Hey there! My name is Megan and I'm the sewing, pattern making girl behind Dolly Henry. This is my blog, where I share my own creative adventures and hope to meet fellow fabric enthusiasts. I also design and sell sewing patterns through my online boutique, alongside a beautiful collection of clothing and dolls. Thank you for stopping by!


Monday, 21 May 2018

Thoughts on the Creative Perspective

It's dolls, and fabric, and sewing all around here as I get ready to launch the Dolly Henry collection at the Brisbane Finders Keepers next month! It's just over a month now until I hit the road with Hazel and all the other Dolly Henry pieces and I am certain time is going faster than I need or want it to!

I won't lie, this has been a big challenge getting ready for such a big event, and I have been so appreciative of my family members who are helping me work towards my goal. I wouldn't be able to do it without them. The days are long, and there are a million things to organize, tick off and get done. It's been good to stretch my creativity - that muscle has certainly been having a work out!

When you spend day in, day out producing pieces, running long lists and ordering lots of fabric, supplies and marketing collateral it becomes quite obvious how much hard work goes into the day to day running of a creative business. It's a tough slog.

When I finally set up the stall in June, I am not sure everyone will be able to see the months of work that has gone into making it all happen. I feel like we are quite removed from process these days, and lack the ability to really contemplate the creative journey, years of practice and effort it takes to the final product we see in front of us. 

I thought this a little while ago while looking at a beautiful photo of a beautiful butterfly that was for sale at a gallery. It seems unlikely that the photographer will get the asking price for the photo (I heard some people arguing about it!) and true enough, at a glance the photo is quite like any crisp, clear image of a butterfly you will see on postcards, calendars and google searches. But if you take a moment of consideration and thought, that photo of the butterfly meant more to the photographer who took it. They had to go to that place, find a butterfly that was sitting still and capture its intricate detailing using skills they have no doubt built up over many many many hours of trial and error.

While the photo may look like a standard stock image, it takes a bit more thought to realize that that photograph would represent a moment of triumph for the person who captured it. They might have been trying for a long time to take a photo that had so much clarity. It is because we are so inundated with images on a daily basis that the eyes glaze over and fail to see the photograph for the work of art that it is. I feel like so much is like that now. 

That is why as artists and creatives, we need to take the skills we have honed so carefully and create things that are truly unique, and tell a story. We need to not only be able to produce something good, that we feel is a wonderful example of all we have achieved and reached for, but something that speaks to people and makes them feel something.

The items you make now might not take very long, and might be done with relative ease to you, but you yourself know how many years, hours and tears went into making you the creative you are today. Those skills were hard won and it can be easy to be dismissive of ourselves. To fail to tell the story properly or think that people aren't listening.

However, as our senses become more dulled to new and beautiful things, as our eyes become used to seeing quite spectacular creations every single day through our screens, and as we grow more used to being removed from the process that created the item we hold in our hands, it becomes more important than ever to tell the story behind the work. 

Only then will people understand why what you have made is more than what we initally see.
Why handmade, created, drawn, painted or photographed items have a bigger story for those who look beyond the surface.

Megan x

1 comment

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Getting Started with Hand Embroidery

I have always loved the rhythm of stitching. My Grandmother was excellent at embroidery, and one year I received an exquisitely embroidered teddy bear for Christmas. I appreciate the work in it now far more than I did as a child. Growing up, I was given a few different stitchy projects - from long stitch kits to blanket stitching some chickens onto an apron. I don't think I ever finished the long stitch designs as I was always quite impatient (I still am!) and I preferred faster crafts.

However, as an adult life is so much busier and far more hectic. I now appreciate the slow stillness of sitting down with some hand work, whether it is needle and thread or a crochet hook and some yarn. It's nice to have a portable craft. Alongside sewing I have always enjoyed sketching and so I was really excited to bring these two together in the Mouse Manor Panel.

I respect Embroidery as an artform in itself, and it truly is magnificent when done by true masters of the craft. My approach to stitching is far more relaxed, I like the pretty threads and the colours. While I find intricate embroidery utterly amazing, I am inspired by the more modern approach of colouring in with thread. There is a growing trend of throwing off traditional embroidery stitches and techniques, instead many stitchers are blending them and diversifying into new stitches or simply painting with the thread.

When I designed the Mouse Manor panel and kit, it was with this approach in mind, however, those more experienced in the art of embroidery could definitely have no end of fun with this kit. I am quite busy with all my other projects, so to have something simple to sit down and embellish is incredibly appealing to me. I concentrate on a lot of creative stuff all day, so the best way for me to unwind and still enjoy doing something sewing or craft related is to let go and work in a far more casual way.

I also believe it is important to sometimes throw off restrictions and rules when it comes to craft and just DO IT without worrying about what the experts or books say about the topic. This really encourages your creativity to flourish and without having somebody else's ideas guiding you, you can really start to discover exactly who you are as a creative. You are making in a much more intuitive and childlike way. And we all know kids can produce some pretty amazing artwork!

While all this free-spirited stitching is incredibly good for your creativity and your mind, I also understand a 'blank canvas' can be quite daunting for some people. So I have put together this little guide to getting the most from your Mouse Manor embroidery panel, along with a few links and resources you might find helpful.

Preparation of the Panel

I've designed the panel to allow at least a 1/4in seam allowance around the outside edge should you wish to incorporate your finished piece into a bag, quilt or cushion. If you are leaving your panel as artwork, then you don't need to wash it. However as shrinkage can occur with cotton, I recommend washing your panel prior to use. The fabric is 100% cotton and has been printed digitally using eco-friendly inks. You will need to use a gentle and phosphate free detergent to avoid fading. Alternatively, you can simply handwash in a bucket for the first time.

Before you begin, press out any crinkles or creases using a warm iron.

For best results, I recommend purchasing an embroidery hoop that suits the design as you will achieve a nicer finish with the fabric stretched out over the hoop as you stitch versus if you stitch without it. It can also make your work easier to handle.

Organising and Using Your Threads

The threads provided with your kit allow you ample yardage so you can stitch as much or as little as you like on your panel. You should also have thread left over should you wish to create matching embroidery on other blocks or fabric if you are using the design in a quilt.

I stitch using 3 strands. As the threads provided are 6 strand cottons, you will need to split yours in half once you have cut a length from the skein. 

Organising your threads makes life a whole lot easier, and you will also use them more frequently if you have a nice tidy box of neatly carded threads. I certainly do since I tidied up my stash! I recommend writing the thread colour number on the little plastic spool once you have wound your thread onto it, so if you need to buy more you know what colour it is.

The cardboard/plastic spools and storage boxes are available from most big craft stores.

Colouring in with Thread

Depending on your style, you may approach your panel in a few different ways. Some people like to plan out what they do and others like to be a little bit more spontaneous, making decisions as they come to each part of the design. I am spontaneous and look at each element as I come to it. 

This panel is a great way to try out traditional stitches if you are still learning, without having to commit to a big schmancy entirely stitch design. I have popped some resources I find particularly handy below.

Because the Mouse Manor panel can stand alone as a piece of fabric, you can add as much detail to it as you wish. So if you really just feel like playing around with thread and would prefer to try some intuitive stitching then this panel is an ideal canvas for your creative magic.

Here are a few little stitches I have played around with, to help get your creative juices flowing!

Adding striped textures to the solid daisy flowers is simple and easy. To start, thread your needle with 3 strands of your chosen colour and knot the end. Come up through the back of your work and create a series of simple "stripes" using long horizontal stitches across one of the petals. Once your stripes are in place, take your needle back to the base of the now-stitched petal and slide it up underneath the stitches. Pull the thread through and take the needle back down at the opposite end of the petal. Repeat for all the remaining petals. This stitch is a fun way to add detail to your flowers quickly and easily.

Knots....I really love them and French Knots are no exception. This simple knobbly little stitch is such a great way to add texture to your work. I have used them on the panel to add little flower buds onto the various foliage and to create blooms on the flower crowns of the mouse and bear. Some people find Colonial knots are more secure than French knots, so prefer to use those instead. I would have to say I have found colonial knots to be a little less prone to coming apart then the french knot too, but sometimes I like to use a mixture of both! If I am worried about my french knots, sometimes I go back and do small stitches with ordinary sewing thread to make sure they are secure.

Traditionally a French knot was worked with just one wrap of the thread, however, these days, it is usually worked with a few more. Perhaps the extra wrapping of the thread has made the french knots less secure over time? Who knows! I must admit sometimes I get a bit excited with mine and create much larger knots from simply wrapping the thread over a few more times than I should.

To colour in the cheeks and noses on the bear and mouse, and the white spots of the mushroom, I used a simple little satin stitch. As shown above with Miss Mouse's blush, I stitched the outline of her cheek before filling in the cheek, stitching in across from line to line until her cheek was completely coloured in by the threads. On the tiny components of the design, I opted not to stitch the outline and just filled in the shapes with a few close together stitches.

Back Stitches are so simple yet can be so effective to fill in the stems on plants! I've used back stitch in quite a few places on my panel, particularly to go around the outline of the cactus, bear and mushroom to help the design 'pop'. This is quick and simple stitching that adds subtle detail allowing the print to shine. Don't worry about technicalities, simple 'strokes' with your thread are an easy but effective way to add texture to the many flowers and little leaves in the design. You really are just using your thread to colour in and outline the design. 

For example, I have embellished the little cactus flowers simply by stitching horizontal lines, spaced apart across the pink part. I have given the cactus a few 'spikes' by stitching random small stitches across the green.

Resources and Tools

I believe when something is fun and without restriction, you will go a lot further than getting all stressed out and caught up on the 'perfect' details. You can go further with your embroidery and learn the art properly if you wish. The purpose of this design is to allow you to have freedom and to create something whether you are learning to stitch or want to go all the way with the details.

I've tried out new fancy stitches on this panel, as a way of learning and teaching myself new skills on a project that will have a purpose. One of these was the Cast On Stitch Rose, which seemed difficult at first but upon picking up my needle I found to be really quite simple and fun! Working the thread in this way gave me such delight that I practiced the technique on a few of the flouncy rose-like flowers in the panel.

The book I used to learn this technique is one I highly recommend. This book is like an embroidery manual and contains the instructions and step-by-step colour photographs to learn so many stitches and techniques.

If you are like me and learn best while watching someone else, then Youtube can be your best friend. I have found Mary Corbet's videos to be wonderful, and they have helped me achieve many stitches I previously struggled with. 

You might have seen the little bunny rabbit attached to my panel in some of the photos. This is a Needle Minder and I absolutely love them! They are what the name suggests - a baby sitter for your needle. They have a super strong magnet that attaches the minder to your work, allowing you to rest your needle down instantly so you will never lose it again. The magnet is so strong that I have found mine so useful for picking up dropped needles and pins, especially when my needle falls on the floor and I cannot seem to see it! Mine is from Rachel, you can see her current range here.

Thread gloss! I haven't personally used it but I know plenty of people who have and they love it. Thread gloss helps your needle glide along more smoothly and decreases the chances of knots...gotta love a reduction in knots! Anyway, I can't help sharing these super adorable thread gloss bunnies...they are lightly scented too. Don't you just love nifty sewing accessories when they are this gorgeous? Find them here.

The Mouse Manor Embroidery Kit is available here in my store,
it includes a 100% cotton fabric panel featuring my own original illustrations and design. The kit includes a rainbow of coordinating and matching DMC embroidery threads and a needle.

Alongside the kits, I also have a delicious range of Australian hand-dyed embroidery threads, which are a must have in your stash. These threads are completely unlike any other thread you have ever tried, they are super soft and come in an array of beautiful colour combinations that will make you swoon. Purchase yours here.

Finally a little bit of inspiration!

Here is what Larisa from Stitching Notes and Kellie from Sew_Mimi.K have been doing with their Mouse Manor panels!

Larisa added flowers to the windows of the house and has been doing some quite intricate stitching on her panel.  And Kellie has had a lot of fun making some beautiful stitched covered buttons and a bookmark!


I hope I have inspired you to give the Mouse Manor panel a try, and expand your embroidery skills!

Megan xx

1 comment

Sunday, 29 April 2018

On Telling Stories with Thread

The cold winter days seem to have arrived, and I have a feeling I am going to have to upgrade my wardrobe. Slippers are a permanent fixture on my feet these days, and perhaps I am a bit dramatic but I did mutter something about needing gloves while I took Henry for a walk. It will take a while for this girl from the North to acclimatize to her new surroundings!

I am enjoying my social media break so far, though it was a little bit like a new diet at first. At the start, I was riding on a wave of excitement and feeling like a child skipping school. As the weeks have gone by, it is feeling a little more strange to not be where all the action is. I do still like the freedom but somehow, these platforms have done incredibly well to create a hub on the internet where if you are NOT using social media, you feel like a tourist who has opted out of the standard tour and is freestyling it on the backroads.

I've read a few blog posts and even brought the subject into discussion with people in real life, and it seems to be something that resonates with a few of us just now. I am definitely not against social media, everything has it's place but I feel like it has very much become the center pivot of society now and it's quite dull! The other day I was walking into the supermarket to do the groceries and happened to be carrying a cup of coffee. An older man asked me randomly "Good Coffee?" before smiling and continuing on his way, his wife pushing the trolley beside him. 

I must admit, I have more incidental and meaningful conversation most of the time with people in my Grandparents generation, and it feels like it must have been easier for those in that generation to meet new people and make new friends. If I have the same interaction with someone my own age - if you can get them to look up from their phone - it's often met with a blank look, something like a grunt and I can see very clearly they don't know quite what to do. Obviously, not everyone is like this thank goodness, but a lot of people are now and it's quite sad! I wonder if the stranger danger pummelled into us from such early ages has contributed to the fact that young people find it more strange to have incidental conversation....

Anyway, this is all getting a bit too deep for a random blog post so I will move on from my soap box now!

I've been enjoying a bit more reading than usual lately, and it's quite good for settling down my mind after a busy day. I have so many things going on in my head just now, it's good to just sit quietly and absorb my thoughts in something entirely different. I tend to read lighter, fluffier things these days, as I prefer to read for enjoyment and to relax. Serious issues and heavy stuff are for the newspapers. I like to escape into an idealistic world and quirky storyline when I am reading. I purchased a copy of FLOW magazine, and I think it may become a favorite. It's a magazine focussed on creativity and artists, woven with different stories and articles about people around the world and their work. 

There was also quite a few interesting articles about creativity that I enjoyed, one such piece talking about how important it is for you to do nothing sometimes to allow your creativity to come through. Doing nothing is a bit of a rarity these days, but it is essential for the brain to rest and for new ideas to blossom. I would have to say that I was guilty of some of the habits the writer mentioned, checking into my iPad as a break time, when spending time occupied online doesn't count as "doing nothing"
Resting on the couch or your bed with nothing going on in front of you, or going for a walk is much better for your brain cogs to churn out new ideas. It's funny isn't?

I've transitioned into a new phase of my photography since we moved. Every time we have moved, I have had to change the way I do things. Once, I used to take photos of my products in front of a white wall and then the house we moved to was a spectacular collection of rainbow rooms - which we repainted as soon as we were able. For quite awhile, I had to use photo boards and backdrops. I wanted that bright white clean look at that point in time. 

These days, I am opting for a more realistic, down to earth sort of style. I feel like I can finally use the camera to make the ordinary look beautiful. This style also reflects where I am currently in my creative journey - I am trying a more relaxed approach, craft has been a therapy and a constant in a period of massive change. There has been a shift in how I make things, I am always reminding myself to focus on creating one or two wonderful things rather than churning out a lot of so-so things. It helps me to be more mindful of what I am doing and to only make when I truly feel inspired.

In everything I make and do, I seek to enrich my own life, and the lives of others, and I am a big believer (now, not always!) in slowing down and enjoying the process. Taking images that are a bit more raw and real captures some of this. The dolls snuggled into the pillows on my furniture. The kits I pack at the dining table, which is nearly 100-years old and has been in the family since it's creation. The Henry dog looking up at me and thinking "I wish you would take me for a walk!" 

All of these facets contribute to each detail I stitch, draw and design. There really is a thought and a memory caught up in every piece of the things I make, and I really do seek to tell stories with thread.

Megan xx


Thursday, 26 April 2018

Making Hazel Dolls

Hazel has been continuing her plan for world domination this week! As she whispered her secret plans in my ear, I set about creating some more little Hazel Deer so that she can be one step closer to her goal.

Three seemed like a good number to make together and my sister very kindly stepped in to help me stuff the little Hazel arms and legs while I focused on stitching Hazel's rosey cheeks and flirty lashes. 

I went for three very different but very darling looks, and after a couple of days and many hours of work, Hazel has three new sisters to join her at the Brisbane Finders Keepers market in June.

I used my Hazel Deer Doll pattern and some of the gorgeous tassel trim from the Dolly Henry shop to create these gorgeous dolls. I also have been dying to work with this fabric so I incorporated it into Fig's outfit!

Would you like a more formal introduction?

This is Bella. She has a sweet disposition and absolutely loves ice-skating! It's her favorite thing to do besides shopping for her couture wardrobe. Bella has won quite a few skating championships, and having conquered the ice-skating world, is now working on her ballet moves.

Bright, and bubbly, Fig loves old-fashioned picnics with jam sandwiches and tinned sardines. Fig reads lots and lots of Enid Blyton and is rumored to be starting her own "secret seven" society! (could this be a cover for Hazel's world domination plans??) 

Finally,  meet Piper. Piper lives in a beautiful white weatherboard cottage near the beach and makes necklaces from the shells she gathers on the sandy shoreline. Piper is well known for always having a pot of hot tea on the stove and her delicious ginger cake.

Things are going along quite well here just now, though there are a few nudie dolls that are still waiting for some attire! I had better get cracking on those because the weather has become quite chilly and I don't want them catching cold. I'm already layering up - every year I want to do Me Made May and it's rolling around again! Unfortunately, I don't have the time to commit to it (again!) this year but I will do my best to slip something in here and there if I can. I was layered up in a jumper and a dress I made out of a beautiful floral the other day, so I took a casual self-portrait in attempt to at least salute Me Made May from afar, even if I can't participate as fully as I would like!

If you would like to purchase a Hazel Doll you will be able to find them on my stall at the Brisbane Finders Keepers in June. Alternatively, I have published Hazel as a pattern on my website, with both the PDF and Paper versions available. There are kits coming soon too!

Megan xx

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