Janet Haigh : Her Work

Textiles: ideas, drawing, design, stitching….

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Embroidering a Child’s Drawing


Rainbow painting by Lola aged 4 years

Everyone loves children’s art – either drawings or paintings; the pictures always have such energy and capture the spirit of the thing depicted – real or imagined. So when a visitor, Nadia Lanman, came to Heart Space Studios,  to view my exhibition of  ‘Mending Mottoes’ and asked if I would be interested in a commission to stitch one of her daughter’s drawings, I accepted at once – thinking “this is a challenge”

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAI asked to see several paintings and drawings so that we could make a decision which to depict, and really to see howGEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA difficult a challenge it would be. The price was also considered at this initial point as this was a thank-you and leaving present for the nursery school that 4-year-old Lola was leaving to go onto her primary school. Nadia brought in several, some simple line drawings and some full-on paintings. It became clear that Nadia really liked the rainbow painting (at the top of the post), water-colour paint on sugar paper…so typical of all children’s art – this was going to be a real challenge! It is one thing to stitch drawings but poster paint loaded on with energy ?

When we discussed pricing the piece I advised Nadia to go and buy a frame to keep the costs down; framing is really important but can be extremely costly, so I suggested choosing an A4 size as this was roughly the scale of the drawing papers that she had shown me – and an A size frame is easy to access; I promised her I would customise the frame if necessary.

Meanwhile I set about sampling the way to achieve the full-on colour.


first colour samples on shot pink silk

The first thing to research was the background colour, I found a  yellow and pink shot silk fabric, that was about the same colour but slightly brighter than the sugar paper, this would save me having to dye the fabric – but how to get some background colour onto it first before I stitched it? i tried fabric paints but when dry it was like stitching hard leather. I needed the rainbow coloured in so I would not have to completely cover the ground with hand stitches – too time consuming, too expensive.


iron-on fabric dyes in pastel form


selecting thread colours to match paint

The next thing was to choose the threads. I had decided to stitch the whole piece in running stitches, this is the first stitch everyone ever learns to sew and it always looks both simple and innocent, so is a fitting choice for embroidering  children’s art. Also I have used it a lot in my recent work, particularly when embroidering writing. I did think at this stage that machine embroidery would have been quicker to achieve the impression of saturated colour, but I am not a happy machine stitcher and  felt that the mechanical aspect wasn’t in keeping with the subject; simple hand stitching was really the perfect technique to choose

I tried several yarns, silk and cotton and cottons and eventually chose a mixture of both, whatever would suit the paint colours.


directional stitching sample for rainbow and writing

I had photocopied the drawing and reduced the scale, to fit the frame, and to keep my fee as low as possible. I then drew onto this the direction of the paint brush, actually showing how Lola had swept the paint onto the paper, the lines would become running stitches, but first I had to sort out the message that Nadia wanted to send to the teachers on Lola’s behalf.  “thankyou for my wings love Lola xx”


cut out photocopy and writing placement for the working drawing.

I had asked Nadia to get Lola to write it on a separate sheet of paper and then I traced it into position onto the photocopy – previously I had cut out the photocopy to gauge where to put the writing – a copy of this became my working drawing…..I have my own arcane ways of getting there!


dye stick coloured ground running stitched to copy brush stroke directions

I found this stitching really interesting, it had to be kept simple but needed to show the rhythm of the painted bands. Sadly the pastel once that it had been ironed to fix it was a bit too dull – but hey ho – it helped things go smoothly and quickly. What also helped was to draw the directional lines straight onto the dyed areas with a water-soluble pen to keep a track of the flow, they can be seen on the yellow band above. The last thing to do was to stitch the message again in running stitches, then wash and stretch the work and mount it in the frame.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAfinished and stretched embroidery

I so enjoyed this relatively simple stitched commission ( in comparison to the recent Thangka) that I thought it would be a good idea to run a class and now that I have sorted out how to express the rhythms and colours of paintings I think that I can show other people how to embroider their own children’s drawings – they would make great presents for anyone in the family. And when I told Nadia how her commission had inspired me to develop a new class, she immediately signed up for it!

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Felt Foxes and Mad March Hares


needle felted foxes, the results of the first workshop by Jenny Barnett

Needle -felting appears to be the most popular form of model making in textiles if the success of the 2 recent classes by Jenny Barnett for Heart Space Studios is anything to go by. Jenny gave her first workshop last month – foxes, and this month, hares……


all the mad MarchHares at end of the workshop

I was amazed by the range of expressions and attitudes that the different people managed to make using the basic kit that Jenny brings along to get everyone started.


Jenny’s needle felting kit

It comprises just a few simple things – wool tops in assorted colours, the special barbed needles for felting,  a sponge to work on and some written instructions. Jenny also packed some love-heart sweets into the bags for her first visit to Heart Space Studios.


models waiting to inspire the makers

But most importantly to my mind, she also brings everyone an individual model to use as a personal reference – they look like sentinels or guardian angels watching over their allotted maker…the small perfectly formed creatures look on while the rolls and swatches of felt are poked and prodded into a brand new being.


a model looking on while another being is formed

Jenny makes the most realistic looking creatures of all the needle – felted wild life I have seen, her naturalistic animals come from real observation – she lives on a canal in Gloucestershire, but she also she brings a lot of different reference materials to the workshops


research material for the Hare workshop

Needle felting is very different to wet felting, this is quick, really quick…the small scale animals take shape in rough form within an hour, the basic characters  just seem to be conjured from each maker by alchemy. One minute you are looking at a table full of basic animal shapes, then the  heads and ears are modelled separately ready to be applied


and with small adjustment of the angle when placing of the head, or an ear, the tiny being looks different – it has attitude……


alert and ready


thoughtful hare with Jenny in the background

and suddenly all the animals took on their own characters….


not at all sure

and after making one successful hare the class had a chance to make more – testing their new – found knowledge.


obviously twins


where are we?

I was very amused though to find this group guarding the necessary packet of sticking plasters  – needle felting is not for the  inattentive maker.


guarding Jenny’s packet of plasters

looking on from a smart wicker basket were several other creatures


box of clothed creatures waiting for their chance to appear

I had asked Jenny to bring them again as I remembered them from her first visit to us last year. I thought that now, having seen her work so successfully with the groups, she should conduct a 2 day Master Class for Heart Space – I had this idea when she brought out a simple winged horse that had broken a dream I have had recently…I wanted to try to make my dream creature ( more of this later, possibly – I often embroider my dreams)


little winged horse

I thought that it would be an opportunity to get different types of makers to develop their own characters. starting with the felted heads and bodies then dressing them in patch- worked clothes….so Jenny is developing a new Master Class for mid September at Heart Space.

But now it was time for all the new animals to go to good homes; they traveled in style – in the pretty bags that Jenny had provided each person’s kit in.


going home in style