badly the machine never worked “properly” again? What if i let all the smoke out and couldn’t get it back in???? Karin knew i was afraid of doing this–she’s heard me bitch about it often- but under her expert guidance and compassionate listening to my whining, encouraged me to try. So i did. HA! I spit now on my fear!

my machine sampling

my machine sampling b

my machine sampling c

my machine sampling d

my machine sampling e

These above are samplings of the technique, nothing exotic or awe inspiring (except for those last two!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), but very very very Useful. You can’t see what i see in them 🙂

Already i’ve had a epiphany and since i have been wanting to get back to a bit of machine work, i know how and where it will work for me. Plans afoot! Future work! Part of my issue with hand embroidery THOUGH I LOVE IT DEARLY< TREASURE IT< AM PROUD OF IT< I WANT TO MARRY IT, is the time issue. My goal in learning from Karin was learning to use my machine in a more organic fashion, emulating but not imitating the freeness, gestural qualities and texture that hand embroidery has. And it IS possible. More practice is needed, but i know what, how and why now–the machined can be the base i work from. As purist as i may be sometimes, it’s a tool that does speed things up. Adding machine work back to my arsenal is not a compromise, but another level of communication and depth.


Part of the combined experience in this workshop was doing some wet work on cloth, creating designs that the students could then respond to, by machine and by hand, and by combining them as well.


paint2Nothing like a bunch of grown women playing “Vroom-vroom” on a table!

I think i converted a few to hand embroidery as being as (or more, bias speaking here, chortle) important, as technique and translation/expression of intent in textile work. I showed them samples, demonstrated some basic stitches and away we went. I had the pleasure of teaching a few who had minimal to no hand embroidery skills, and then admiring stitching done by more experienced participants. First i had them try the stitches on a piece.

paint and stitch k

paint and stitch wk

paint and stitch wp

paint and stitch c


Since part of this part of the workshop was about “dimension” with the hand technique, i had them do a series of circles, that when done, would be attached together.

paint and stitch d

paint and stitch circles v

At the end of the class, we had a wide range of looks and interpretations, using the painted cloth, and hand and machine embroidery.

the gamut

circle a

circle c

circle d

circle j

circle v

circle wk

circle wp

circles vn

circles k

(Note: though all photos are taken myself hence the copyright, not all is *my* work, but no names attached as though i had permission to share the results, i will not name students for privacy reasons.)

From the feedback we got at the end while everyone showed their samples, it was a resounding success, speaking both as teacher and as student!!!!!!!!!!!!! I look forward to seeing more work from these students, and from myself 🙂




I missed the first day of spring due to the workshop this weekend (there is a post coming about that, a long one!), and due to the fact that it sure as hell didn’t look or act like spring!

I had agreed to a mini”Challenge” on FB to post March 21st, and missed that, but i promise i have started it.

b start

Maybe by the time it’s done, spring WILL be here.

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Posted by on March 23, 2015 in hand embroidery


it goes

action shot

The softest things of the world
Override the hardest things of the world.
That which has no substance
Enters into that which has no openings.
From this I know the benefits of unattached actions,
The teaching without words,
The benefits of actions without attachment
Are rarely matched in the world.

Chapter 43 Tao Te Ching