Variations on a theme, stage 1

Curtain Material
Curtain Material

It’s always mildly disconcerting to find myself consulted for advice, but as I inherited Grandmama’s enthusiasm as well as her skill, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

This is the curtain material in my mother’s bedroom. The print is big, light, and painterly, with the small, vividly coloured birds to stop it becoming saccharine. There was enough left for her to make a cushion for the blanket box, and to make an applique of some of it to put on the bedcover.

Section  Applied
Section Applied

This is the section she’s applied. She wasn’t, originally, intending to do very much to it, and asked me to suggest a few interesting line stitches for the odd detail (portuguese knotted stem, double feather, chain, twisted chain…). Then, however, it revealed itself to be a demon for fraying.

No, seriously. It doesn’t look it – it’s a cotton satin, closely woven – but it started to prove truly infuriating.

So, suddenly, every raw edge has to be either machine satin-stitched (which didn’t appeal), turned under (likewise) or Properly Covered.

Stem Details
Stem Details

We fished out a variety of suitable threads, and she got started.

As you can see, in some cases she’s not just followed the line of an edge, but decided to add some further details. The blanket stitch line started off following an edge, but would have looked simply silly if she’d stopped when it started careering across the print, so she carried on.

For those craving more SlowTV Stitchery, Episode 21 is now up, in which is considered false starts and the avoidance (or not) thereof..

I can’t call this a UFO…

Inadvertantly Rediscovered
Inadvertantly Rediscovered

… because I never got around to starting it!

I found this, languishing in a box. It’s a kit for a Japanese embroidery design, complete with spools of flat silk and a handmade needle (which didn’t register with me as it should have done, I admit!)

What I didn’t have was the instructions, but I remembered that we bought two kits, one for my mother and one for me, so I asked…

Very Old Needlecraft Magazine
Very Old Needlecraft Magazine

And look what she came up with! As it turned out, her kit was safely packed up, together with the magazine that the instructions were in. So I’ve photocopied them, so as not to deprive her, and I intend to get along and finish it.

Then I’ll only have to decide what to do with it. Perhaps I’ll actually source a little box and put it in the lid, as suggested by the magazine! (Yes, I know, me, doing as suggested – the world has turned topsy-turvy!)

Still, onward, ever onward!

Cotton Padding Stitches
Cotton Padding Stitches

The first stage is to put in some padding stitches under the flower petals.

I’m always a bit reluctant to use my Japanese needles – I’ve found them tricky to thread, and I’m very conscious of their rarity, and don’t want to break them – but every time I’m reminded that they are really lovely to use. Although I’ll admit to finding them slightly disconcerting, because, being shorter than I’m used to, they balance differently!

Meanwhile, Amarna Family Group continues to make progress: Episode Twenty is now up on Vimeo, and chiefly concerns Nefertiti.

The Lady In The Garden – Progress

Up And Down Blanket Stitch
Up And Down Blanket Stitch

In a slight variation of what Grandmama did, I used Up and Down Blanket Stitch, which is one of my favourites, to work the purple section of the edging. It’s not as comfortable to work as an edging stitch as it is as a surface stitch, but I enjoyed it (as usual), and I’m pleased with how it looks.

Green Herringbone
Green Herringbone

The second layer of the edging was in herringbone stitch, just as Grandmama worked it, but using a pale apple green instead of the pink. It will work much better in Mam’s room that way.

I’ve used two strands of cotton, which is what Grandmama did. I suspect that’s why the edging has collapsed in spite of not being used for decades!

Darn In Place
Darn In Place

I’m not as satisfied with the darn, but I think it should stop the hole getting worse, and I’ve had a variety of suggestions for tracking down a suitable material to patch it with. At the best of times, that would be a tricky task, and in the current situation, it may well be years before I find something!

Progress continues in other areas, too – Episode Nineteen of SlowTV Stitchery is now up. It concerns, among other things, flyaway thread and the importance of writing things down…

Evelyn Rose – Finished

I’ve only just realised you’ve not seen the finishing of Evelyn Rose – I wrote the post then didn’t schedule it!

Rose Shadows
Rose Shadows

The glint of the gauze shows up particularly well in this photograph of the rose, and you can see, too, the various different silk threads I’ve used to get the effect and shade I wanted. Tricky, because I didn’t want a naturalistic, Redouté-style rose, but – because, as I said, they don’t work with stems – I didn’t want a canal-art style rose, either. I think I got it right, and I’m rather pleased!

Leaf Shadows
Leaf Shadows

This slightly “stencilled” type of leaf helps to keep the balance between “naturalistic” and “stylised”. It also provides an opportunity for some rather striking shadows when the light is right, and I was delighted, throughout the stitching, to have moments like this, when it became clear that the idea was going to work just as I had hoped!

Evelyn Rose Finished
Evelyn Rose Finished
Signature Caterpillar
Signature Caterpillar

I knew that Evelyn’s father, in particular, would be very disappointed if he discovered later about my usual Morse Code signature, and I hadn’t done it for Evelyn, but making it small enough, and neat enough, and showing the stitches at the back as little as possible, was a little tricky. I twisted together several colours to get a fine, caterpillary thread, and worked my stitches as close to the stem as I could get them. In real life, it’s very hard to see my signature, but I promise you, it’s there!

Evelyn Rose, double mounted and casting a shadow
Evelyn Rose, double mounted and casting a shadow

The next challenge was to mount it. All this was happening only just pre-lockdown, so I went to see my wonderful framer, who goes by the (entirely deserved) name of Framing Genius. Between us, we came up with a way to create a sort of “sealed unit” of the embroidery and the mounts, so that I could post it overseas to our friends, who would then have something displayable until they can find a framer when such things are possible again.

Now, please go over to Vimeo for the next post in SlowTV Stitchery – Episode Eighteen – on the desirability of imperfection and the likeness of mathematicians to cats!

Still more progress on the tablecloth

Mountmellick Thorn Stitch
Mountmellick Thorn Stitch

It’s arguable that I’ve created a sampler rather than a tablecloth, but as I’ve got closer to finishing it and laid it on the floor to look for any missing bits, it’s looking cheerful, and that is really all I ask of it.

Mountmellick Thorn Stitch is an old friend, strongly textured but contained. It’s not entirely straightforward to shape it to the leaf shape of the design, but I think it works rather well!

Nested Fly Stitch
Nested Fly Stitch

Nested Fly Stitch is another old friend, although one I’m not on such good terms with as some others. In the dim and distant past I worked two 2-foot high trees in Nested Fly Stitch (on the Persian Fantasy Screen) and they drove me nearly demented! However, it does create a solid coverage that isn’t fishbone stitch or satin stitch, and I wanted to make sure that the various leaves varied in coverage and tone. This is the “Heavy” end of the scale!

Stem And Chain
Stem And Chain

And this is the “Light” end of the scale – just outlines, in stem or chain stitch. These flow beautifully around curves, of course, and are really good for organic shapes, but I do need to remind myself that I don’t have to use obscure stitches all the time, and I’m allowed to choose the obvious ones occasionally!

The next episode – Episode Seventeen – of SlowTVStitchery is now up, and concerns mainly the little girls and some planning of Nefertiti..

More on the Amarna Family Group

Daughter in blended thread
Daughter in blended thread

While I was stitching round and round in circles, I was also thinking about the rest of the design, and about what else it might be showing.

I had a thought that it might be nice to make a reference to the Cretan art that was so influential for the art of the Amarna period. One of the conventions of the art of ancient Crete was that women were depicted as light-skinned, while the men were shown as tanned, so I thought I would give that a little twist, and work the three daughters as light-skinned, and Akhenaten and Nefertiti as tanned, thus “bookending” the scene.

Daughter in Plain Light Silk
Daughter in Plain Light Silk

So I blended a lighter colour and got started on Daughter Number 1.

Only to decide I really didn’t like it, order some more flat silk, and try again. This is the lighter shade of Akhenaten’s skin colour, and as you can see, it is too light. It barely shows against the gold, and at that, the photo shows it better than it showed in real life – I had real trouble seeing it to stitch.

So that wouldn’t do, would it?

Daughter Unpicked Again
Daughter Unpicked Again

The next thing I tried was a blend of the light and dark skintones, and as you can see, there isn’t even a photo of that!

Sigh.

Unpicked again.

The videos are of course somewhat beyond this point – Episode 16 – “On the satisfaction of pattern building and the avoidance of confusion” is now up on Vimeo. Do have a look!

Mending the Lady in the Garden

The Lady Pyjama Case
The Lady Pyjama Case

Grandmama worked this pyjama case for my mother when she was a little girl. It’s beautifully worked, but slightly faded now, and the decorative stitching over the edges has all but disintegrated. Mam has asked me to reinstate that stitching.

It’s a good thing that my collection of stranded cotton includes some of Grandmama’s threads and that of various great aunts. That gives me a chance of finding something not a million miles removed!

Damage To Repair
Damage To Repair

There’s some damage to repair as well. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do so – there’s nowhere with spare threads to repair to attempt an invisible darn. So for now, I have outlined the area in split stitch, and I am going to concentrate – or try to concentrate – on putting in place a suitable border. The original was purple blanket stitch overlaid with pink herringbone, but we’ve decided that purple overlaid with green will work better in the room it will live in.

Multithread Edging
Multithread Edging

But we’ve already made a discovery. This slightly Art Deco looking border is the internal edging. It’s still undamaged, and I’m leaving well alone, but my Mam says she never remembers registering the detail here when she was a little girl!

We are pretty sure that the legendary Miss Hunter was involved in the stitching of this, so I’ve got a lot to live up to!

Meanwhile, in other news, Episode Fifteen of SlowTVStitchery is now up on Vimeo!

Finishing the Faience Necklace

Grapes
Grapes

In the end, I unpicked both of the previous attempts, and used a mass of French knots, worked again in hand twisted silk, this time combining some of the very fine silk from a Frostings box with my Japanese Flat silk.

I think these work well, especially at the small scale of the piece.

Lotus Flower
Lotus Flower

I’d been rather dreading the large lotus flower, representing the shaped endpieces of a broad collar necklace, because I was remembering the struggle I’d had with the “Fragment of Tile That Started It All“.

Then I had an epiphany of my own, and used the difference in appearance and reflectance of twisted silk compared with flat silk to help distinguish the shapes of the petals and bring the foremost ones forwards. I’m very pleased with how that turned out!

Finished Faience Necklace
Finished Faience Necklace

And now, finally, it’s done!

This one is almost certainly going to be one of the “spots” around one of the big panels, because although I like it, and it represents what I want it to, I don’t think it has the visual strength to stand alone.

But then, if all the pieces could stand on their own, I wouldn’t be able to assemble the panels I want to, would I!

Finally, Episode 14 of SlowTV Stitchery is now up on Vimeo. Do drop in and see how I’m getting on!

More progress on the tablecloth

Raised Fishbone Stitch
Raised Fishbone Stitch

Each time I decide how to do a particular element, I do all four appearances. I decided on this very early on, because I knew that working a whole side and then copying it three times would drive me absolutely mad!

Raised fishbone stitch creates a nicely embossed effect, providing a good contrast with all the open stitches I’ve used. It requires a bit of concentration – this is a little raggier than I’d like – but at this point, I want the wretched tablecloth done, so I’m likely to just move on..

Grouped Blanket Stitch
Grouped Blanket Stitch

I’ve been looking at other embroidery styles of late – one can’t be wallowing in gold all the time, and one of these days I will be able to think of doing something else – and I’ve been reminded of just how effective groupings of blanket stitch or buttonhole stitch can be. This is the simplest variant I could think of, but I must remember that simple stitches like blanket stitch offer endless possibilities for variation..

Feathered Zig Zag Chain Stitch
Feathered Zig Zag Chain Stitch

One of the attractions of surface embroidery is the possibility for stitches to evolve themselves into being. I’m calling this one “Feathered Zig Zag Chain Stitch”. I can’t believe I’ve invented it, but neither can I remember having seen it before, and I think it works rather well. It certainly flowed familiarly off the needle, like an old friend.

The photograph has reminded me, however, that I need to finish whipping my chain stitch stems!

And new in SlowTVStitchery, Episode Thirteen is now up. In which, at long last, a Decision is made….

Progress on a project long in abeyance

Playing With Greens
Playing With Greens

You may recall this tablecloth, which I won in a job lot of things in an auction on eBay, a long time ago. I regarded it as my “traveling project” for a while, but didn’t travel much, or when I got there, found I couldn’t settle to it, and it’s been lingering and hanging over my head rather. It may well be that the current situation will give me the opportunity to get it finished. It will make a change from the details of the Amarna Family Group!

So, since I’d forgotten what I’d planned (or if I’d planned!), I laid it out on the floor and played around with skeins of cotton, to see what I could come up with.

Basque Stitch
Basque Stitch

The way I’ve worked on the tablecloth is that as I’ve what to do with each motif, I’ve worked each instance, and that way the whole tablecloth advances at once.

The Basque Stitch of these leaves is rather more spaced out than in the previous appearance of that stitch in the tablecloth – spacing, as well as scale, plays a part in altering the appearance and emphasis of a stitch.

Coral Stitch Outline
Coral Stitch Outline

Coral Stitch is nice and simple. Such a nice rest…

Yes, I know the concept of or nué is simple, but the execution isn’t, believe me!

And, speaking of or nué, Episode 12 of SlowTVStitchery is up! Do go across to Vimeo and have a quiet half hour with me…