Every month or so she opens up her Newlyn studio and runs a free motion embroidery course, I was lucky enough to be invited along to one. The workshops are run at her production unit, rather than at one of the shops. So, you get to see where all their items are made and sew surrounded by her fabrics and inspiration (see photo of her inspiration wall above).
The day started off with everyone introducing themselves and talking about their sewing experience, and whether they had every done free motion embroidery before. It was a small group of just 6 of us, which meant Poppy could spend plenty of time with each of us. She told us the plan for the day, and assured us that we will all leave with a completed project, not just a started one. It was interesting to see how far some people had come to attend to the workshop. One lady came all the way from Shropshire, with her husband booking her the course as a Christmas present.
Poppy showed us all how to set the fabric into a hoop, and gave us some tips for free motion then after a demonstration sent us off to just have a play with the machines to get used to them. She uses Singer 201k sewing machines, she was given her first one by her grandad and that is what she learned to sew on. She removes the foot and just uses the needle so you have to be careful not to catch your finger.
I had never sewn with a vintage machine before, luckily, she has had them all converted to motorised machines so we didn’t have to hand crank them! It took a little while to get used to how it worked, and thankfully if we had a thread jam, or needed a bobbin winding or anything Poppy happily came and sorted it for us. Above is a picture of my initial scribbles. It was a very different experience to sewing with my high spec modern machine.
Poppy then did another demonstration and taught us how to add applique into our designs and how to write with our machines. We all started another practice design picking fabric from a big scrap assortment to make a free motion picture with applique and writing, mine is shown below. One issue I had at this point is the scissors, Poppy uses big scissors for everything so there were no snips for trimming threads etc. I’d recommend bringing your own pair of small scissors to make things easier.
When booking onto the workshop we were encouraged to think about what we’d like to make for our main design. She doesn’t provide people with a set design to copy, rather she will teach you how to make a design that you like. Which I think is a great idea, because then it’s personal to you and something you will cherish. We were encouraged to bring along a picture for inspiration. I bought a peacock card I got for my birthday, I love peacocks, and blue & turquoise are my favourite colours.
For the last hour/half hour before lunch we were allowed to browse a selection of her fabric and pick out those we wanted for our main design, and start cutting them ready. We were also allowed to choose what product we wanted to make – a cushion, bag, pouch etc. I opted for a cushion, and my mum who attended the course with me decided to make a make up bag.
The preparation for my main design took quite a while so I can see why she was keen for everyone to start this before lunch. We took an hours break over lunch, which was provided at Trereife House just across the road from Poppy’s Studio.
After lunch the hard work started. We all started working on our main designs, with Poppy moving around from person to person to give tips and advice, and help if needed. I have to admit I hadn’t expected Poppy to be so hands on I thought perhaps she would have people helping whilst she oversaw the whole thing. But it was just her, and she really got involved with everyone and their projects. There was a very friendly atmosphere, you felt like you could ask anything. The studio went pretty quiet as everyone focused on what they were sewing. There’s a pic of my work in progress below.
In the last hour people all started to pitch in to help each other out to ensure that everyone finished their projects. My mum finished her project (shown below) earlier than most so started to put together people’s bags and cushions.
Poppy cut out all the pieces we needed for the projects whilst we finished off our free motion embroidery. The class finished at 5pm, and by 4.45 we all had finished our projects and Poppy set them all up so they could be photographed. As you can see there was quite a range of items made.
We were offered the chance to have a group photo, with Poppy, which one of her staff members kindly took on each of our phones so we could take it home with us as a memento of a great day. Just before we left we were all given a gift bag which included one of Poppy’s pouches, a scrap bag of her fabrics, an embroidery hoop and a brochure plus discount code to use on any of her products.
I have to admit the price is a little more expensive than many classes, but for that price you get small group tuition with plenty of one on one time with Poppy, a delicious lunch in a nice venue plus a goodie bag worth well over £25 (contents photographed below). I particularly liked the way that everyone came away with a completed design, that they had chosen rather than just a half-made sample of the teacher’s chosen design. I know that I have several workshops samples at home that I never got around to finishing once the class was finished. So having something useable at the end of the day was a great bonus.
I asked Poppy to share her top free motion embroidery tips with me for those of you who weren’t able to attend her workshop:
- Stretch your fabric over an embroidery hoop and remember you’re working on the ‘inside’ of the hoop – not the outside like you do with hand embroidery.
- Make sure you get the tension right – your fabric it stretched really taut over the hoop, your machine tension is set to around 5 or 6, and your own tension has been soothed by a cup of tea!
- Start with a medium to heavy weight fabric as thin cottons are harder to work with when you’re just starting.
- Use a strong polyester thread like Gutermann sew all as this won’t snap so much.
- Use a darning foot – your thread will snap if you don’t use a foot.
- Use the right sized hoop for your machine – a 9 or 10 inch hoop is perfect.
- Don’t be too hard on your self – it takes a lot of practise and the imperfections are what make it charming!