Drawing with a sewing machine.


I have been involved with crafts for many years and more recently I have really focused on sewn goods.  For as long as I can remember I have wanted to do machine embroidery but never seemed to find the time to learn it.  This has all changed in the last few weeks as I finally came to grips with how to set up my machine to tackle this art form and then get the practice underway.  In less than two weeks I have gone from a complete novice to being able to write words with the machine needle.  I have, however, done many hours of sewing!  Years of using a sewing machine have come in most useful.


What I love most love about this new skill is that it moves between art and craft effortlessly.  I can use it to make my new range of ‘gifts in a bag’ for With Love from Arran for the coming season but it is also going to be employed in my art exhibition pieces.  In August I will be exhibiting for the first time as part of the Open Studio event on the island in August and I have three pieces planned already.  Using reclaimed textiles I have designed pieces that speak about the juxtaposition between the natural world and human impact.  The first piece, Weeping Willow, is using vintage Liberty fabric with many pieces designed by the Collier-Campbell design studio.  Sadly Susan Collier died in 2011 but her sister, Sarah Campbell, is still designing.  It has put me in mind of designing my own fabric one day…..

The second piece is unnamed at the moment but includes seed heads drowning in rising tides and I am currently researching vintage tweed as a possible way forward.  My third piece feels impossible at the moment as I would really like to work with silk but this fabric and machine sewing is a nightmare.  By using fabric stabilizers I am hoping to be able to produce the two feathers in the piece entitled ‘the lightest touch’.  The feathers are drifting to earth catching seed heads in their twisting shapes.  I originally trained as a silk painter so I am hoping to feature those skills in this piece as well.

So, my sewing machine is incredibly busy and earning its keep.  I am having to manage my craft and art work around my writing so there have been some very late nights.  I am tracking my practice work with little sewn journals to accompany the art work and also thinking about associated craft work such as cushions and messenger bags to sit alongside the art pieces.

This is all possible as I am taking this season off on the smallholding.  If I am honest I am not well enough at the moment to manage the physical work so I am leaving this work to Pete and the boys.  We have modest development plans this year anyway as Pete is hand building a vintage kitchen and this is just the start of his list.  My writing is mainly focused on a collective project which is in research and development phase for most of this year so everything slots in somewhere.


I am extending my online presence in sales with a new shop with Remade Britain by producing one off, unique pieces using reclaimed vintage and retro fabrics.  I have the front of a cushion made ready to finish and I love the fact that it is unique.  Over time I am hoping to open up a commission book so that I can make bespoke pieces for special occasions.  I think reclaiming fabrics that mean something to people is a journey that I am going to enjoy.




All of this new work was part of the plans for the year that I put together in January.  I always thought it was an ambitious year but so very exciting.  2015 is going to be busy.

Blessings to you all,

scottish island mum


A world without stuff

Continuing my mission to declutter my life and live more simply I am sat at a table top sale getting rid of more stuff.  I am surrounded by a village hall full of people doing the same thing.  I have already given bags and bags of stuff to charity and sold some pieces online and through our community shop.   More will be heading to the local charity shop after this event.  I have a wee vision that when the children have all left home Pete and I will build a tiny wooden house and live a minimal existence.  It is for many reasons that this vision is being created including the desire to live more lightly on this planet.  But I am quite sure I am developing an allergic reaction to stuff.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of us have far too much stuff and it is not a legacy I want to pass onto my children.  They all live quite simply and have resisted the idea of acquiring things they do not need.  George loves his books and they will stay with him always but apart from those his room is very minimal.  Harry is very like me and has got rid of lots of unwanted stuff over recent years as has his older sister, Molly.  She needs to travel light as she has a career in conservation so stuff just gets in her way.  Max finds it difficult to let stuff go so his answer to that is not to acquire it in the first place.  He inhabits our box room so there is a real limit to what he can put in it.

I am pretty proud of Pete because he has thrown himself into the decluttering process despite being quite grumpy about it in the past.  So day by day, week by week we are getting rid and it does feel really good.  I feel somewhat cleansed.

My biggest issues is all my making things for my craft business but in recent years this has become much more focused and that has helped me pass materials onto people starting out in craft.  I now have one shelving unit and three old fruit boxes and that is it.  It used to be a lot more than that and even threatened to take over the house at one point.

I don’t have many personal things now holding onto jewellery that Pete has given me and one necklace I inherited from my grandmother.  I have one small hanging rail of clothes and two drawers but I can see ways to reduce further there as well.

So my journey to declutter is moving on well and the trick now is not to acquire more things.  If we are to realise the goal of living in one of these tiny houses we need to keep going.  Assuming I am still making I already have a garden studio that can accommodate all the necessary materials so beyond that we just need somewhere to sleep, sit and eat.  How much more is there than that.  I would love a structure where the whole front opens onto a deck when the weather is nice so that you can expand the house.  Lots of passive solar glass and living completely off grid would suit me very well indeed.  This is easier said than done but our research is underway and a combination of solar power, utilising grey and rain water and a compost toilet should do the job well.  I am sure this would not suit everyone but it would suit us.  Add in a fuel efficient camper van for guests to stay in and us to holiday in and the lifestyle is established.

Pondering on why I amassed so much stuff I am not really sure of the reason.  I think I liked to shop and now I hate it.  I also think I like to home build or nest and that is behind me as well now.  Entering a new decade in life is a turning point for me.  I wanted to have given up my corporate style job by 40 and live more remotely and I achieved that.  So let us set my 60th as the next aspirational moment.  I would like to be in a much smaller dwelling and living as simply as possible by then.  We shall see.  It is something to aim at and that has always been important to me.

Just at this moment I need someone to come along and buy the contents of my table.  A big ask but things are moving so you never know.  We can always dream….

scottish island mum


How I reinvented myself

fiona doubleday

Those that know me well will, no doubt, argue that I have done this many times but I just want to focus on the biggest reinvention when I left a very well paid job as an academic in a university and moved to a Scottish island.


I remember when news of my resignation start creeping around the university.  They only knew me as this fiercely ambitious woman who had been promoted year after year and was, quite possibly, destined for the top job.  So the emitting shock was palpable.  But with it came an assumption that I had found an even more senior job at another institution.   Little did they realise that I was all done with institutions.  When the news flooded out that I was leaving it all behind to become a full time mum, walk barefoot on the beach and braid my hair the shock was even greater!

I was not concerned with their views as I was beginning a phase of my life I was definitely destined to enter.  My late father some years earlier had done the same and had also predicted that I would turn my back on corporate life by the time I was 40; I was 38.  One thing that continues to bind my father and me together is the need for a challenge and if I am truly honest there was no challenge left in my old life so it was time for a change.

With my supportive husband and four fairly young children we took off to live on a Scottish island and grabbed two part time jobs between us.  The first thing we discovered was that we could live on far less money than we had been.  We moved into a small cottage owned by my mother and paid a small rent but it was the other outgoings where we really noticed the savings.  Living on an island is limiting but in a very positive way.  Gone is the currency to spend money all the time.  If there is nothing in the fridge to eat you hit the cupboards to find cans lurking at the back rather than phone for a take away.  Family days out involve a picnic on the beach and a swim in the sea rather than an over-priced theme park.  From the off we loved this lack of spending and it has probably dictated everything we have done ever since.


It wasn’t long before working for someone else lost its shine completely and thoughts turned to running our own business.  As I had worked through a secret exit plan from the university I had retrained at night school in silk painting.  With a friend I initially start a craft business but it became clear we wanted different things from the business so I sold it to her and went out on my own opening a wee craft shop on the island.

crafts 001

That was when the reinvention really kicked into gear and I began to thrive once more.  I was making things for my own shop and I was also making well researched buying decisions and the business was an instant success.  Many things have happened since them, not least the recession, but although I no longer run a shop on the island I still make things and I still sell through other shops on the island and online.

So I had reinvented how I made a living, how we spent time together as a family and what our priorities were.  It was a gradual process as I let the island speak to me and I truly believe that Arran is a place where dreams can come true.  That is because you have space.  You have space to think, to dream and to turn all that into a new reality.  The island encourages you to think outside the box and it supports you as you do.  It creates just the right context for reinvention and I am quite sure I would have failed anywhere else because I would have gone against my own destiny.


Things changed again when I began writing and I now spend more time doing that than any other activity and it still amazes me that people are willing to pay me for something that I love so much.  I do realise that I am a very lucky bunny rabbit.  Reinvention takes courage, I have no doubt of that.  It also requires an unquestioning intention to succeed but I can’t help thinking that that is a useful thing to pass onto my children.   My ex-colleagues were keen to point out that I would regret my decision and I am here to say that I never did; not for even one moment in time.  My moments are less cluttered, they are far reaching and aspirational with just a small hint of true contentment and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  So what is my top five pieces of advice for those of you desperate to reinvent yourself?  Let me see….

  1. Be bold and be fearless as you actually have nothing to fear.
  2. Have an outline of a plan but keep it thin on detail.
  3. Relocate as your new space is just waiting for you.
  4. Drop money as a priority because in the big scheme of things it matters not.
  5. See the change you want to be…..have a vision of the new year and work towards it with a fierce sense of determination.

But above all that have fun with your new invention and know that your life is, very much, in your hands.  Wishing you every best wish for your new happiness.

PS  And yes I have braided my hair and walked bare feet on the beach!  Xx

scottish island mum