Tuesday, 5 January 2016


I’m not one for making New Year resolutions but, at this time of year, I like to take a look back at the previous twelve months and forward to the coming year.

A quick glance at my blog for 2015 (a merge 14 posts) might suggest that little happened and that I spent most of my time mourning my absent mojo but this is not totally accurate. It is true that I ran out of steam where Japanese embroidery is concerned – or probably more accurately where Sake Boxes is concerned. There has been some stitching in my life. I have attended some classes and workshops,.I have even taught An Introduction to Japanese Bead Embroidery – twice. I also enrolled in a few online classes, one I participated in but the others I have added to my stash.

Looking back on the year, I would say it has been a good one, even if I have spent less time stitching than I would have liked. About three years ago I joined the then newly formed book club at work and this has rekindled my love of reading, an occupation not conducive to embroidery. Before joining the book club, I read mostly Historical Novels and these remain a favourite genre. Book club has introduced me to books I would never have considered but find I enjoy and, for most of the books we have read, there has been a sequel or an other title by the same other that I have wanted to read. My reading list just keeps growing!

© Carol-Anne Conway
Dragonfly Scissor Case - An Introduction to Japanese Bead Embroidery

But the biggest drain on my stitching time has been the Harley. While we have not had the hottest or sunniest summer on record, we have had a lot of fine weekends and, when weather permits, all J wants to do is go out on the Harley. We have had some lovely days out and a glorious weekend in the Lake District when the sun did shine, contrary to the weather forecast. J is hoping for more trips out on his beloved Harley this year and even a short biking holiday.

J playing pee-po at Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick

So, looking ahead to 2016, I have a dilemma; there are so many things I want to be doing! I have a real yen to resume my Japanese embroidery. I’ve been thinking about Sake Boxes a lot lately; why I have stalled with it and how to overcome the obstacle. I have two projects for the Embroiderers’ Guild to work on; one required soon (argh!) and one for mid-April. I really want to do some more bead embroidery and I have a particular project nagging at me. And I have a whole list of other embroidery projects I would like to do. All I have to do is figure out how I can do my stitching on the back of a motor bike while listen to a talking book!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

the many people I spoke to

I finished "Signs for Lost Children" today. In the acknowledgements, Sarah Moss wrote
"Most of what I know about late nineteenth-century Japan began with the study day at the Ashmolean Museum held in November 2012 to mark the opening of the "Threads of Silk and Gold" exhibition of Meiji-era textiles. Dr Clare Pollard, the curator of Japanese art at the Ashmolean, spent hours sharing her expertise and did me the great favour of commenting on a full draft. …"
Not only did I attend that study day, I demonstrated Japanese embroidery while my dear friend Jane delivered a lecture about the stitches and techniques of Japanese embroidery. It is entirely possible that Ms Moss was one of the many people I spoke to that day, perhaps I even answered some of her questions about Japanese embroidery.

It's a small world!

Happy Stitching

a memory stirs within

We have a book club at work and through that I have read some very enjoyable novels, the latest of which was "Bodies of Light" by Sarah Moss.

"Bodies of light" tells the tale of Ally and her battle to gain her mother’s affection and approval while striving to become one of the first female doctors in England. I enjoyed this book so much that I immediately started to read the sequel "Signs for Lost Children". This book continues the story of Ally and her new husband Tom Cavendish. It would have been enough for me to follow the progress of Ally, Doctor Moberley-Cavendish, but, as she plunges into the institutional politics of mental health, Tom travels to Japan to build lighthouses. I found the chapters that explore Tom’s experiences in late 19th century Japan totally captivating. I was easily able to imagine him in Kyoto as the descriptions of the streets and building so clearly matched my own memories of when I was there.

Tom is appointed to procure Japanese antiquities and artefacts during his stay in Japan and this quest takes him to the textile producers of Kyoto. The passages about his visits to the weavers, dyers, and embroiderers are all too brief and tantalizing but still ridiculously thrilling for someone interested in Japanese textiles. But this book had one more, exquisite surprise for me.

In the chapter entitled "hortus conclusus" Tom is taken to an exhibition in one of Kyoto’s Palaces. At first Tom thinks there is nothing different from the dozen such things he has acquired for his patron.
"And then he sees the cranes, first as five white shapes glowing like moons in the dim and filtered daylight. He approaches and finds himself before some kind of painting or drawing of five long-legged birds wading under overhanging wisterias. …"
A memory stirs within me of standing before a screen, a scene depicting five long legged birds wading under overhanging wisterias …
"He has seen flowers like that, dripping the full height of the trees in a mountain forest, and he has seen cranes bowing and dipping, their white wings raised like the arms of the dancer about to begin. …"
I have seen flowers like that, cranes like that, not real flowers nor real cranes but their image …
"The five cranes are sociable, like a Japanese family preening and teasing in the bath. One is drawn up to its full height to peer down at the others busy at their toilette, and another leans in, neck outstretched so that the black markings on its silver plumage draw Tom’s gaze across the darkness at the picture’s centre and towards the arched breasts and glossy wings of its companions. Behind them, the wisteria blossoms fall like streams of water and it’s not paint, he realises, but silk, the filament of each feather drawn in stitches smaller than a mouse’s hair."
By now (1.12 am in the morning) I was so convinced that I had seen this very panel at the "Threads of Silk and Gold" exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum that I had to fetch my copy of the book of the same name and flick through its pages until on page 116 I found the image I was looking for, "Cranes, wisteria and cycads".

"Cranes, wisteria and cycads"
© The Ashmolean Museum

"Cranes, wisteria and cycads", detail
© The Ashmolean Museum

As this exhibition was in a museum in my home town, I was privileged to visit it many times and to explore the embroideries through my own eyes and those of my knowledgeable friends. It was a delight to me to see it again through the eyes or Tom Cavendish or, perhaps more realistically, through the eyes of Sarah Moss. From her biography, I discovered that Sarah Moss studied in Oxford. It is not beyond the realms of my imagination that on a return visit to Oxford she visited the "Threads of Silk and Gold" exhibition. Perhaps we stood side by side, mesmerised by the beauty of the silk and the skill of the stitchers. Certainly her writing has transported me back to that exhibition and to my trip to Japan in the following spring – memories I am happy to revisit any day and a journey I would gladly make again.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A Murder Mystery Weekend

Case History

Amy Mitten first came to my attention when she entered, and won, A Mirror to my Art in 2012. Her entry, The Mermaid Mirror, seemed innocent enough but my instinct told me that this was someone worth keeping an eye. Over the next couple of years Ms Mitten's name came up from time to time and it was becoming apparent that more and more women were falling under her influence. I began to collect together evidence of Ms Mitten’s activities which can, and will, be used later. These 'Keepsakes' seemed as innocent and harmless as the Mermaid Needlework Treasures but further investigation of Ms Mitten's business, Fibres to Dye For, revealed a shady side to her nature. To find out more, I had to find a way to meet the mysterious Ms Mitten.

© Carol-Anne Conway

For several years I have been closely monitoring a similar organisation, Thistle Threads. I have been posing as one of the cult's loyal followers who call themselves 'Casketeers'. Over time, I have earned the trust of other Casketeers and now have infiltrated their secret network on NING where I am able to monitor their communications. It was through this network that I discovered Ms Mitten was widening her net and ensnaring more unsuspecting victims with her 'Keepsakes'.

Although NING is an effective tool for gathering information, I still needed to get closer to Ms Mitten. I hooked up with a local chapter of Casketeers, called "The Sampler Guild". Although not a Sampler myself, my activities on NING have convinced them that my interests are sufficiently aligned with their own to give me an in to their circle. Originally, they agreed to 'casual' meet-ups to satisfy our unquenchable thirst for antique embroideries. Later they invited me to join them at an embroidery workshop and eventually I hit pay dirt when they asked if I would be interested in attending a training camp lead by none other than Amy Mitten, herself.

The event took several months to organise but eventually everything fell into place and last weekend I travelled to a secret location in deepest darkest Oxfordshire for my rendezvous with Ms Mitten. On my journey to the training camp I tried not to let the beautiful English countryside distract me from my mission but little did I know how dark the weekend would turn despite the bright autumn sunshine.

© Carol-Anne Conway

The project for this training camp was called 'Ten'. Was it purely coincidence that training began at 10 am on the tenth day of the tenth month? I noticed several of the ladies began taking notes; pretending to do the same, I made some notes on Ms Mitten.

As the class progressed it became apparent to me just how cleverly Ms Mitten's sting was constructed; the detailing was meticulous. I could tell that 'M' had researched her subject thoroughly and new exactly how to draw her victims in. Later that day I arranged to spend some time alone with 'M' by volunteering to chauffer her to the restaurant and back. By feigning interest in her 'story' I was able to interrogate her about her modus operandi. After I had returned 'M' to her lodgings I made some notes on what I had learned.

Despite the mysterious death, 'Ten' proved popular and Ms Mitten repeated it several times; each time there was another mysterious death. Now that I was aware of the dangers, I wondered if it was wise for me to return to the training camp the next day but I had a strong desire to get to the bottom of this case. My worst fears were realised later that day when I found myself staring at the body of a woman slumped across a sampler stained blood red! The curse of Amy Mitten had struck again!


Case unsolved!

A great deal more investigating is required and I shall, at a future date, look in depth at all of the clues gathered at the training camp. One thing is becoming evident; although apparently working alone, there are several more women operating similar schemes. The advent of the internet has afforded them the opportunity to ensnare their unsuspecting victims, indeed it seems that the victims themselves are unwittingly drawing in like-minded people. They all warrant serious investigation but my department is seriously under-resourced; I fear it may take more than one life-time to complete my mission. For now, I will continue to gather evidence of their activities and hope that one day I will have more time to dedicate to my investigations.


All people and events are entirely real; no names have been changed to protect the innocent. The facts have been seriously distorted. Any suggestion that Amy Mitten or her company, Threads to Dye For, are involved in nefarious activities is a blatant lie made up by the author; they are not the views of any one else. The defamation of Amy’s nature is scandalously libellous. I whole heartedly apologise to Amy for this feable attempt to parody her own, beautifully crafted 'Ten' and can only hope that she can forgive me!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Long time, no post

Recently, my group leader at work asked if I have given up blogging. I said, “no, but I’ve not had much to blog about, because I’ve not done much stitching lately”. It is true that since April my mojo has been mostly absent but I have been doing some stitching and I do have some things I could write about, including a couple of classes.

My last few blogs were mostly about boxes so let’s continue on that theme. Last year I stitched the Silky Glow Sampler as a group project with some members of the Embroiderers’ Guild, Oxford Branch. When my friend Michiko saw it, she asked what I intended to do with it. I had no plans so Michiko suggested that it would make a nice box lid. Michiko makes beautiful boxes so I ceased the opportunity to request a box making lesson with her.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Michiko is so obliging that she not only agreed to help me make a box, she sourced all of the materials and pre-cut everything so that during the lessons all I had to do was construct the box*. My lessons were conducted as “evening classes” during our week only residential Japanese Embroidery course in March.

© Carol-Anne Conway

The box is made of a very stiff board. The inside is lined with paper and the outside is covered in fabric (linen). All of the components are glued. Because we had limited time each evening and because we needed to do things before the glue dried, we had to work quickly. I did not take a single photograph during the lessons (and, stupidly, I did not take any notes either) so I only have pictures of the finished box.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Actually, this is not the box that I made, there was a small problem with it so Michiko took it home to adjust, which turned out to be more of a reconstruction than a simple adjustment. Michiko made a whole new inside and returned the box to me at our next Japanese Embroidery course in April. This box was designed by Michiko to hold reels of silk and I use it to hold the silks for my current JE project.

© Carol-Anne Conway

But Michiko did not want to waste the inside tray that I had made during our classes so she removed it very carefully … and put it into another box for me.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I am using this one to hold supplies for my "evening" project so now whenever I am stitching I am reminded of my wonderfully talented and generous friend, Michiko. Thank you, so much, Michiko for all the work you put into preparing for the lesson and during the lesson, and thank you for my two beautiful boxes.

Happy Stitching

*to say "all I had to do …" seriously understates the amount of work involved in constructing the box!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Happy Tenth Anniversary

Monday 14 February, 2005. I have been looking forward to this day since Wednesday, 8th September 2004. Now it has arrived I am feeling sick from a mixture of excitement and trepidation but I still have no idea how much affect this day is going to have on my life.

I am at a hotel in Bournemouth with complete strangers. I met ‘the strangers’ at dinner last night and again at breakfast this morning. They are very friendly and welcoming but they talk about things I don’t yet know about and use words I don’t yet understand. I think that everyone knows everyone else except me – that is not entirely true, there are two other ‘new girls’. I miss my (future) husband and feel very home sick. I think that I have made a mistake coming here. I don’t think I am up to the task ahead. I think I am going to make a fool of myself. But I am here now and this is something I really, really, want to do. I am about to take my first class in Japanese Embroidery.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

When the class began those concerns were soon forgotten, not because I was feeling any more confident but because I simply did not have time to feel nervous or inadequate; there is so much to learn just to get going with Japanese embroidery. We ‘new girls’ were each assigned a mentor to guide us through the framing up process. Our tutor that week was also my mentor. Poor Jenny, I think I drove her mad with my incessant questions but she bore it with patience and good humour.

In order to keep up with the syllabus Ruth, Maggie and I (the ‘new girls’) were assigned homework at the end of each class. Ruth was staying at a guest house with her husband and took her homework to do there. After dinner Maggie and I would return to the class room and put in many hours to complete our homework sometimes working long after everyone else had retired for the day. The beautiful Maggie is a beautiful stitcher, I was in awe of her work right from the beginning.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

By the end of that week I had learnt so much and some new and precious friendships had begun. Since then Japanese embroidery has become my passion. When I enrolled for my first class, I had not thought beyond that. I certainly had not envisaged that one day I would be aiming to go to Atlanta to do my Phase X. At that time I had not heard of Japanese bead embroidery (or even bead embroidery for that matter). Once I knew about it, I knew I wanted to learn it and as soon as a tutor qualified in the UK I enrolled for her first class. That was the beginning of a new adventure for my dear friend Sue and me but we never imagined that it would lead us to the JEC in Atlanta for Phase V and that we ourselves would qualify as Japanese Bead embroidery tutors.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

At first, I only attended the spring class in Bournemouth once a year. Gradually I started going to shows to demonstrate JE and I think it was then that I realised how my confidence had grown since that shaky start.

When the lovely Denise and equally lovely Jane began classes in Garstang, whenever I could I joined their class. It has been a privilege to watch that group grow under Denise and Jane’s gentle tutoring. I was honoured to celebrate their 5 year anniversary with them in October last year. And there I have made more new friends. I travelled with a group of them to Japan in 2013 for a fantastic holiday. Something else I never imagined I would do.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Although I did not begin blogging because of Japanese embroidery, the majority of my posts have been about JE or beading. When I started blogging I searched the internet to see if anyone else was blogging about JE. At the time the only other person I found was Susan of Plays with needles. Over the years we have become good friends and I am very much looking forward to meeting Susan in Atlanta later this year.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Unfortunately there have been some sad points in this adventure. In the past couple of years we have said good bye to three friends. Pat Hooper, a tutor I barely got to know but whose embroidery and knowledge made a lasting impression on me. Jenny Orchard, a beautiful stitcher and gentle soul. And my dear, dear friend Sue. Sue was the first person to befriend me and the one who encouraged me to help at exhibitions and to join the group in Garstang. Sue was the one who would not let me stich at home on my own and made my join in. I miss her so much.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Sad times apart, the last ten years have been the happiest of my life. That is in no small part down to Japanese embroidery and the friends I have made through it. Both have become so much part of my life that I cannot image a life without them now. And it all began one evening in September 2004 when Margaret Lewis, my sensei, gave a talk at the Oxford Branch of the Embroiderers Guild. When I walked into Iffley village hall that evening and saw Margaret’s work, I thought they were the most beautiful embroideries I had ever seen. I was fascinated as I listened to her talk about the silks and the techniques involved. And as I watched her twist threads from the flat silk, I knew this was something I had to learn.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

To Margaret and all of the other tutors who have patiently guided me, and to all my other JE friends, thank you for all that you have taught me, thank you for your support and encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Stitching.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

And Still Speaking of Boxes

For the past two and a half years I have been doing an online course, Cabinet of Curiosities Parts I and II by Thistle Threads. The course is as much a history lesson as an embroidery course. Part I focuses on the cabinet and provides the fundamental information needed to design, embroider and cover a wooden cabinet to make a replica of a 17th century casket. Part II focuses on raised embroidery (stumpwork). I have completed Part I, or rather I have read the history lessons of Part I, and am two thirds through Part II. The embroidery for the casket is a massive undertaking and I have decided not to make a start on it at least until I have completed Phase X of my Japanese embroidery and possibly not until I retire. There are some ‘small’ projects in Phase I and I hope to do some of those before I retire but have not started those yet. Part II has instructions for a raised work mirror which would be a good way to practice some of the techniques before I make a start on my cabinet but I’m not sure if I that I will do that. Beautiful as it is, I think I would rather invest the time in doing my cabinet.

Last November a group of ‘casketeers’ went on a Cabinet Tour of the east coast of America. I was not able to join them (I am saving my pennies and my holiday to go to Atlanta in October). One of the lessons in Part I is how to cover the wooden cabinet in fabric. Participants of the tour were given a practical lesson on how to cover the wooden trinket box that comes in the supplies kit for Part I. Grace, a UK based casketeer who did go on the tour very kindly reproduced this practical lesson for a few other UK casketeers including me! That is how I spent last Saturday.

All of the wooden carcases have been embossed with the Cabinet of Curiosities logo and Thistle threads so even in 300 years they will be easily recognisable as 21 century reproductions even though they will be antiques in their own right by then!

© Carol-Anne Conway

Here is the naked box waiting to be covered.

© Carol-Anne Conway

All services are covered. The outside is covered with paper to which the embroidery will be applied.

© Carol-Anne Conway

The inside is lined with coral silk and a stamped paper, made especially for this course is applied to the rim of the box. Marbled paper is applied to the inside of the lid.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I have met up with fellow casketeers a few times already so it was great to get together with them again. This get together took place in Marjan's home. Marjan is a prolific stitcher and her walls are adorned with an impressive display of her samplers. She also has a newly acquired glass cabinet which she is rapidly filling with Thistle Threads and Amy Mitten projects. As well as enjoying the company and perusing Marjan's work, I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop, thank you Grace for leading it, and was pleased to actually complete the task in a day.

Now all I have to do is the embroidery so I apply that to my trinket box!

Happy Stitching.