Janet Haigh : Her Work

Textiles: ideas, drawing, design, stitching….


Crazy Fan Class

fan cover  American Musuem

My Crazy Patchwork fan design on the cover of this season’s events catalogue at the American Museum.

I have been getting out and about recently and have been taking a workshop at the American Museum in Britain, which is situated just outside Bath. I have been asked to deliver 2 day long workshops by their education officer, Zoe Dennington (who found me via this blog). Zoe asked me to use Crazy Patchwork techniques for classes to run at the same time as the current vibrant Kaffe Fassett exhibition being held at the museum for several months.The second class is in October to make a crazy patched and beaded heart.

patchwork fabrics stash

the range of fabrics that I took for use in the workshop

Luckily I was given a batch of cotton samples of fabrics  designed by Kaffe Fassett to use in my workshop by a friend, Susan Berry ( who produces his very popular patchwork and knitting books) and they certainly livened up my Heart Space Studios fabric stash….I had designed a special project for this session, a simple design of a fan and one of the most popular motifs used in traditional of Crazy Patchworks.

My Crazy Fan design

the original crazy fan design used for the programme cover

I reasoned that if I provided patterns for the patches then things might go quickly and everyone would finish – well that was the idea! We started off by choosing the fabrics for each fan – there are 7 sections in the design that I had created for the class, which means less embroidery than my sample.

range of Fan fabrics

this range was chosen from the fabrics brought by me to the workshop

fan fabrics

subtle and softly coloured fabrics brought by a student to the class








I had also asked people to bring whatever they liked of their own materials as well. The fabrics chosen were quickly organised into many different striped bands – I explained about balance of pattern to plain fabrics and crucially for a small colour scheme, to separate a few colours from the patterned fabrics and use them as plains or solids to show up the patterns. And not to worry too much about getting the colours perfect at this point as later the coloured stitching over the seams would help with the colour co-ordination of the whole piece.

fan fabrics

vibrant fabrics for chosen for the fan design


Red white and blue – always a good clean colour combination









organising the fan sections is much easier and quicker than for usual odd shapes of crazy patches. The sections were laid over one another and then pinned and using running stitches held section by section till the fan was complete. The complete arrangement was then pressed onto the special heat activated fabric backing

started the fan

Brilliant colour for the start of stitching the fan into its finished position










Once the fan had been pressed and trimmed the next task was to  find the coloured ground to applique it onto…I find that this is quite a good way to get people to appreciate the difference that different coloured grounds can make to the overall piece.

me teaching

a rare shot of me teaching – explaining how to deal with coloured ground fabrics using a soft and subtle piece of patchwork.

Sometimes soft colours can be made bolder if placed on very dark grounds and brilliant colours more muted if placed on a toning ground. It is also a chance to reassess the colours prior to embroidering the seams which also fix the fan to the background

fan shape pressed to glue backing

the fan shape against a black ground


same fan against a brilliant blue ground – note a new patch on the left hand side to make a more balanced fan








Now to start embroidering – I had chosen to demonstrate 1 basic row of herringbone stitch and then show how to add extra stitches or I should say decorations…it is my favourite decorative embroidery stitch as it can be developed  so that it looks almost like a braid. But to begin just a couple of well spaced rows…and then the extra colours can be added.

red whit blue fan

this vibrant fan design is made even more brilliant by contrasting colours

I like to use contrasting coloured stitches on the seams – they are very obvious but then I do not think it worth doing any decorative hand embroidery if it isn’t to be noticed!

contrasting fabric fan

the brighter the contrasts the richer the decoration here the colours sing out

although up close and personal the colours are very vibrant the more colours added to each row of stitching the softer the colours will appear more subtle

Cleos fan

the addition of yellow running stitch to the bright pink herringbone stitch makes it less vibrant

when soft colours are used to not much affect then the herringbone variations allow for extra emphasis – this is why I really like this particular stitch – it gives a lot of opportunity for invention

herirngbone and added stitches

the addition of French knots and detached chain stitches enliven this row of muted herringbone

At the end of the session we put all the unfinished patchworks together on a table to assess them for further additions…. you can now see the affect that the Kaffe Fassett fabrics had on the works – but you would not think by looking at this picture of some of the group around the table that they actually liked what they are looking at !

Crazy critical assessment

Crazy critical assessment!

. Everyone faithfully promised me that they would finish the fans and send me photographed results – watch this space…….






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Embroidery as Physiotherapy

Crazy Berlin Wool Work design

‘Crazy Berlin’ one of my early commercial designs for ‘counted thread’ canvas embroidery

I have had a few problems getting to grips – literally – with hand embroidering again (not to mention eating with fully functioning knife and fork ). So in order to get back to my normal working life of designing, stitching and teaching, and not being given any specific physiotherapy for my now fully mended broken wrist, I decided to return to the very beginning of my stitching career – Canvas Work.

embroidered dog with wings

My first embroidered picture – Dog with Wings and Radiator 1971

I had lost almost all of my strength and most of my dexterity when the plaster finally came off my right wrist, and although the drawings were  OK the stitching wasn’t. The main thing about canvas work is that it is worked on an open mesh ( that has to be completely covered) so the needle can be easily inserted into the square hole instead of having to push it in  and pull it out. It is easy and repetitive move which is what I needed to get some strength back.

embroidered patchwork window

the view through my London flat’s window into a neighbour’s window -1973

So I got all my old canvas work embroideries off the walls in the house and realised that they were all pictures of things – either real things like the window above (where I could see past the plants to a large American patchwork quilt hung on the wall) or completely imagined scenes like the brown angel dog in a landscape – cruel friends mocked my early design and stitching techniques for the stream, by calling it  Dog with Radiator! But mocked or not, I had found a new and exciting way of working – hand embroidery – and one that I intuitively knew was to be a very long-lived fascination.

topiary bird with spring flowers

one of a series of seasonal canvas embroideries with leaded light window

I enjoyed the tension between trying to make things look natural but realising them within a strict structure; window frames were a perfect subject to further “contain” my scenes and formal garden design became a real passion – accessed through old gardening books and visits to some famous English Gardens. Topiary became an enduring  passion as it seems almost childish in its simplicity of form but very sophisticated in its visual impact, I find the larger specimens often intimidating – specially the animal and bird forms.

French geranium window

very formal lace curtain and geraniums window, developed from drawing while on holiday in France

I started to design many of these embroideries and my first exhibition of embroideries was called Canvas Work at The Francis Kyle Gallery in London.  Most of the pictures were sold, but I still retain enough to show my progress. In the early pieces there is an interest in the repeating patterns that can be stitched using the regular grids alongside the more  descriptive stitching in tent stitch. But eventually the random stitches asserted themselves as I became fascinated by atmospheric colour and started to blend my threads to make new colour combinations.

Cornish window embroidery

Cornish window, here the the frame has become a victim of my random stitching which distorts the canvas.

My last canvas embroidery of gardens shows how far I had strayed from the rigours of the canvas weave.

Evening Garden Embroidery

my last canvas work of gardens, an imagined rendition of a Gertrude Jekyll planting plan.

So returning to canvas work gave me a real sense of returning to my embroidery roots. I didn’t want to get involved in designing a scene, I was more interested in just getting the use of a precise stitch and a stronger grip, so I opted to make a counted thread design. I remembered seeing and photographing a tiny wool canvas work purse that belonged to a student at Heart Space Studios.

wool canvas work  purse

tiny wool counted thread embroidered purse

I set about making a small square of canvas embroidery based on Crazy Patchwork – my favourite embroidery design system at the present time. I drew a random set of shapes in waterproof ink onto a 12 holes to the inch canvas – big enough to become either a case for my glasses or mobile phone.

canvas drawing

drawing round an old glasses case for a pattern

embroidery on canvas

embroidering zig zag stitch onto the canvas












I decided on a colour range and selected stranded cotton threads and stated to stitch working from an old needlework book for all the different patterns. The patterns are lovely and have wonderful names, my favourite name is “Encroaching Gobelin” I can just imagine something out of a fairy tale, I use this stitch for blending colours but didn’t need it for this design.

embroidered canvas work

developing the coloured stripes using an old needlework book for reference

I decided to use a series of striped lines of stitches to make up the crazy patch shapes, usually counted canvas is worked in solid colour blocks – like the cushion at the head of the post.

crazt embroidered canvaswork

the work progresses – very slowly due to changing my mind  on the colour combinations

The work was extremely slow to make – it took me the better part of 2 months  to complete, mostly because at first it was very painful and tiring to keep the my hand stitching, but also because I kept changing my mind on the colours. Usually I work to a design or colour swatch that I have designed before I start , but this wasn’t really work, this was therapy!

cotton canvas work

finished canvas work – unstretched

the finished work is often mis-shapen due to the pull of the directional stitching, but this type of canvas is sized, meaning it has a weak glue in it that can be activated by dampening allowing the work to be stretched back into shape,

stretching cnavs embroidery

the dampened canvas is pinned and stretched into a square format and left to dry naturally

I had initially thought to develop a day workshop at Heart Space Studios to make a similar design, this type of embroidery is not often seen these days so it would be good to resurrect it, and the use of the striped and lively colours makes it look very zingy…but I would need to make a series of workshops to develop it – more like 6 sessions… so maybe I will reconsider this at a later date.



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Taking a Line for a Dance


Simple sample of machine embroidery by Susi Bancroft

“Taking a line for a dance” is a good way to describe what happens with free machine embroidery…the freedom with which the needle can stitch patterns, images and even writing very fast – is really fascinating to watch. First disengage the feed dog – I just love that name for the row of teeth embedded in the metal  plate below the needle….


free machine embroidery using a hoop and the sprung needle

and either using a specially sprung embroidery needle, with or without the old school embroidery hoop to keep the fabric tight, it is possible to move the fabric enabling the still needle to make lines of stitches.


first drawing by moving the paper and not the pencil


moving page animal drawing – dog or cat?

Recently at Heart Space studios, Susi Bancroft taught a group of students how to achieve this technique in just one afternoon. First she got everyone to try to write their names or draw something by moving the paper while someone else held the pencil steady…with very unsteady results…but this is how machine embroidery works. She then got everyone stitching with reference to the drawings and suddenly things started to happen – fast

The first attempts at machining were definitely stronger than the pencil drawings. Susi always gets everyone to stitch in black cotton on white calico first, to gain a strong contrasting line..


first attempt to stitch drawing and writing


writing and dog drawing

It didn’t take long before everyone was feeling a lot more confident and  really getting to grips with larger scale drawings


freely machine stitched dog portrait

One of the exercises offered was to copy a black and white drawing a drawing – with remarkable results considering no guide lines had been drawn beforehand.


copying a line drawing of a fish – a free embroidery challenge.

Susi had also brought in a book of samples of her own work and showed the students these to demonstrate what else could be achieved now they had the basics…


vermicelli linear stitching sample – Susi Bancroft


sample machined writing – Susi Bancroft












Now the colour started to be sampled, this is where all textile people get excited – endless possibilities just by changing the thread ….


playing with coloured free machine with extra outlines

and appliqued fabrics started to appear – each person had brought some form of inspirational work, either an illustrated card or photographs and drawings


working small appliqued motifs from a commercial card design

Now I know that working with the sprung embroidery or darning needle means that the hoops aren’t necessary, but Susi feels that for the first attempts everyone should adopt a belt and braces attitude, the fabric needs to be as taut at possible to get the best results. When everyone feels confident of drawing then they can remove the hoop – however most people took advantage of this restriction – this work below is already framed – it actually reads ” I am Very Happy”


circular embroidery made by keeping to frame restrictions.

and here the nuisance of not being able to manouvre the stitching past the hoops intrusive clamps has made a new design from the original card – go with the flow…..


design due to the constricting clamps – this is what sampling is all about – work with what you have got.

Some more renditions of photographs and cards start to take on a life of their own – this is why I think that copying something inspirational is a good way to start off any new technique, the worry of design is taken away and suddenly invention takes over..


copying the design in fabrics brings so much more pattern and texture

and working from lovely photographs is often a good way to get started – the fabric soon asserts itself.


photographic inspiration works for a colour gamut to get things going.

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Valentine Hearts


Stitched Paper Hearts by Susie Bancroft

The small but delightful exhibition that the Heart Space Studios staff made in the mixed media session are all framed and ready to go on the wall ….


more stitched paper hearts by Susie Bancroft

the first to arrive through the post was a box of stitched printed paper hearts from Susie Bancroft – so I set about mounting rows of  them on Japanese hand-made paper or crumpled tissue papers ready for framing


row of large printed paper hearts – Susie Bancroft

the cotton threads just going every which way – I think they look like tiny heart shaped kites…….-


minute beaded black lace heart in tin frame- Jane-Marie Mahy

the tiny hearts are somehow the most appealing, they came in all manner of materials and techniques….


hand knitted and beaded heart by Amanda Jones

I must admit that I did take a few liberties with the mounts before framing… the more impact we can give them the better chance to sell them – and this is a selling exhibition


Larger black beaded lace heart by Jane-Marie Mahy

Jane- Marie Mahy Heart Space’s display guru brought hers in already perfectly framed, as did Debbie Bird – her teeny tiny paper printed scraps look very vintage when heavily framed in black


printed scrap paper applique by Debby Bird

but for something completely different we have knitted copper wires to join paper and fabrics…with a flights of swallows scattered above a nebulous clear pill-case heart


flights of swallows by Steph Wooster

true to her discipline as a designer, Steph sent in 3 variations on her birds and hearts theme,


Steph’s second bird and heart picture

the third piece is an intricately cut applique of shredded bank notes, paper and woolen blanket stitched and knitted with copper wire…now that’s what I call mixed media.


Steph’s totally mixed media heart

the beaded paper heart by Libby Butler is at last padded and applied to a dark blue fabric ground.


padded beaded paper heart by Libby Butler

and right at the last minute this evening a lovely folksy map heart came form Kirsten Hill-Nixon…really worth the wait.


crushed paper and cut maps hand stitched applique by Kirsten Hill-Nixon

and so for the 14th February 14 heart pictures.



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Paper Cut Hearts


stitched paper chain of hearts by Susi Bancroft

In celebration of Valentin’s day the staff and tutors at Heart Space Studios got together to develop mixed media work based upon Paper Cutting. Debby Bird led the session – a chance for everyone to get to know one another better and swap information, materials and ideas. The project was to make selling exhibition of heart pictures or cards for our gift shop.


bird motif for practicing on


lace bonded onto papers

The tutors had been asked to bring in materials and equipment from their own practice, and so when these came out everyone stared to play with different things..


pre-cut papers, from scalpel to laser techniques

everyone had very different pieces of inspirational materials…


Steph Wooster’s stash of old blankets,woolen yarns, ticking and tracing papers.

the characters of the makers was apparent by the things they chose to bring….


Kirsten Hill-Nixon’s felt tweeds and maps

Each person has developed stashes of very personal things and now they had a good excuse to use them…..


Amanda Jone’s knit and crocheted bead collection

in fact even the boxes and bags the materials had been brought in were inspirational.


Decoupage cardboard box.


Sophie Bristol’s sewing box of exotic ribbons

Just as we were getting started we were visited by a camera team to record the workshop for the regional daily news programme on ITV.


Regional news cameraman filming the workshop

Sophie and I were interviewed separately about various aspects of the how Heart Space works, she was fluent and received a round of applause from the group, but I was told by the interviewer that they had lots of ‘sound bites’ from me – I think this is a polite way of saying  I didn’t exactly answer the questions.


roving close-up camera checking Debby’s work

But we were all intrigued by the roving miniature camera used to get close-ups of the techniques were using. Back to work after the excitement and after we had given 5 top tips for beginners – more of which later…..


Lisa Keating starts to cut into a butterfly motif out of a modern photographic wallpaper.

Once the filming was over everyone suddenly seemed to be energised by what they could achieve in the day, they each had to make 1 sample heart picture that would ideally lead to a few other versions when they went home, when framed all this work will make up the Valentine’s exhibition for Heart Space Studios


everywghere Libby Bultler’s beaded wallpaper heart

I was really pleased to see that Libby, who volunteers helping to generate our publicity, used the techniques I had taught at the first session of the Crazy Beading course that run on alternate Saturday mornings – really good to see how simple ideas can be adapted to new materials.


Avril Best’s wallpaper and woollen materials


Avril’s cut paper turquoise heart stitched onto Japanese washi paper

Suddenly hearts started to appear on all the work sites.


Steph Wooster’s seagull legs and heart applique

a close – up reveals a really strange use of mixed media – now who would have thought that medicine capsules could look so glamorous?


medicine capsules or new type of sequin?

a really interesting idea emerged from Kirsten, she placed hearts and figures either side of a large decorative heart all of which she had cut from maps, I liked the idea that she could make links between the hearts and the figures using the map as a route……..


maps to link hearts and people? Kirsten Hill Nixon

the simplest hearts are often very successful – these stitched, printed, miniature bunting strips are just so desirable.


choices to make for developing finished work

When the sampling session was finished everyone set their work out for viewing by everyone – several people were determined to get more work for next week – which apart from St Valentine’s day celebration is the 3rd anniversary of the opening Heart Space Studios.


some of the group assessing the finished samples – where to go next – doesn’t look too hopeful does it?

Well they all promised to send or bring work for exhibition by the end of the week – so the next post will show the results….Oh and the 5 top tips for staring to make with textiles,

1 when threading a needle 1) cut the needle end of the thread at a 45% angle

2 when threading a needle 2) lick both the end of the thread and the eye of the needle

3 use circular needles to knit garments – you only ever have to make the basic knit stitch ( not alternate with rows of purl) and there are fewer seams to stitch up.

4 use the best possible materials you can afford – always.

5 press as you go when making any garments (this is also my own favourite rule)


Left Hand Drawing

first left hand drawing

this is the first drawing with my left hand, compare quality of drawing to writing!

Practice What You Preach, is a good motto to live by: so soon after I broke my right wrist, I decided to start drawing with my left hand – as left or  weaker hand drawing is one the basic exercises that I often employ when teaching drawing to a group of nervous beginners as it levels out the drawing ability of everyone.

As you can see I decided to make linear observational drawings of the very thing that was ruling my life, the cast, sling and inert fingers of my right hand, also it would stay in position until I was finished. The first drawing took more than an hour to complete – a really long time for an A4 page of black and white line work. I used a propelling pencil, the first thing to hand, so the range of marks was restricted – but this turned out to be a useful restriction.

This first drawing has all the hallmarks of a weak drawing having been revised – I decided to make a continual line drawing, ie not taking my hands off the page as I seemed to have lost the innate sense of proportion enjoyed with my right hand, I couldn’t trust my judgement of angles and distances between the elements of the hand and arm. When I had finished the first lower drawing it looked really weak and wobbly and lost on the page, so I filled in the background of the scarf – this took a lot of time, my left hand has no strength and the shading looked scribbled instead of nuanced to describe the density of the fabric and the contours of the folds. Then I drew a line drawing of the first drawing, I was surprised that these clumsy drawings do sill look like my work…drawing is like handwriting.

second left hand drawing

my second sling line drawing

The second drawing appears simpler because I had more confidence after drawing for an hour and I used an eraser as a drawing tool – a very blunt instrument in my left hand. Still keeping the continuous line as a discipline this study suffers from overdrawing – a thing I absolutely hate in anyone’s drawing . The second firmer line that covers the first attempt is invariably clumsy and the drawing looks stilted ( see fingers); better a light wispy drawing than a second deader line. But even the writing is a bit more controlled. I also began to change the way of describing the fabrics, the dotted lines are my version of the crepe bandage.

third left hand drawing

my third drawing – sleeping terriers.

Deciding on making descriptive pencil marks rather than the continuous line drawings, the next day I embarked on drawing my dogs. I was confined to the sitting room to keep my arm still and propped above my heart to try to alleviate the bruising, and they had taken to settling down in front of the fire where they snoozed all day, although they often just got up and walked away mid drawing.  The full length sleeping dog drawing above looks exactly like my dog Daisy, but not at all like my usual drawings.

I have written frustrated comments around the page – “line easier than shading” but I was finding that shading with a softer drawing pencil meant that I had very little control of the angle of the point – it was like drawing while looking in a mirror. The lines are fuzzy with the pencil lead wearing down quickly as I worked, I was unable to manipulate a sharpener – let alone a knife. The surface is getting rubbed with my left arm as I work and looks really lifeless.When using pencils I rely on the range of different tones available from even an HB pencil – but they rely on pressure to make them.

forth terrier drawing

Daisy lying down

Reverting to the propelling pencil I attempted to make a more linear study of the dog’s fur; the way it grows is one the most interesting things to draw. I tried to add shading to the line without resorting to smudging and rubbing to get darker marks, but my left hand does not have the strength of my right to press down for a blacker thicker line. Again this drawing seems clumsy because of how I chose to make my marks I simply can’t use many of the refined marks available with my right hand. I reverted to my line drawings – they made me feel better!

line drawing terrier head

my reversion to line drawing for Boysie’s head.

Now this really started me thinking about how I relate to my drawings, they aren’t just a useful tool to free the ideas in my head – although this is their most useful service to me; they actually explain the world I see to me and to everyone else who cares to look – they are the most direct and personal extension of me. I have spent a long time (way over the 10,000 hours required to make a craft skill second nature to the maker)  developing a fluent style of drawing, almost shorthand, that enables me to both understand what I see and/or imagine. Look at my drawings and you will see who else I am – beyond the person in front of you – and they are how I want to be seen. Heck!

head of sleeping terrier

more recent left hand drawing of Boysie’s sleeping head

2 weeks on and I have started drawing the dogs again. My right hand, still in the cast, has some movement but it is too painful to use often. The drawing of the sleeping terrier above is a fair portrait of Boysie and also my line has become more descriptive. I am learning to make smaller studies, not expect too much – must remember to deal with details when teaching beginners.

Sleeping terrier

Daisy asleep on Sofa next to me. using both left and right hands

Although these drawings are still very clumsy to my mind and painfully slow to make  – they are of my scraggy terriers and friends can recognise them individually. The sleeping dogs above were both started with my right hand, I mapped out the whole area to be drawn first using my right hand, you can just see the outline. Now whether my belief in the outline made me feel more secure to use my left hand to work the details or whether using my left hand for the last month has given me more control I do not know – but these are drawings that do not look like they are made with the weaker hand.

But just so that you can see  the model that I worked from, enabling you to judge if I am back to my fluent line – here is Daisy still asleep long after I had finished the study above.

sleeping dog daisy

my dog daisy – still asleep

There are all sorts of things written about drawing with your weaker hand – you are more in touch with your inner being, using the opposite side of the brain unearths alternative visions etc. All I have to say is that it is very slow, very demoralising to begin with and completely exhausting – just like learning to draw with your strong hand!


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