The ‘Betty’ Series by Michelle Holmes

Betty breathes in the sea air

Betty breathes in the sea air

I came across this beautiful series of black-thread embroidery by Michelle Holmes, a crafter based in the UK. Michelle has created a character Betty, who lives in the countryside, by the sea, enjoys gardening and crafts, and keeps chickens.


I began posting Betty illustrations a couple of years ago now. They are glimpses of Bett’s day to day ponderings to herself, random little or big thoughts in the moments between stuff.

Betty feeds the chickens

Betty feeds the chickens

The small, everyday details of her life are chronicled in individual pieces of embroidery which Michelle sells on Folksy.

There’s been an incredible wave of individuals returning to crafts to unwind, develop a new hobby and stimulate their creativity. I love discovering new ideas and artists like this.

Michelle’s work reminds me of the rural style of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, or Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea (two of the greatest books ever written about enjoying the simple pleasures of life).

Betty is like an imaginary friend. I draw inspiration for her from my grandma Doris, a childhood neighbour named Millicent and a character from a book named Lady Isabella Bird. Themes for Betty seem to be inspired by my week, but can also be quite random.

Betty feeds the chickens

Betty feeds the chickens

The pieces are also vintage-inspired (just take a look at that kitchen!) and there’s a real early 20th century feel about them, which transports you to a different time and place.



Betty contemplates the day ahead whilst making a cup of tea

Betty looks forward to a stove top coffee

Betty looks forward to a stove top coffee

There’s something wonderful and meditative about documenting the simple, everyday activities like making a cup of tea, or gardening, that I really love. I’m completely mesmerised.

A good crop of Rhubarb, enough to make a pie for friends.

A good crop of rhubarb, enough to make a pie for friends

Michelle prepares landscapes and seascapes inspired by her travels to the British coast, and around Europe.

Betty spots something interesting on the horizon

Betty spots something interesting on the horizon

She also works with natural fabrics – jute, hemp, organic cotton – and in monochrome, adding to the elegant simplicity of her pieces. She adds details using hand-stitching, beading and applique.


From Michelle’s studio

has a quiet moment

Betty has a quiet moment

Her work has been exhibited at various private collections, and the public collections at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax and the Platt Hall Museum of Costume and Textiles, in Manchester. She has exhibited work in the UK, Germany and the USA.

Betty catches up with friends

Betty catches up with friends

In 1994, she won the Best New Exhibitor Prize at the prestigious Chelsea Craft Fair and the Carroll Foundation Award.

Betty sets off on a journey as the clouds pass

Betty sets off on a journey as the clouds pass

Her work is featured in numerous publications and she has designed a range of cards and a magazine cover for Neiman Marcus, together with bed linen for Habitat. She also has a selection of work permanently on show at The Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool and Soma in Bristol.

Betty finds a sheltered spot....and was very pleased to see blue sky today

Betty finds a sheltered spot….and was very pleased to see blue sky today

A new pinafore in the making

A pinafore in the making



Betty prepares for the arrival of Bees

Betty prepares for the arrival of bees


Needle Book Tutorial

I’ve really been enjoying getting back to my craftwork. I used to sew and knit quite often but lost touch with it, and it’s good to pick up my old craft kits again!

One of the first things I needed to make was a proper needle book, to store all my embroidery and normal hand sewing needles, as well as the thimbles, threaders and random small pieces of string which could be used to patch up a small piece of fabric.

IMG_8182-2I found a few tutorials, but none that were exactly as I wanted them, so I decided to just sketch out my own ideas.

I’ve had this sketchbook for about two years, and this is the first thing I’ve actually made from it. One day I hope to get to all my other ideas!

I began by laying out all my scrap fabric on the table. I’ve collected a lot from my travels and from kind strangers on Etsy who enable my habit indulge my pleas of “can you put all your pretty fabric in a bag and mail it to me please, they’re sooooo beautiful but I don’t have the space for a thousand fat quarters!”


I bought a sewing kit from Ikea, but didn’t like the zippered box it came in, and I wanted to have separate storage for my different materials. My brother’s girlfriend got me this beautiful wooden box with the leaf carving, which I use for my threads, buttons, chalk, safety pins and pencils. Much more convenient! The smaller one houses my giant collection of embroidery threads.


I wanted it to be quite a large needle book, so it could also take pins if I didn’t want to make a separate pin cushion. So here’s the tutorial!



As you can see, it folds down the middle and has two inner pages as well as a felt inner cover. I saw a nice tutorial which made the most use of the space inside, so I wanted to do something similar. I changed my idea midway through the project, and didn’t sew a separate strip for the inside cover.

You’ll need three strips of felt measuring 30cm by 20(ish)cm (I used three different colours for these), and four strips for the pages (you can either use two colours like I did, or just one).

I wanted contrasting colour in the pages too, so got two different lighter blues. By adding a second strip of felt to the pages, on either side, I made sure that none of the needles or pins would go through the felt to the other side of the page, so they would all be secure and stay in place.

I started by cutting the black felt for the inside cover, and laying that on top of the fabric for the outside cover.  I wanted to use scrap fabric for the cover, so chose a pretty print pattern I picked up in Zanzibar. The scrap piece fit the size I needed perfectly, which was handy! Since it’s a print, I didn’t need to embellish the cover, but if you want to, do it before sewing the felt inside cover to the fabric. You’d think this was obvious, but I would show you some of my early projects from years ago which would prove otherwise…

I used this black felt as a template to trace the pattern for the other two pages, rather than using a ruler since this was soft felt. If your felt is also soft and pliable, you’ll need to trim them down, since the inner pages will stick out when the book is closed.


I wanted to add inside pockets to the cover, rather than another strip as per the sketch (I am nothing if not impulsive) so I could store the thimbles, threaders and spare thread. I cut these from pieces of the contrasting felt strips for the inside, stitched these on with a running stitch in a contrasting colour, then stitched the black felt to the fabric cover. If you want to add anything to the inner cover, be sure to do it now before you stitch it to the outer cover!

Adding a chalk line down each page helps you eyeball where they’ll sit and where your spine needs to be.


Then I sewed the two cover pages together, and secured it with a blanket stitch in a contrasting thread. You can definitely tell I’m relearning how to hand sew!


I cheated here, I have to admit. I didn’t want to sew four strips of felt to the inner pages because by this point it was getting late, and I was binge-watching Season 2 of ‘Daredevil’ and it was getting intriguing, so I used fabric glue to sew these smaller strips to the pages. I was planning on a simple running stitch to all three layers.

I purposely wanted different colours so they didn’t match, because I liked the colourful look the book would have. Each page had a darker blue front and a turquoise back, so every time you turn the page you see a different colour. Once the strips are glued in place, leave them to dry for a bit – mine needed about ten minutes in total.

When you have both pages ready, lay the entire book out as you would want it, with the outside cover on your table. Pin the bottom page to the cover, and the top page to the bottom.

IMG_8129The spine is a simple backstitch down the middle, securing all three pages together. You could first sew the two inner pages together and then sew it to the cover, but I found this method a lot easier. A special embroidery needle for felt comes in very handy at this point! They’re shorter than most needles, but much thicker and with a larger eye so you can use six-strand embroidery threads – as I did for this entire project – without having to kill yourself threading it properly!

Once everything is sewn together, fold the book in half and you’ll see that the inner pages stick out a little, owing to the bulk of the extra strips of felt inside. I just used a ruler and chalk to measure a straight line down each page, and cut off the excess felt. You could also eyeball it, as I tend to do. This project began with quite specific measurements, but when you’re working with layers of thick fabric, sometimes it’s easier to just go by sight and feel rather than a ruler.


I wanted to be able to see the eye of each needle, so arranged them in two rows on each page, tips facing the inside (thereby minimising the risk of stabbing myself). The contrast of the darker background of the felt pages helps to identify which needle you’d like to use.



And that’s it! Took me about an hour and a half, including frequent red wine-fuelled breaks and chunks of gaping and re-watching fight sequences in ‘Daredevil’. The book now houses all my dozens of needles, as well as the bits and bobs I might need for a sewing project. I even have a pair of embroidery scissors stashed in one of the inside pockets!

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you made a needle book, and if so how? Would you make this project? What would you change about it? Let me know 🙂





World Recycle Week and H&M

There’s a lot being said about fast fashion and the negative impact of our big clothing brands. With the Fashion Revolution also making headlines this year, H&M’s World Recycle Week comes at an exciting time.

The idea is for people to take in their used and old clothes, accessories, shoes and fabrics to their nearest H&M store, for recycling instead of throwing it away. (The fact that people would throw away clothes rather than donate or recycle is in itself still shocking. Surely there’s enough information available about the impact of all of this waste? But that’s possibly a post for another time.)

The idea is to prevent the huge amount of waste the fashion industry generates. Almost all our clothing, footwear, etc can be recycled into something new, rather than going to a landfill as much of it does.

Recycling just one t shirt saves 2,700 litres of water (the carbon footprint of producing a new one).

Watch this video to see what H&M plans to do with it:

I decided to try out this idea at my local H&M store – all of them are participating, which is great. The timing couldn’t be better for me, since I’m going through a huge spring clean, and also need a few work clothes.

For every bag of clothes you take in, the Hungarian branch gives you a 500 forint (roughly 1.5 Euros) discount voucher.

I have to add here that I haven’t bought new clothes in at least a year and a half. It just so happens that my beliefs in being a conscious consumer align well with my hatred of going into various shops, trying everything on in a small and badly-lit room, and lugging it around a mall. I would much rather pick something out online (in my PJs) or at most, while meandering around a nice vintage or second-hand shop.

So this in itself was an adventure, but an exciting one since it’s not a traditional shopping trip.

Do some preliminary digging into H&M’s ethos and you’ll definitely notice some red flags. We’ve all seen their ad campaigns for their Conscious Collection, and know they try to use organic cotton where possible. This is several steps ahead of many other cheaper brands out there, of course.

Their latest Sustainability Report shows a mixed bag of impact and results. The growth rates of their sustainable cotton use (out of their total cotton use), and the share of sustainably sourced materials (out of all their materials) has shown a strong rate of increase from 2011 and 2012, respectively. However, the rates themselves, when compared with the goal of 100%, is too weak for their impact to be significant enough in terms of their overall carbon footprint.

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report


Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report


H&M’s carbon emissions for 2015 however, when compared to the previous year, show an impressive drop of 56% – and this compares to a tiny fall of 4% in 2014, and increases the two years before.

There’s a push for external certification of these credentials – all of H&M’s denim products are now scored well by Jeanologia’s Environmental Impact Measurement Tool – a software which helps brands increase the sustainability of their supply chain in denim.

On the other hand, various links in their supply chain show that while the group’s intentions may be good, their progress in the past few years (reports go back to 2009) has not been as strong as it could be – or as the group would like.

The progress in factory sustainability globally has risen by only 6% in four years, and the percentage of sustainable raw materials of their total raw materials is very low. Along their value chain, impact is mixed; where they have a low climate impact (12%), the social impact is high – as in the raw materials stage. Their fabric and yarn production, with a high social impact, shows one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. H&M doesn’t work directly with the producers of their fabric, but through intermediaries such as the Natural Resources Defense Council to help improve performance. However, the environmental impact is still significantly high, with greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution in the production of cotton startlingly high, and largely unchanged (the group has had a 6% impact on their own water usage in 2015).

It’s important to also recognise that not enough high street brands care about their production enough to measure their impact and their value chain’s ethics. There’s certainly great room for progress and the fact that H&M still produce cotton instead of more conscious alternatives like hemp in their clothing, is an example of this. But as a whole, and measured against their competitors, H&M is still doing more to raise awareness of the industry’s carbon footprint. With World Recycling Week as well, buying new clothes at a time like this, from a company that at least tries to counter its harmful impact, is better than choosing other brands.

Around-The-World Skirt

Disclaimer: I have never made a skirt before. I’ve used a sewing machine a couple of times to customise jeans, tops and dresses, sketching out ideas for how I want to add fabric, beads or paint on them. I have never looked at a pattern and made a piece of clothing from scratch. Time will tell if I’ve inherited any talent from my mother and my grandmother on this, I guess!

I’ve been wanting to make a skirt of this type since I was about 14, so I figured what better time than now to do this, especially now I’ve got more than a year?

Some ideas for patterns that I’ve been researching

It will be made with fabrics from around the world, but I don’t want to use anything mass-produced or cheaply available. Wherever possible, I want to use handmade, hand-spun, hand-dyed, environmentally-conscious and/or ethical fabric.

If this isn’t available, I will also be using scrap fabrics since that is recycled; but I’ll try to make sure that even these scraps contain some other ethical dimension.

I don’t want to buy bolts of fabric and if it’s avoidable, I don’t want to buy fat quarters since that creates more waste. However, I’m having so much fun thinking of what to do with them, I don’t think even a square inch will go unused!

I realise this has made the whole thing a lot more difficult for myself, but I think the skirt – and the process of making it – will be all the better for it.

Some ideas for patterns

I’ve been collecting these fabrics for some months, so wanted to share the incredible people and companies who make and sell these gorgeous items. I’m going to dedicate a whole category on WordPress to it, because I want to showcase each country or producer.

The fabrics will come from the countries I’ve lived in, visited or want to live in (So basically, it’s from virtually every country in the world! I said I wasn’t going to make it easy…)

I’ve found the process difficult and challenging at times, especially when I write to people and it turns out their materials are actually made in a factory in China. It’s also been challenging finding people willing to ship to Hungary, and to find materials from all the countries I want to get them – many are either in or next to war zones, have export bans on such things, or there simply aren’t websites dedicated to them. It’s not easy, but if the skirt gets made and looks awesome, how amazing will that be?!

I was lucky enough to visit the US in December, for work and I combined it with a few weekends with family. My patient and lovely cousin allowed me to order all manner of stuff and keep it in her room for about a month before I showed up! Have I mentioned I’m a little obsessive organised?


Time will tell if this is going to be the biggest disaster of my life, or a triumphant success. Watch this space.

DIY – Nexus Cover using Sari Ribbon Fabric

Spring is finally here and I took this chance to start a project I’ve been meaning to get to for a while – making a case for my Google Nexus tablet, a Christmas present from my truly excellent other half, Andrew. I’m pretty impressed with how it turned out and thought I’d share it with you!


I’ve had a lot of sari ribbon kicking around, which I bought from Julie’s Etsy shop. I wanted to use strips of this beautiful fabric in my cover since not only does it look amazing, but I just love the philosophy behind it.

Sari ribbon is made by tying together the scraps of silk used to make saris. Here’s what Julie has to say about where the fabric comes from:

My yarns are produced by women’s co-operatives in India. I buy this yarn and fibre, which includes sari silk ribbon, sari silk yarn and banana yarn, directly from these women and and have been doing so for years and years where I now have an excellent relationship directly with these cottage industries. I still marvel at the peerless quality and enchantment of these yarns years on. I am now organic nettle and organic hemp yarn from Nepal along with hand-spun cottons and linens and other Indian silk products including handwoven pure silk scarves and shawls for you to dye yourself.


I wanted it to be colourful and unique but also to be really personal and reflect my philosophy of creating as little waste as possible, trying to do right by our planet and seeking out ethical products. I love the fact that I can now read books about poverty reduction for my course from a case made out of such materials!






The whole thing took me about a day to make, bearing in mind that certain parts needed to dry overnight and the fact that I don’t have a sewing machine. I’m sure with practice I can do this a lot faster and more efficiently!

So what do you think?

I’ve been mulling over starting an Etsy shop to sell things I make using materials like this, so let me know what you think and whether you would be interested in a cover like this for your tablet or Kindle.

I’ve also made a Nexus case for Andrew using spare parts of leather I’d love to make more of these and learn about different methods of using recycled or environmentally-friendly products so do let me know what you think – don’t spare my feelings!

Thanks 🙂