After half a year of sewing, I’ve finally finished my barn owl cross stitch. It’s by far the biggest cross stitch project I’ve ever completed, so I’m quite pleased with myself. It’s also the first time I’ve turned one of my photos into a cross stitch.
At first it felt like I was making very slow progress. I started with the background, so for ages there was just an absence of barn owl.
But, towards the end, things felt like they really sped up, and it got quite addictive.
In total, I used about 124 metres of embroidery thread, and sewed 9,600 cross stitches (if you ignore all the ones I had to redo because of mistakes!)
It’s a bit greener than I was expecting. But I think you can tell what it it is.
My first thought on finishing this project was what the next one could be. I’ve got even more ambitious plans for that, and my new embroidery thread arrived this morning, so I can get cracking.
I love new projects – I love researching them and planning them in great detail. I love setting myself a goal, and working to reach it. I love watching it progress, and, eventually, seeing the finished result (although I have to admit I don’t always get this far – some of my projects are rather ambitious, and it’s the planning stage I love most).
I am an occasional cross stitcher. I like having something to do with my hands when listening to the radio or watching TV. It’s satisfying to see the design gradually emerge out of seeming chaos, stitch by stitch. And it’s methodical work that doesn’t require too much of my brain.
A recent trip to Hobbycraft got my fingers itching for a new craft project. Making clothes is banned until I finally finish hemming the curtains (dull, time consuming, awkward work, since I will insist on doing them by hand). But none of the cross stitch kits there really took my fancy. So I decided to give designing my own a go.
First I sorted through my favourite wildlife photos for a fairly simple one that would work well as a cross stitch, without lots of distracting background details. And one that I would be happy to have up in my home, when (if) finished. I settled on this barn owl photo.
Next I found a website that turns your image into a cross stitch pattern. You specify the size you want, and the number of colours to use, and it comes up with a chart you can download and print. It took a few attempts to fin the right balance between something that looks good, and uses a sensible number of colours. The more colours you use, the more it looks like the photo, but the more complex it is to stitch. In the end I settled for 35, but that may be rather ambitious.
Next I had to source the aida and embroidery thread. I was pleased when this worked out to be less expensive than I feared, meaning the project will be cheaper than a kit, plus I will get all the leftover thread for future projects.
Then I created a thread organiser, labelled with the chart symbols to make it easy for me to find what I was looking for. Having sewn grid lines onto my fabric as a guide, I was ready to go.
I have been working on it slowly but surely, doing a bit most evenings when I am in. So far I’m still on the black background, and only about 6% in, but it’s good to see my gradual progress. If I ever finish it I will post a picture on the blog (if not you can safely assume it’s been stuffed in the chest of unfinished projects).
My previous cross stitch projects have either been small scale, or unfinished (I get distracted by newer projects). But this is the first time I’ve stitched something of my own design. Who knows how it will go…
This weekend I took a plunge (or, rather, dipped my toe) in the world of commerce. I have thousands of photos on my hard drive, a tiny fraction of which are (I think) quite presentable, but I rarely do anything with them. So when I heard that my church was organising a craft fair, it seemed like a chance to be brave and show them to the world, and see if the world liked them enough to buy them.
The first step was to find some photos good enough to sell. This meant trawling through my archives, which was a time consuming but pleasant occupation. I narrowed it down to 25 photos, mainly of British wildlife. But I had no idea which of these people might buy.
I thought Wild South would do as a name for my enterprise, and I knocked up a logo, incorporating oak leaves, as oaks are my favourite trees. What do you think of it?
In the end I got 4 of each of the 25 photos printed as cards. I also got a set of business cards printed, with a different photo on the back of each. I found a couple of bird images that would work as bookmarks, and got 50 double-sided bookmarks printed. I also picked 8 of my favourite photos to print out large, and mounted them. My plan was, if they didn’t sell I’d put them up at home (I’ve been meaning to do this for a while). I made up some themed packs of 3-5 cards.
Having never done this before, pricing was a bit of a stab in the dark. I knew what my costs were, but wasn’t sure how much mark-up to add – I wanted to make a decent profit for the charity, but didn’t want to be left with 100 cards at the end of the day.
After a dry run of setting up my stall at home, I was ready for the fair. I was relieved when I made my first sale of the day, and it was encouraging that it was a good one. I got lots of compliments on my photos. By the end of the day I had sold about half of my cards, and 4 mounted prints, but only 8 bookmarks. Some of the photos completely sold out. Owls, British mammals and pretty flowers all sold well, while some of my more exotic photos barely sold at all.
My business cards were very popular – people liked being able to choose which photo was on the back. And I did have more blog visits than usual this weekend, although I don’t know whether that’s connected. The other stallholders were very kind and encouraging, and Dr C helped out a lot. It was also a great opportunity to talk to people about wildlife.
It was a hard day’s work, but not unpleasant or dull. I’m not in a hurry to do another craft fair, and it’s not time to give up the day job quite yet. But I ‘d do it again to raise money for charity.
Anyway, here are the top selling images from the fair.
Last month I was staggered to learn how bad things are for barn owls. According to the Barn Owl Trust, this year there are fewer barn owls in Britain than there have ever been. On top of this, the poor spring has meant that there have been fewer young successfully reared than usual.
Barn owls are instantly recognisable, iconic birds. When flying they are large, ghost-like white shapes in the gloom. Perched on a fence post they are neat, heart-faced birds. Their shriek is startling (no polite hoot for them).
Until I went to a talk by the Barn Owl Trust, I’d always assumed that barn owls were doing ok. I’ve had many encounters with them, both in Devon and Hampshire. But thinking about it, I don’t remember seeing any ever in Surrey, nor anywhere else in the last 2-3 years. This is very sad.
There has been a long-term decline in the numbers of barn owls in Britain since the 1930s. Barn owls are farmland birds. While, back in the 1930s, pretty much every farm had a barn owl, now only one farm in 75 is home to a barn owl. This long-term decline is probably largely due to changes in farming practices, with more grassland being intensively grazed, and silage cut twice a year, rather than grass being left to dry into hay. This has reduced the habitat for the small mammals (voles and mice) that make up the barn owl’s diet.
The number of suitable nesting sites (barns, as the name suggests) has also declined dramatically, with many barn conversions not leaving room for barn owls, and new farm buildings often not providing suitable space and access.
Poisons used to kill rodents may also be a threat to barn owls, although the evidence on this is still sketchy. What is known is that more than 90% of dead barn owls studied in 2012 contained rodent poison. What effect this has on the owls is unclear, but with exposure being so common, any problems these poisons do cause would be a large-scale threat.
On top of this long-term decline, the weather in Britain in the last few years has not been good for barn owls. Heavy snows mean the owls can’t hunt so well, meaning more die of starvation. And the poor spring this year has meant breeding has been less successful than usual.
The Barn Owl Trust is working to preserve these beautiful birds. If you would like more information about barn owl boxes, rodenticides or anything else barn owl related, I suggest you look at their website.
This is my diary of the wildlife where I live in Oxfordshire, and sometimes the places I visit. I am a 15 year old young naturalist with a passion for British wildlife, especially Badgers and Hares. I have been blogging since May 2013 and you can read my old blog posts at www.appletonwildlifediary.blogspot.co.uk