Cos I’m Free – To Do What I Want – Any Old Time…

free machine embroidering
Free like a butterfly, free like a bee, it’s nice to be free, it’s nice to be free…


I have discovered something new this week. And I am very excited to discover it. Anyone who has been in the vague vicinity of me in the past week will know what I’m talking about here, and hence the irritating reference to the Soup Dragon’s song which has been buzzing around my head for days but I have broken FREE from the constraints of normal run-of-the-mill sewing. Yes I have. And yes you may very well say – but Anne – you have only been sewing for about a year, how can you be rule breaking already? Well I am… I’ve dropped my dogs and gone skipping off into the wonderful world of ‘Free Machine Embroidery’.

And what a wonderful world it is too. I like to sew yes? You may have picked that up if you have been paying attention to this blog thus far, and I also like to draw. Put them together and what have you got? You’ve got Free Machine Embroidery that’s what. Or Free Motion Embroidery or whatever you would like to call it. But basically it means you drop your feed dogs on your sewing machine and hoop up some material and off you go – using the needle like a pencil and drawing stuff on material.

Now I have to say a big shout out thank you to the lovely Poppy Treffry here for her wonderful book ‘Free Machine Embroidery – Learning to Draw with your Sewing Machine‘ now I was mightily excited to read that title I can tell you as the concept of drawing with thread just totally floats my boat. I bought the book, I soaked up the contents, and I faffed about for days, on the pretence that I couldn’t possibly start actually trying this out until I had the right embroidery hoops that were on order from Amazon. Then they arrived and I faffed about some more. Then I realised that I was scared… So excited was I to discover such a fun sounding thing that I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do it, or I would hate it, or I would break my lovely machine.

Now there is only one way to deal with fear isn’t there? You gotta just dive in. So dive in I did.

First of all, as recommended by Poppy, I did some scribbling…

free machine scribbling
And I had quite a few snarl ups and my poor Janome made some quite concerning growling noises… and I played with my tension and I learned that you have to keep an eye on what is happening with the flappy bits of material around your hoop, or you end up sewing all your material together in a big mess on the back…
And believe me when I say, you do NOT want to unpick this stuff! So then I tried having a play with some applique pieces as in the main photo above. And nothing went too horribly wrong… So I tried making a couple of birthday cards for my friends whose birthdays are coming up this weekend.


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My good friend Mandy really likes owls, and it so happens that I have some owl fabric left over from a dress I made for my daughter last year. So I thought for a start, I would try a ‘cheat’ applique and see if I could draw around the owl shape. I even added some eyelashes to the girl owl… clever huh?

The Happy Birthday bit is very wobbly indeed. Maybe a little more wobbly than could strictly be classed as ‘charming’ but hey – it is my first attempt – and I know Mandy is very forgiving and won’t mind me practicing on her card, I am sure she will be greatly honoured to have the very first Free Machine Embroidered masterpiece off of the production line!

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Then I made a card for my friend Rachel, who is super dooper amazing at making cakes. So I thought a cupcake would be appropriate. And my writing is slightly less wobbly… I made a bit of a mistake with the cupcake case… sssshhh don’t tell anyone but there is actually two layers of cupcake case as the first one went wrong as I sewed it on before the cake layer… ooops. Not to worry, you can easily patch over the top. I was quite pleased with my daring change of stitch type to zig-zag to make the top of the case.  Shame I didn’t think of that to start with, then I wouldn’t have had to unpick the straight line I did originally…. 🙂

brownie applique
My next project is a notebook cover for my daughter’s brownie badge book. She is always trying to steal my notebooks… that girl is very organised for a 9 year old and has notebooks galore for all her cunning plans. Now she wants one for plotting which brownie badge she is going to go for next.
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So I have been inspired by the lovely Josie Day over at Sew for Soul and used her brilliant tutorial to create a notebook cover for a cheapo notebook from Wilco’s. This time, following Josie’s advice I have dispensed with my restrictive embroidery hoops and just used some interlining on the back to avoid too many puckers and just went for it free style! Much easier.And not too shabby for a first attempt, even if I do say so myself.Might be brave enough to attempt some thank-you teacher notebooks for my children’s brilliant teachers next.

It’s quite funny, because before discovering this technique, I was already doing similar stuff, as on my son’s applique pirate curtain and my peg bag and a few cards I made for folks at Easter and for mother’s day… but I didn’t realise it was an actual ‘thing’. I was just feeling a bit renegade and using my sewing machine to sew on applique and blast through card and pivoting like mad because I didn’t realise you could drop the feed dogs and be free!
easter card

Life before free machine embroidery

So big thanks to Josie and Poppy and Google and Amazon for helping me realise this was a thing. I have not stopped grinning and humming happily to myself since I started. And hopefully with a bit more practice – who knows what I can draw?



Restoration – How Hard Can It Be?

Furniture Restoration Book

So, during my time researching new careers I hit upon Furniture Restoration.


It doesn’t require a 3 year degree – tick
It doesn’t cost 9 grand a year to study it – tick
It doesn’t involve working with computers – tick
I really love working with wood – tick
I love old furniture – tick
Maybe I’ll get to use a lathe – tick tick tick…
So I signed myself up on a London Met University short course in Furniture Restoration. (Cass Short Courses) I bought myself a book about furniture restoration and I bought myself some projects to work on during my course.
I became somewhat of an ebay addict in the process… discovering I have quite a penchant for Japanese Meiji Period lacquered and parquetry mini cabinets and jewellery boxes and music boxes.
Furniture for Restoration

I have read quite a lot of my book now, and I am half way through my 10 week course and I have learned a lot. Although I have also learnt how much there is to know and how little I currently know. The gap between where I am now and where I would need to be to do Furniture Restoration professionally is wide and deep!

On day one of our course I discovered that our teacher has been doing this for 6 years and prior to that was a cabinet maker for many many years, and he is still learning.

I’m starting to realise there is no quick road to travel from computer boffin to career changing hands on fulfilling work. But I am having a lot of fun learning about restoring beautiful old pieces of furniture. I’m very much enjoying immersing myself in a woodworking studio for 3 hours every Wednesday night and working with tools and wood rather than computers and bits of paper.

I come home each night with my hands blackened and sore and I am building up an impressive collection of cuts and bruises too. Last week I managed to hit my thumb with a claw hammer instead of the leather punch I was aiming for to punch out a small circle from some copper sheet. I was trying to look nonchalant – as if it didn’t really hurt like buggery but it was tricky to pull off when I noticed I was dripping blood everywhere…

My favourite piece is this little Japanese Parquetry mini cabinet that I bought on ebay for £60 – probably far too much to pay for something that was pretty damaged and not terribly fashionable at the moment. But I love it. It had a door hanging off its hinges, and is missing a side handle and a back piece of it’s bottom trim, and it had a big split up the back. I have now cut and planed it a new back piece, and patched up the split up the back and have waxed and polished it up… is still a work in progress but is definitely getting better.

I’m also creating a new door for this bigger box that has it’s door missing and a few pieces of parquetry tiles missing and a stuck draw with a missing handle.


My third project is an old tea caddy that needs a new side handle and cleaning up and reglueing here and there…


It’s still got its original velvet lining and foil lining in the tea holders and it has it’s original glass mixing bowl – it’s a little bit chipped but all in all not bad for it’s age.

I’ll keep you posted as to my progress. Next step is to try and carry into London one of 6 dining chairs I bought on Ebay for repair and re-upholstering… quite how I am going to carry one all the way to Commercial Road to my evening class I am not too sure… but if I can do it… I am sure I will learn a lot.

And so, in answer to the title of this blog… how hard can it be?

The answer my friends is… quite hard indeed. But very enjoyable and rewarding.

From Small Acorns Grow…

tree appliqueI had a bee in my bonnet recently about making a picture of a tree out of applique felt. It came from watching an episode of ‘The Great Interior Design Challenge’ where I thought I spied a picture of a tree made from fabric in the background on a wall somewhere for about 2 seconds, then it was gone. But it got me thinking. And above us you can see the result. Which now hangs on the wall in our living room.
When I first started, I wasn’t sure whether or not to put the coloured leaves on it, as you can see below, it looked pretty nice without. But a little bare. And I have this other idea where I would like to make some cushion covers with primary colour blobs on which I will make into birds with long legs… more on that later… but I thought it would be nice to tie in the colours in the cushions with those on the wall on this picture, so I sewed on some felt coloured leaves too.
tree applique in progess
My other dilemma was that I was going to add a couple of birds to the branch on the right – you see there is a space I left there specially. But in the end it looked a bit twee (or should that be tweet?)
My 3rd dilemma was that I bought some copper, gold and silver embroidery thread to put some texture on the trunk of the tree, and I’m still not entirely sure if it adds or detracts from the overall look. If I made another one I’m not sure if I would add that on or not? Also, I’m not entirely happy with the top stitched line across the top of the grass, I was hoping it might fray a bit more down to the line and look really grassy, but in reality – it just looks a bit strange seeing the stitching there. Although, I am not too sure how I would attach the grass otherwise?
I have to say, it was super fiddly to cut out and to sew, and I learned a lot. We used insulation board to staple it to – as that would be really light weight – however, getting a nice straight edge on it was tricky and I am not entirely sure we succeeded on that, as you can see, the top edge of the final piece is pretty wobbly!
I have to tell you also that my lovely hubbie made the frame for me. Which is very impressive! Am just wondering now, if I ought to have stained it and waxed it first to make it a bit darker and smoother and more finished… I may still yet…

frame for my tree picture

I’m not too sure why I wanted to create a massive tree picture, I think I have always had a lot of respect for trees and I think they are really beautiful. I’ve not told you yet that I am also a published poet – have I?
When I was in sixth year at school, I wrote and illustrated a poem about trees for our sixth year school magazine. I recently found it in a box of childhood memorabilia that my parents recently dumped on me after a big clear out. It’s a very dangerous box to have in the house as it tends to suck away time – I just go for a little rummage in there and before I know it, a few hours have passed… it holds so many treasures from my childhood and teenage years, like all my concert tickets, and notes from friends passed around at school.
Tree Poem
One day I might find a way of making use of some of the goodies in there – in some kind of display or montage, if I ever find the time…


Finding Your Cheese

You Need to Believe In YourselfWhen I was first made redundant in April my husband bought me this card. It made me smile and it made me think. I still have it up in my kitchen to remind myself that anything is possible.

You get that a lot when you get made redundant – people telling you to look on it as a positive thing not a negative thing, which is great. But also makes you feel quite panic stricken with terror and pressure to really make this count. Don’t fritter away all your redundancy payment – do something meaningful with it. Go do what you’ve always wanted to do.

Good advice right? But what do I want to do?

Do I want to go find another job doing what I was doing before? Sure I loved my job, but was it more because of the people I worked with and the fantastic work that the organisation did that I really believed in? Or was it the satisfaction of actually doing the job? Is it what I really really want to do?

I have done quite a lot of soul searching over the past few months and I think that there are certainly other things I would enjoy doing more, but they are not all that practical.

I have a large mortgage, a ridiculously ‘characterful’ house that is a little like the Money Pit* only on a less grand scale, and two small children whose feet keep growing and whose needs keep changing. This week my daughter wants to take up the flute… gah… have you seen the price of flutes?

So I need to be practical right?

*Oh by the way here is one of my favourite scenes from The Money Pit – for nostalgia! And to remind us that things can ALWAYS be worse:

So… where was I? Oh yes…so I made a long list of ideal careers way back when redundancy was just a concept in December – and I didn’t really think it would happen to me. But it was good research. I found that 90% of my dream careers I am too late for.

I’d love to do something really useful, be an expert in something that people really need. Or something creative that is fun. Like interior design, garden design, art restoration or become an optician, a midwife or a sonographer… the list was long… but gradually I whittled it down and realised that without going back to study full time at great expense. None of these ideas were really going anywhere.

So what now…? Keep fingers crossed I would get another job in the shake up and not be made redundant… well that didn’t work out so good did it?

So at this point my ever supportive husband gave me a book which really changed my outlook.

It’s written by Dr Spencer Johnson and is called: Who Moved My Cheese?

It’s a very short book but if you want the easy option you can watch the video her


The basic premise is that “change happens – they keep moving the cheese!” The ‘cheese’ in my case being my lovely comfortable job that I had been doing for the past 12 years. Which I thought would always be there for me, even when the signs were everywhere that it was not really a given that I would have a job after the re-shuffle, I still thought deep down, that it would always be there.
In the story there are 4 characters, two mice called Sniff and Scurry and two little people called Hem and Haw.
The mice don’t overthink things and when the cheese is gone they go too and look for new cheese in the big scary maze of the unknown. Hem and Haw however react rather differently – with their big human brains they angst and regret and overthink and worry themselves into paralysis.
I won’t spoil the whole thing for you but the basic message is good, the basic message is: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Go enjoy change – savor the adventure!
Now nobody really likes change, so enjoying it is quite a stretch, but I love the idea of asking yourself what you would do if you weren’t afraid?
So for the moment, I am venturing forth into the maze to look for my new cheese. I am lucky enough to have a little bit of breathing space financially to think about what I would like to do and to learn some new skills and work on my hobbies and see if they take me anywhere and if not, then I have a broad range of digital skills that I can fall back on. Maybe I can even do both. In the modern world we live in, it is becoming more and more possible to work flexibly and fit in project work around your other commitments, be it children or hobbies or both!
So I wish good luck to anyone out there in a similar boat to me – let’s try not to be scared – get out there into the maze of life and look for some new cheese to make you happy. When you stop being afraid you feel good! So be kind to yourself, try to keep that rising sense of financial panic in check, push it down back into it’s jar and screw the lid on tight and go out and enjoy the adventure while you can.
I wonder where it will take us?