Drawing Dad.

Free motion embroidery requires passion, dedication and commitment because the process is incredibly obsessive with minute attention to detail applied throughout. For all these reasons the chosen image needs to be engaging and powerful, and often requires months of consideration before the transformative process begins.

After my husband Carl died many of my relationships became very complicated. I was complicated and so was my life and sadly my relationship with my dad became a very broken and painful part of the loss.

In 2017 my dad was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 79.

When we first had the news I remember feeling detached and nonchalant. The  illness progressed slowly at first, but eventually the direction changed and it was clear that he wasn’t going to get better. However, that wasn’t the only change; his personality and character were being affected by the growth of the cancer and the dad that I had once cherished began to re-emerge. This realisation was heartbreaking because I knew that there was little time left to mend a shattered father and daughter relationship.

With an intense desire to retrieve something good from this horribly sad situation I  turned to drawing, an art form that was loved by my dad and by myself. With my dad’s permission I took photos of him with my boys also present in the room. His relationship with them was magical. They adored him and he adored them. My dad looked up at his grandsons with the tenderest glint in his eye and I took the photograph.

image of dad for blog

On 30th October, 2018, my dad passed away at home. For over a year the image stayed on my camera whilst I contemplated my promise to him, to draw him in stitch.

Up to this drawing I had only stitched people once and they were an ‘unknown couple’.  This would be different – I knew my dad, he was part of me, but more importantly he was a huge part of my sons. Tentatively, I started by tracing my dad’s image onto dissolvable fabric. This isn’t an easy process because the drawing is hard to see through the layer of fabric so I used the photo on my MacBook as a guide.

Drawing being made on dissolvable fabric.

This part felt ok. It involved some maths as I calculated how much to enlarge the image by before dividing it into printable sizes, along with an added 10% to account for shrinkage. On completion of the tracing I had to start stitching and because I feel that the eyes are the hardest and most critical part of the drawing, I started with them first.


Drawing the eyes of someone you don’t know is hard, but drawing eyes of someone that you do know is a completely different issue. The eyes are often said to be ‘the window to the soul’ and when they are stitched tenderly, looking up at you from the bed of your sewing machine and belonging to a lost parent, every stitch feels weighted.

Once the eyes were complete, taking 2 attempts, I moved on with my dad looking up at me from the bed of my sewing machine, an absolutely surreal experience.  I work in layers as any portrait artist might do, but the use of rayon thread instead of paint means the process is very slow and I can spend hours just studying small areas of my dad’s face. Sometimes this is hard and it makes me want to cry but at other times I enjoy sharing the honesty of the stitches with my sons.


Another surprising issue is that once I know one part is really him, I find it difficult to move to the next area of his face because I feel scared about losing his personality.

Building up the layers.

As usual, working out the correct blend of threads has been very time-consuming and many small trial squares have already been formed. The layers are built up slowly because my dad’s aged complexion looks almost transparent with fine thread veins visible beneath fragile layers of skin.

Colour palette.
The reverse.

Three quarters of my dad’s face is now complete but there has been a pause for the last couple of months due to a busy family home life during the coronavirus crisis. In September my sons will return to school and university, and I will go back to drawing my dad with thread.

Stitching is always emotionally challenging because the artist has to engage on an obsessive level with each thread being positioned by the heart. I feel a great sense of responsibility to complete this sensitive drawing.


Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery.

The Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery is a prestigious annual event celebrating the best in the intricate craft of embroidery. It is held at the Bishopsgate Institute in London and attended by both the public and industry professionals who wish to see the latest embroidery art.

In 2019 I applied. The brief was:

“Fool the Senses. Consider the texture and feel of your embroidery, to create embellishments with a sumptuous surface that intrigues and surprises”.

Along with many others from the UK and the rest of the world, I submitted images of my latest project, an artist statement and my concept. To my absolute shock and delight, I became a finalist and was asked to submit 2-3 mood boards and the final piece ready for the awards evening on Thursday 21st November. All finalists were also informed of their mentor who would support and guide the final submission pieces. My mentor was Diana Springall.

(I submitted images of my latest project, an artist statement, my concept and why I entered. To my absolute shock and delight, I was chosen as a finalist. All finalists were asked to submit two or three mood boards and their final piece, with the support and guidance of a specially allocated mentor. My mentor was Diana Springall.)

Diana Springall knew my work having previously purchased ‘A Bar of Drinking Chocolate, 2016’ for her large collection of textile art. We used our time to discuss the importance of embroidery being recognised as art and what I should put on my mood boards to support my entry. I had never made one before because I work according to a concept as opposed to a design. Diana said that she wanted to know how I made my work and that this should be shown to the judges.


Bish Ins
Bishopsgate Institute, London.

The finals were a two day event. On Wednesday 20 November, for the first time, we were able to see how our work was being displayed and meet the other finalists. We had the chance to get to know each other, discuss our projects and discover the ideas and processes behind each beautiful piece. The public visited, and were able to meet the makers and cast a vote for their favourite piece (this was combined with the judges’ vote).

Thursday 21 November was the awards evening. The event was incredibly busy with lots of conversations between makers and industry professionals and the live judging for the four categories:  Fashion: Open Category, Fashion: Student Category, Textile: Open Category, and Textile Art: Student Open. There were also four winners for the associate awards: Wilcom Award for Digital Embroidery: Textile Art and Fashion, The Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers Award and The Worshipful Company of Broderers Award.

Here are some images from the evening courtesy of each artist:

Sheila Ramsey: Winner of Fashion: Open Category.

Sheila flew over from Canada for the prize and presented a beautiful garment made from common milkweed fluffs, candy wrappers, up cycled piping and washers, creating a wedding jacket that was luxurious, innovative and sustainable.

Sophie Reynolds: second Place, Fashion: Student Category.

Sophie created a sensual garment that suggests a connection with nature by emulating repetition in design and behaviours to improve wellbeing. Sophie explored fringing, beading, and hand embroidery using recycled plastic sequins, wood, leather and acrylics.

Hannah Mansfield: Winner of the Textile Open Category.

Hannah created four seasonly inspired, stunning gold work flower structures in gold and silver. The beautiful floral arrangements were made with metal threads and imitation pearls with an underside of self made fabric formed from metal leaf and organza.

Samantha Trevis: 2nd Place, Open Category: Textile Art.

Sam Bis Inst copy
Samantha Trevis

Samantha’s radiant work reflects the beautiful personality of her mother who has Alzheimers. Sam say

(Samantha’s radiant work reflects the beautiful personality of her mother who has Alzheimer’s. It is made with unwanted, unfashionable and broken items. Samantha says:)

“Through the darkness we find our light. I share hers, it’s too bright to be contained.”

Sam’s amazing work is made with unwanted, unfashionable and broken items.

Finally, my piece won: Third Place, Open Category: Textile Art.

The process of making my art challenges me every time I stitch. This drawing proved challenging throughout with the complex manipulation of thread in an endeavour to create textures including glass, metal, transparent plastic, ceramic tiles, corduroy, knit, crumpled fabric and leather. I never knew if I would actually be able to finish it alone entering and succeeding in one of the worlds most prestigious competitions for embroidery.

I have made some lovely new friends, seen some wonderful work and enjoyed celebrating the beautiful art of stitch. Thank you to Hand and Lock for this amazing opportunity.

For a complete view of all the finalists work, please visit Hand & Lock.




A Couple on the Tube

It’s long overdue, but here is the finished image of my free machine embroidered drawing ‘A Couple on the Tube’. Safely back from Chelsea College of Art, it is now hanging on my wall in the workroom. The image was taken by Gould Photography.

A Couple on the Tube‘, 2018

The drawing was very exciting to make, but also extremely challenging. I started it because I needed to know if I could draw people with thread. At uni, I had tried to paint and draw people but had failed abysmally. However, I have a fascination with the human form, especially faces and couldn’t get the image of this couple out of my head.  The project started tentatively as I gathered books on portraiture and visited exhibitions on drawing. I wasn’t a trained painter, but I knew that I had to find a way to use the embroidery threads in a painterly way that would allow me to create the complex tones of flesh, textured fabrics, leather, manmade steel and rubber, transparent plastic bags and reflections in glass. Whilst this was all very frightening, I am sure that this naivety helped me to push the challenge forward to completion.


I am not sure what the next embroidered drawing will be, but I do have another photograph that is fixing itself in my head. However, it is a sensitive and emotive one that may just need a little more time to consider before I can start the process of enlarging and transferring onto dissolvable fabric.

For now, there is a lot to do with the drawing of ‘A Couple on the Tube’. From 30th November 2018, I will be exhibiting with a fabulous group of artists in a show called ‘Extremely Textiles’. This will run throughout December at the Black Swan Arts Centre, Frome, showcasing our diverse approach to textile art. I also need to try to solve the issue of the ‘Roundel’ so that I can consider the option of producing a limited number of giclée prints. I will look for further opportunities to exhibit the work, but for now, I am happy to stop, think and consider what might come next.




A new living area and studio space.

Last year, after much consideration I finally decided to go ahead with a small extension and knock through to enable a new living area and studio space. Knowing that this would be a very busy and frantic period of time I decided to stop stitching for a year so that I could fully concentrate on the new home.

After three months of builders, electricians, carpenters, underfloor heating engineers, and kitchen resprayer, I was finally left with a large blank canvas to ready decorate and furnish.


prep decorate
The large blank canvas.



Kitchen prepped for the respray.



kitchen 1
Finished kitchen.



The kitchen was 19 years old. During the build, it was chopped about and moved around to fit the new layout and provide a large island. The granite worktops were rearranged and a large piece of oak was purchased for the new kitchen island. It was then resprayed, and the cupboard door handles were replaced making it look new.

studio space
The new studio space.



Dining room
The dining area.


The work is still in progress because several rooms upstairs also need decorating and the garden was destroyed by the building work. However, it has been a very satisfying project and the break from my art has been manageable. I am excited and plan to get back to stitching by October 2019 in a space that will be bright, spacious and calm. I also plan to use the space for small workshops where people can come and learn how to draw with thread in a relaxed environment.








Designer Crafts 2018 at Chelsea College of Art

After over 2 years of stitching, I am now making final preparations to get my drawing ‘A Couple on the Tube’ to Chelsea College of Art, London. On 12th July the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s exhibition ‘The Hand of the Maker’ opens and runs for 9 days to celebrate 130 years of the society.

The Society has a large membership made up of selected makers and designers from a wide range of craft disciplines including ceramics, textiles, wood, glass and metal. It is the largest multi-craft society in the country and has a vibrant creative space in London’s Shoreditch.


Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 17.01.01



This week my large free machine embroidered drawing will be collected by courier and transported to London ready for the hang. Before that, I will hand my work over to some very skilled professionals. David Gould will photograph the drawing before I attach it to a sheet of perspex and then Edge 2 Edge in Staple Hill, Bristol, will frame it. This is a very difficult job because the frame will contain museum grade glass and both this material and the perspex collect any fibre of fluff that happens to be in close proximity.


couple on tube 72dpi
A Couple on the Tube‘, 2014, free machine embroidery


I am really excited about the exhibition because there will be two firsts. It is my first time to exhibit with the Society and the first time that ‘A Couple on the Tube’ will be exhibited. I do hope you will get time to visit.

The 250th Summer Exhibition

Last year I decided I would have a go at entering the world’s longest running open submission, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. 19,800 entries were accepted, but only about 600 hundred would make it on to the hallowed walls in the final hang. My drawing made it, and not only was it selected by Grayson Perry for his stunning yellow gallery, it was exhibited at eye level.


yellow room hang
The work arranged ready for the hang, pg 22-23, 250th Summer Exhibition Illustrated Catalogue, 2018


The summer exhibition has been one of the most surreal moments in my life and I have enjoyed every minute from the celebratory varnishing day through to enjoying a cup of tea in the Academician’s room. The private view was a very special treat. I visited with my mother-in-law, who has continuously supported and encouraged my work throughout. Together we enjoyed meeting other artists and sharing a delicious lunch with a glass of champagne to celebrate.

julie judith ra

I then visited with my sons. In 2009 their dad Carl had died and soon afterwards I started my Creative Arts Degree at Bath Spa University. The course had been really hard work because the boys were very young and life was very difficult. Often I had felt like giving up because art had seemed like an extravagance.

On 19th June we came to the Summer Exhibition and went straight into the yellow room – their joy and sense of pride in what we had achieved as a family was priceless. We spent the whole day at the exhibition, quite an exceptional treat.

boys ra 2


Whilst I live in Bristol, I do have lots more visits planned with friends and probably one more with the boys. I feel so privileged – after all the help and support my friends and family have provided over the years since Carl died, we are now all sharing a very exciting and happy occasion. Thank you very much to the Summer Exhibition committee for selecting my free machine embroidered ‘Bristol 2 Litre Engine’ in the 250th year.



Shortlisted for the Royal Academy​ Summer Exhibition 2018

Last summer I visited the 249th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the world’s largest open-submission that showcases work from both established and emerging artists. Whilst thoroughly enjoying the large collection of contemporary art in many different mediums, I decided that I would have a go the following year and put the date on my calendar.

The applications opened in January, but I then had to reconsider my plan to enter. 2018 would be the 250th anniversary of the show and in celebration of this, the brief was ‘Art Made Now’ and artists were encouraged to enter work made in 2017/2018. ‘The Bristol 2 Litre Engine’, my chosen piece of work to submit, had been made in 2014. I decided that it was worth a chance and completed the application, but I then stayed quiet and didn’t tell anyone about the submission.

Art delivery pack

On 15th March, the very much anticipated update to my submission status appeared – I had been shortlisted. I was requested to take the work to the Royal Academy of Art on 10th May for the second round of judging.

After recovering from the shock and excitement of being shortlisted, I thought it would be good to share the news. I won’t know the final decision until 26th May, but until then, I am going to enjoy this news and look forward to delivering ‘The Bristol 2 Litre Engine’ to the RA. It will be viewed and judged by the royal academicians, with Grayson Perry as the coordinator of the show.


The Bristol 2 Litre Engine, 2014




Pushing the boundaries of stitch

My drawing of an elderly couple who sat opposite me on a London commute is continuing to push my art form to levels that I could never have imagined.

Nine years ago, my late husband and I were discussing the merits of studying art to degree level. Carl said that he could accept the cost and disruption to our family life if we could be sure that it would lead somewhere. I wasn’t sure if that would happen but persuaded him because I just wanted to do it.

I had never embroidered before I started my degree at Bath Spa and only used my sewing machine to make clothes. Now I sit at my machine wondering how all this happened. I am both excited and continually challenged because the drawing has been formidable. It has pushed the boundaries of stitch and my understanding of the art.


Every new part of the drawing has brought different challenges that I hadn’t quite expected. The difficulties creating colours from thread to match skin tones, making the carrier bag look translucent, capturing the reflections in the window and the aged hand gripping the bags tight. But now it is nearing completion with only a quarter of the drawing left to stitch before I pin it to loft boards and wash out the supporting, dissolvable fabric.

The completed drawing will be on show at Chelsea College of Art, 12th to 21st July 2018 as part of the Society of Designer Craftsmen show, ‘The Hand of the Maker’.


Website changes

For a while, I have been considering options for my website.  Whilst Squarespace has provided a professional looking format, I have decided to cancel the subscription due to cost and difficulties updating without my son’s help. My hesitation had happened for a reason – I knew that I would find swapping everything over from one site to another complicated, and I was right. Terminologies like domain transfer, SSL certificate and local mapping called ‘cache’ felt like a new and very strange language.

After a lot of help from my son and a friend, and some confusing conversations with the online help centres, the changes were made and the domain name julieheaton.com will now bring you to this blog rather than my Squarespace website.

Over the Easter Holiday I plan to develop this space to include an artist bio, current news, a gallery and a blog, but until this is completed I have added some images of previous projects.




we should smile more..72 dpi
‘We should smile more …’, 2013


The Bristol 2 Litre Engine, 2014




Stuart box72dpi print white 1
The Stewart Box, 2015


Valor 72 dpi crop jpg
‘A bar of drinking chocolate’, 2015



More news and images to follow about my current free machine embroidered drawing  ‘A Couple on the Tube’.  The piece is very large and is keeping me busy because it needs to be ready to exhibit at Designer Crafts, Chelsea College of Art, July 2018 in association with The Society of Designer Craftsmen.



A new sewing machine

When showing or talking about my work people often say ‘you must have a very elaborate sewing machine…’ and I always reply with the same answer ‘I only need running stitch and the ability to drop the dog feed’. My very first and subsequent early drawings were made on my well loved and reliable Bernina 1090 sewing machine. The dog feed was lowered, embroidery foot attached and the stitched drawings started to emerge but as I became more ambitious, the scale increased and it became clear that I needed more space under the arm of the machine.

Choosing a new sewing machine was exciting but also slightly daunting – it was like a  right arm and it had to fit with my creative requirements and budget. After visiting shops in Bristol exploring different makes and types of machines, I returned to the Bernina brand and found Quilt Direct online. I began having conversations with Katherine who appeared to know everything there was to know about Bernina machines and asked several questions about my work so that she could make sure that I purchased the correct machine.

quilt direct 2

In March 2016 I took delivery of my new machine – the Bernina 720. I now owned an ‘elaborate’ sewing machine but the reasons for the choice were simple – fantastic lighting, accurate digital control of the tension and large bobbins that could hold a lot more thread. Simple requirements but fundamental for my process.

After taking delivery of the new sewing machine, Katherine at Quilt Direct was very happy to provide any other support that was required and continues to be available if any help is required. A very intense and complicated process of working is now an absolute pleasure.

bernina couple on tube2