Book review: Willing Hands by Betsy Morgan

I’ve had my eye on this wonderful book by Betsy Morgan called ‘Willing Hands’ ever since it was published in autumn 2019, so it was bound to end up on my Christmas wishlist! Fortunately, the ‘Christmas elf’ knew that this one had to be top of the list of books that would be under the tree. So, I thought I’d do a book review here…

Betsy Morgan has been creating very imaginative sewing sets (‘etuis’) for many years – but for most of those years, her designs have only been available to the public if you attended one of her workshops, as the designs are quite intricate, and it helped to be taught by Betsy herself so that you knew exactly how to put these together. As she lives in the USA, that meant that many people couldn’t get to meet her. In 2019, she retired from teaching workshops, and then she agreed to release some of her designs in book form. This book is the result – it’s got great instructions and photos, and it’s produced by the people who publish Inspirations magazine – the amazing Australian embroidery magazine. So, a collaboration by those two is bound to be good, isn’t it?!

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

It’s a book of 168 pages, filled with hundreds of pictures, both of the charts for the designs (all counted embroidery), and inspirational photos of the finished pieces. There’s also a section at the back about how to assemble each of the pieces in the book. I think it’s a good idea to have the assembly separate from the embroidery instructions themselves.

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

Here are the eight projects that the book covers:

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

All wonderful projects, and very different from each other. You could make all of these, and not get bored with either the designs themselves, or the stitches used (there’s far more than just cross stitch in this book!), or the construction methods.

There are pages and pages of stitch diagrams – you just can’t go wrong if you follow these instructions. If you’re used to Inspirations magazine’s quality, then you’ll be familiar with this layout style, with its very clear photos and good explanatory text.

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

I was particularly interested to see how the Toy Chest Etui was explained, as I have already stitched this one, several years ago. The materials pack that I had then came with lots of handouts of stitch charts, assembly instructions, etc. – and I was unsure as to how successfully that could be explained, without Betsy being there, in book format!!

But reading through all the instructions for this project, I thought that it was covered really well.

There was one small niggle, though. Some of the charts in the book (not just for this project, but it was very noticeable with this one) were printed very small in the book. I remember when I was actually stitching this horse motif, for instance – that the chart I had in my pack had been almost A4 size. The one in the book is printed barely a quarter of a page – almost life-size, in fact (and the design is to be stitched on 32 count evenweave, so that’s SMALL!). Now, that doesn’t have to be a problem, but I think that the publishers maybe had their eye on keeping down the total number of pages in the book to a particular number, more than they had ease of use for the reader at the forefront of their minds! So, squashing up some charts to fill pages by printing them smallish, or splitting charts over several pages to keep every page looking ‘full’ is the end result, and I do think it detracts somewhat from the book, in the end. I’d love to know what Betsy thinks!

Having said that though, it’s still not a big enough ‘downer’ to stop anyone from buying this book – the projects in it are so beautiful, a small chart is not a problem really, if you’re determined to make something  🙂   You could always enlarge the design on a photocopier, if necessary.

Here’s the Toy Chest Etui that I made, with all its wonderful contents. Some of the contents were added as ‘extras’ after the main etui was designed, so the hobby horse, paint box and jack-in-the-box aren’t in the book:

Toy chest etui Betsy Morgan
This is the etui that I love most in the book – I’ve just sent off for the Gloriana silks to make this:

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

It opens out like a little book, and is held closed with a  strap that has a cord pull on it with a thimble purse on the end. The etui contains scissors with a fob and tassel, a thread winder, and a needle book- so cute!

If you love making etui sets, and like 3D projects in particular, this book would be a wonderful addition to your stitching library.

Author: Betsy Morgan

Title: Willing Hands: the counted thread embroidery of Betsy Morgan

Publisher: Inspirations Studios Corporation Pty Ltd

http://www.inspirationsstudios.com

ISBN: 978 0 6482873 6 0

Price: 24.50 GBP in the UK (in Spring 2020)

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What I got for Christmas this year…..

In our house, so that we get what we’d really like, we tend to make use of ‘Christmas elves’, who get a note in November with a nice list of ‘possibles’ – sometimes with details of exactly where to get the actual product from, in case the elf isn’t exactly sure!

So, this year, I was delighted, but not altogether surprised, to get some really lovely things for Christmas…

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

This is a book that I’ve been wanting to own since it came out in the autumn – it’s ‘Willing Hands’, by Betsy Morgan. Betsy’s book has 8 projects in, all created in her really artistic style, using cross stitch and other stitches to make lovely etuis. I’ll be doing a proper book review of this one soon.

Lorna Bateman Embroidered Country Gardens embroidery book

This is another book that I’ve had my eye on for a few months – this pretty ‘Embroidered Country Gardens’ book by Lorna Bateman has lots of projects in her delicate surface embroidery style, to make sewing accessories. I can never have too many sewing accessories!! I’ve got the scissor case ready to make up in my stash, but these all co-ordinate with it, so it’s really tempting to get on with it and make them all. It’s obviously a very different embroidery style from Betsy Morgan’s book, but I love the differences between the styles. I’ll be doing a review of this book soon, too.

St Petersburg Fantasy set watercolour paints

This is something new for me – watercolour paints!! I’ve been using coloured pencils ever since Johanna Basford’s colouring books became popular a few years ago, but watercolours always seemed a bit scary. But I’ve decided that I’ll have a go, as these two brands seem really good, and the colours are just gorgeous – very tempting to try. The large palette is by a Russian company called St Petersburg. The brand is White Nights, and this set is their Fantasy Set, as it has lots of bright shades, and very few browns (I don’t like brown!). I’ve also got 12 extra colours added to the spaces that are usually left in the centre of the box, so that I can have more purples than are usually included (you can never have too many purples!).

Metallic paints set

This small tin is very special. These are 12 metallic mica paints from KJDesignByKaren on Etsy- these are really lovely colours, and I can’t wait to try them out. Many people use these for calligraphy, but I’m going to use them for details in my Johanna Basford colouring books.

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Book review: Inspirations magazine index for the first 100 issues

For those of you who collect the wonderful Australian embroidery  magazine ‘Inspirations’ – either with a subscription, or just the occasional issue – this recent release from the publishers for an index for the first 100 issues will come as a welcome addition to your collection.

Inspirations magazine index world's most beautiful embroidery

At first, I was a bit put out that the index costs almost £20 – as much as a ‘proper’ embroidery book! And this is ‘just’ an index….except it isn’t – it’s far more than that, really.

I remember around 1999, Inspirations brought out their first index, which was for the first 24 issues – I think I’m right in thinking that it was just a free supplement to an issue of the magazine itself:

Inspirations magazine index world's most beautiful embroidery

It was pretty, in their usual style, but only had 16 pages, and was really just one list of projects and stitch diagrams, all listed together, with the occasional illustration to jazz it up.

Inspirations magazine index world's most beautiful embroidery

This new index for 100 issues is something else entirely! For one thing, it’s beautiful – really nicely produced, with lots of clear photos of all the projects, and magazine covers. 148 pages altogether!

And it covers a lot of subject areas, so you can use the index for looking up things in all kinds of ways:

Inspirations magazine index world's most beautiful embroidery

In the main part of the index, the cover for each issue is shown, as a visual reminder, and then all the projects for that issue are listed, with  a quick note about what the main technique being used is, and which page it is on in the magazine.

Just browsing through this main section made me realise how many lovely projects there are that I’d still like to stitch!

Inspirations magazine index world's most beautiful embroidery

There is a good section at the back, of projects by type (so, if you wanted to make something for babies, or a doorstop, for instance, you could track down a suitable project here). There’s also an index of designers, so if you want to see all the projects, for instance, that Carolyn Pearce has done for the magazine over the years, then see this section to look them up.

Inspirations magazine index world's most beautiful embroidery

There’s also a technique index, and it’s amazing to see how many types of embroidery have been featured over the years. There’s even an index of the step-by-step how to’s for particular stitches, which is really useful.

One section which is very useful is where they list the errata (there’s bound to be some in a magazine with this much detail!). This section includes reprints of charts, or parts of designs if necessary, or just a description if it’s a little thing that needs correcting.

If you don’t own the full set of back issues, you might think that this index is of no use to you….however, although many of the back issues are now sold out – especially the early ones, which, when they pop up on Ebay occasionally, sell for a lot of money – many designs are available as digital downloads from the website now, so having the actual back issue is becoming less and less of a problem.

The publishers plan to gradually release most of the projects from the 100 issues as digital downloads, sold separately (rather than a whole magazine’s worth!). Many are already available on their website, but if you look one up in this index and then find it isn’t available yet as a download, contact them, as they say they could probably fast-track the one you want to make it available  🙂

Inspirations magazine index world's most beautiful embroidery

Originally published in late 2018, this index sold out really quickly – it’s been reprinted, and is back in stock now (April 2019). Available from their website HERE.

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This is my Christmas haul….some fantastic embroidery books!

Every year at Christmas, I give the ‘Christmas Elf’ (also known as a ‘husband’) some ideas of what I’d like for Christmas. This system is foolproof – this way, I always get things that I love (and so does he – there’s a female Christmas Elf who collects ideas of what he’d like, too!).

This year, I had a bumper crop of gorgeous books:

Embroidery and patchwork books

This first one is one that I knew had to be on my Christmas list as soon as I saw it first advertised, back around September.

Passion for Needlework

It’s the new Inspirations book ‘A Passion for Needlework 2: Factoria VII’. This features twelve designs from a variety of designers who also create designs for the Australian ‘Inspirations’ magazine. The book is the second in what is now looking to be a series of volumes, fortunately – this is stitching eye candy at its best. The book is very well produced, the photography is wonderful, and I’m tempted to start on one or two projects right away! This is one of my favourites from the book, which I am itching to stitch:

Embroidered etui set

And these gorgeous little stumpwork pots are calling to be stitched too:

Stumpwork floral pots

One thing that I wasn’t very keen on with this book was the settings that the photography had been done in – a converted bacon factory in Australia, which is now a home, but it’s been decorated in the, admittedly, popular ‘industrial’ decorating style. But I hate that! The actual embroidery, in many of the images, seems a bit ‘lost’. Like this one:

Passion for Needlework

I don’t like to have to play ‘hunt the embroidery’ when I’m looking at a picture in an embroidery book……

This next book has been on my Amazon wishlist for a couple of years, but never got beyond that:

Stumpwork embroidery book

I think that’s because although the embroidery is great, I’m not personally very keen to stitch things all in white, so the cover was putting me off. But on Pinterest a few weeks ago I saw an image taken from one of the projects inside the book, and then I ‘upgraded’ the book from ‘maybe one day’ to ‘yes, now!!’

It’s got some gorgeous stumpwork projects in it – really creative stuff. This complements Jane Nicholas’s style very well (Jane is Australian, and has a lovely neat stumpwork embroidery style, doing mainly botanical studies). I’m looking forward to trying some of these projects, too. This is my favourite so far:

Stumpwork embroidery book

The book has a long section at the beginning covering all sorts of ‘how to’s’ – very good detail.

Stumpwork padding

I also received a couple of patchwork books, as I have a huge interest in making American Civil War-style mini quilts at the moment, using reproduction fabrics from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Patchwork

This book is by two really good quilt designers – Jo Morton and Kim Diehl. They both showcase designs based on the same blocks throughout this book, showing how a designer can be influenced in very different ways, when using the same basic elements as another designer.

This is my favourite design from this book. It’s one of Jo’s:

Jo Morton quilt

The other quilting book is a very new one:

Patchwork and quilting book

This book uses a novel idea – the author took one ‘layer cake’ of fabrics (that is, a pack of 40 co-ordinating fabrics, each ten inches square), to see how many projects she could make out of it (plus the backing fabric).

These are all quick little projects, so I want to get a few of these done soon, such as this one:

Patchwork mug mat

I’m hoping to share more of my attempts at patchwork and quilting on this blog during 2019.

Finally, I also got the latest Johanna Basford colouring book ‘World of Flowers’. If you haven’t seen this, you’re from another planet! I want to work on this one on the right hand side first:

World of Flowers

So, as long as I get some spare time (Ha!! What’s that?!), I should have some good things to be working on during the coming year  🙂

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