Modern Stitch-Off Adventure – 4

Spare Needles
Spare Needles

I’ve been gradually accumulating the skills needed to wrangle my embellisher successfully. It was worth buying the extension table that fits around the arm of the machine – that began to make the whole thing seem possible.

Using the net to hold down the fibres made a huge difference, and so did piling up props to keep the weight of the blanket from pulling on the needles. The props then worked better again when I covered them, and the table, with a slippery plastic tablecloth to stop them getting caught up.

I’ve also found that on my wooden sewing table, the embellisher “walks” with the vibration of its movement. Two layers of heavy batting on the table seem to have fixed that particular alarming problem, and then I bought some spare needles (20 of them!) and relaxed a little, which made it easier not to jerk at the fabric and break needles.

Fibre And Felt
Fibre And Felt

So what with one thing and another, I’m beginning to feel as though I might be getting to grips with the embellisher!

I’m also beginning to learn which fabrics work. Obviously, the hexagonal net gets shredded and doesn’t get pulled into the fabric. Dense commercial wool felt doesn’t felt in well, in fact it seems to pull itself back out again; but real wool tweed and the lofty “pre-felt” pieces felt in like a dream, and end up looking almost as though they were part of the fabric.

Medallion
Medallion

The fibres seem to remain quite lofty and furry, even after being fairly thoroughly felted in, although the merino becomes flatter than some of the other fibres. The more I work with the embellisher, the more I realise that there is rather more to it than meets the eye!

A lot more….

At the moment, the colours aren’t quite working, but my next stage is to start to add details, and tweak the colours a bit. I need to add the teals and greens that are part of the fabric pattern that gave me the colour-scheme, and  also help some of the edges and lines of the pattern to come to life..

Back View
Back View

But I might also choose to use the back… The spotty, “dithered” effect is very like the overall effect of the fabric I’ve mentioned, so I need to consider whether to continue adding to what is at present the “front”, or to start adding tweaks to the “back”.

If it is still the back…!

Needlefelted Amarna Geese

Sketched Geese
Sketched Geese

I have a picture in my mind of a gaggle of geese, fresco’d on an Amarna wall. Unfortunately, all my rummagings haven’t turned up a reference or any idea where I saw it.  So I am going to make it up!

I spent some time online, looking for pictures of geese, and made some sketches. I’ve decided to use my embellisher – this is a sort of “bonus” project, as it won’t go on the main panels.

Geese Cut Out
Geese Cut Out

So the next stage was to cut out some geese from some light grey pre-felt. One of them is to be slightly more upright than the other two, but since needlefelting – like wet felting – reduces the dimensions of the piece, it’s anyone’s guess how clear that will be when I’ve finished!

Goose with layers
Goose with layers

I’ve tried to create the basic appearance of the goose using fragments of wool – several shades of grey merino, and some of the very wiry white wool from Heligan. It’s all needlefelted into place by hand.  Not enough hands – I’m sure I could have done with another pair, or some other way to control the bits I hadn’t managed to deal with yet!

At this point there was a pause for thought… I have neither the inclination nor the patience to add the details with needlefelting, but equally, how much detail will I really need?

Modern Stitch Off Adventure – 3

More Blends
More Blends

I mentioned in the first post about this project that I was planning to use what are technically referred to as “intimate blends” of fibres to create a more subtle colour range. If you click on the picture you will get a better sense of the varieties I am putting together.

If I were planning to spin these blends, I wouldn’t start from here. Some of the colours are lovely silky-smooth, long staple, Falklands merino, and others, labelled “Nepal Wool” in my local shop, are short staple, and very curly and springy. I’ve even got some very wiry undyed Devon and Cornwall Longwool, bought last Autumn at the Lost Gardens of Heligan (go, if you get a chance: we had a wonderful day out there!). So the characteristics are very different, and that matters quite a lot with yarn, although there is a way to do almost anything if you have the time to make it work. It matters less with felting, so some of my blends would make my spinning master splutter something like “Didn’t I teach you anything?”.

Beginning Central Section
Beginning Central Section

Fortunately, what I am attempting is based entirely on the colours.

The blanket became very unwieldy at this point. I’ve since found the label and discovered it weighed four and a quarter pounds before I even began!

However, that wasn’t really the problem. I didn’t want to have pins within the area I was working, because they’d be certain to get caught up and cause more breakages (by the action of what my father refers to as the Law of Maximum Cussedness). The central section is about two foot in diameter, so a lot of as-yet-unattached fibre was rather more free to move under the netting than I would have wished. Furthermore, because of this I was finding myself tensing up and pressing harder on the foot pedal, and that was when I would get out of sync and break a needle or two.

Working on Nefertiti’s Cartouche – 3

Cartouche Finished
Cartouche Finished

I did a lot of staring balefully.

I picked out a whole selection of threads, looked at them, and dismissed them. Partly, it must be said, because I had decided, after all, to use Plaited Braid Stitch, and that uses a lot of thread. I wasn’t sure that I even had enough of some of my choices!

In the end, I decided to use an overdyed pearl cotton in a sort of faience colour. Years ago, my mother managed plaited braid stitch using stranded cotton, but I tend to feel that that is making life unnecessarily difficult, so stranded threads or floppy threads were removed from consideration as soon as I had settled on the stitch…

I must say, I hadn’t expected to find the stitch getting narrower as I became more practised. I had to deliberately broaden the stitch as I got nearer to the start so I had some chance of joining the ends neatly.

Can You See The Join?
Can You See The Join?

And I really don’t think I did too badly – in fact, if it weren’t for the colour change, I think the join would be rather hard to spot!

And by the way – the dreaded Plaited Braid Stitch is no longer dreaded!

Modern StitchOff Adventure – 2

Second Layer Of Circle, with net in place
Second Layer Of Circle, with net in place

Hexagonal net laid over the fibres helps to keep them from around the “foot” for want of a better word, of the embellisher. I’ve pinned it down, inside and outside the ring, and spent a lot of time struggling with a piece of blanket which seems to get larger every time I go back to it.

The challenge with an embellisher is to move the fabric when the needle unit is up, because if the needle unit is down when the fabric moves, needles get broken.

And I can assure you, they break. Eight, I think, by the end of my first serious day of using my embellisher.

The blanket got heavier and more unwieldy, but by the end of the day I was beginning to feel I might be getting the hang of it.

Early Stage Outer Circle
Early Stage Outer Circle

This might be in part because my sewing table was gradually accreting some props. I covered it with plastic tablecloth, to help the material slide, and stretched the plastic tablecloth over a clothes horse.

That in turn helped to raise the main weight of the blanket – the bit I wasn’t working on – so that it was no longer dragging down on the section I was working on.

I even piled up some of the blanket on the windowsill, and I do rather wonder what anyone passing by might have thought of the net curtains swishing tempestuously with no person in sight!

Shredded Net
Shredded Net

What was definitely not feeling better by the end of the day was that hardworking and hapless net. It doesn’t get felted in – that’s why it’s such a useful addition to the armoury of the user of an embellisher – but it does get pretty thoroughly shredded. This may be in part because I’m not yet experienced enough to know when I can dispense with it, or it may be because I’m working on small parts of the piece at once because it is so big and heavy.

Fortunately I bought a couple of yards of it, for precisely this purpose!

Second Frostings Box

Frostings Box
Frostings Box

Many bounces and squeaks of excitement…

After a trip to the post box to pay the customs charge (I’ve no idea whether the rules have changed, or whether they’ve just got a bit zealous – Tricia has always been scrupulous in declaring contents on the package), I have received my second Frostings Box from Thistle Threads.

And yes, it’s in the same glazed card box with a magnetic clasp. Sturdy, and lovely to look at!

Frostings 2 - Group 1
Frostings 2 – Group 1

At risk of making everyone drool all over their keyboards, here’s the low-down – together with some of my ideas…

There is some hand-dyed chenille (that’s destined for Placidus, if I don’t find a use for it earlier). I haven’t an immediate use for the soutache or the strawberries, but the Flower Stamens may come in handy for the Violets

Frostings 2 - Group 2
Frostings 2 – Group 2

I’m not quite so sure about the metal threads.

I’ve not got them out of their boxes to work out how to use them, but they might make embellishment on the jerkin for Placidus, or on Jason and Medea’s clothing for The Golden Fleece. Or even form parts of Egyptian jewellery for the Dreams of Amarna.

Frostings 2 - Group 3
Frostings 2 – Group 3

Finally there are two silk gimps (all on their own to the left of the picture) and a lovely selection of fine filament silk Trame. These are in some of the colours used in the Soie Ovale, but much finer, and as Tricia describes in a recent post, the whole idea here is to allow us to twist our own threads, blending colours and thicknesses to achieve the effect we want.

Music to my ears!

Inspired By Spring Flowers – 2

Texture
Texture

Once I’d finished the little needlebook, using the little pack from Rowandean, I thought I might have a bit more of a play, and make a scissors case and a pincushion.

So I fished out a piece of dyed silk left over from a book box my mother made for her fine binding of The Wind In The Willows, and a whole hank of fantastical, textured threads, and spent an afternoon tacking them in place and then playing with my embellisher, in order to create a mossy, textural piece of fabric to line the scissor case and back the pincushion.

Inside Scissors Case
Inside Scissors Case

Bear with me, I know the textures would snag the scissor blades! I used some of the pieces of gauze from the kit – also run gently through the embellisher – to smooth down the lining. The texture is still there, but it has been muted and slightly smoothed over. And now the scissors will be beautifully padded and protected!

The edges are simply whipstitched – a considerable effort, through two layers of felt and two layers of the embellished fabric, but I’m glad to say I didn’t break any needles doing it!

 

Scissor Case - Front
Scissor Case – Front
Scissor Case - Back
Scissor Case – Back

For the front and back, again I used simple stitchery, in undivided stranded cotton. A vaguely wisteria-like (not really Spring any more…!) fall of lazy daisy flowers with French Knot centres enliven the front.

And three wheatear stitch stems (seedheads left over from winter, perhaps…?) decorate the back.

The variegated thread makes all the colour changes happen by magic, and since my other main project at the moment is the 40-count tent stitch of Eve In the Garden Of Eden, six strands of stranded cotton is a blessed relief..!

Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off – A Modern Adventure

Sketched Medallion
Sketched Medallion

I have a matchless talent for complicating my life. In my defence, I can say that this will be practice for future projects, but oh, my…

I have always had in mind to try a full-on-modern, Jane-would-never-have-done-this, take on one of the Stitch-Off designs. This is going to be that project.

I’ve been intending to do something with this blanket for quite some time, and I’ve also been intending to have a serious play (as it were) with my embellisher. Not the least of the challenges will be in managing a full size, pure wool blanket – nearly six foot square, and heavy.

First Thoughts
First Thoughts

I’ve sketched out the central medallion from the design for the child’s cap by eye.  From now on, it’s a venture into the unknown…

I began by cutting leaf shapes in two colours out of two different types of felt, and alternating them around the circle. My wavy stem line wasn’t quite even, so I’ve tried to even up the spacing by eye, and attached the leaves roughly.

I’m expecting to build up this pattern in layers, and fine-tune the felting as I go, so the first stage here is just to make sure nothing moves too much..

Originally needle-felting was an industrial process for making a non-woven fabric. It dates back to about the 1860s, and these days is used for things like geotextiles and insulation. A quick rummage online told me that among the applications are tiles on the Space Shuttle and tennis court surfaces. The application to craft and art is much more recent, but it uses exactly the same needles – just not as many of them!

Blending Fibres
An Experiment in Blending Fibres

However, because of this background, an embellisher is a great way to use wool fibre as well as fabric in a project, and that in turn means an opportunity to play with colours. One of the strongest memories I have of my childhood introduction to the textile industry is visiting a woollen mill in Totnes in Devon, which made upholstery fabrics. The manufacturing process began with bales of alarmingly bright colours of wook fibre being thrown into a carding machine, and ended with wonderfully subtle, lively colours of fabric coming off the looms. I’m going to see what I can do to emulate this intimate blending of colour using my little hand cards.

Working on Nefertiti’s Cartouche – 2

Top Block
Top Block

After I’d finished the spiral trellis stitch circle, I had some doubts about it. Maybe it wasn’t strong enough, maybe the texture clouded the impression of the shape, maybe it even killed the colour. I’ve decided – with continuing reservations! – to keep it for now. I like the effect, and the knotted texture contrasts nicely with the long and short stitch beside it. If it can’t live with its companions when I’ve finished the piece, I will be in a better position to work out how to replace it.

The zigzag is about as simple as it could be – straight stitches, tightly whipped – and the half-circle, like the one in the lower section, is  detached buttonhole stitch.

Needs A Border
Needs A Border

So far, so good.

All the individual hieroglyphs have been worked, and I think the colour balance has turned out pretty well.

However, cartouches have borders, and the border is giving me a raging headache!

I had thought of working the border in Plaited Braid Stitch, in a copper or gold, or maybe couching down a knitted ribbon. Maybe a border in some other stitch, in blue-green?

So far, every thread I’ve tried has either disappeared into the background, or made itself altogether too obtrusive. I can see myself staring balefully at it for weeks, so in the meantime I am going to tack guidelines for the eventual border (in silk, what else?) and hope that inspiration dawns…

Inspired by Spring flowers..

Cover Layers
Cover Layers

You may recall that last year – or was it the year before?  – I joined in a “Make & Take” at the Rowandean stand in Harrogate. Last time, I bought a little kit and one of Katrina’s pages of ideas and brought them home to play with.

Of course, as we all know, the Bringing Home is the easy part… !

The colours are soft and fresh, springlike, so I thought I would start by playing with forms vaguely inspired by spring flowers. The ultimate inspiration here was from snowdrops, made by stitching a fly stitch and a twisted fly stitch on top of one another. It has almost worked, certainly close enough for my purposes. Maybe an embroidering botanist would like to play a bit more.

Grape Hyacinth
Grape Hyacinth

The flowers are stitched on a piece of gauze which is layered over a piece of silk, which in turn lies over apiece of felt. The french knots in the corners held everything together while I tackled the flowers.

The next fragment was vaguely inspired by grape hyacinths, which are among my  favourite spring flowers. Overlapping detached chain stitches worked well, and layering gauze over the felt helped to bring the flowers out from the background.

I may choose to fray the gauze further, but I was struggling with light at this point and decided to see what I thought under different atmospheric conditions!

Crocus of a sort
Crocus of a sort

I did mention that I’m no botanist! The ultimate inspiration here were the stripy crocus I see a lot near where I live. They are getting a little old and blowsy, not the trim, upright bolts of colour that first appeared, but nevertheless the ones I’ve stitched look more like some strange new flora, unknown to either science or art!

I rather enjoyed them, all the same…

Stitched Spine
Stitched Spine

I’ve turned the resulting pile of felt into a needlebook, rather more illustrated that is usual, and with a dramatic stitched spine. This was a distinct piece of experimentation – I could have done with a milliner’s needle, but not having one I improvised with a beading needle, which was very flimsy and flexible, but did the job in the end.

Now I’ve put it under a heap of books to flatten it gradually without the squashing effect of an iron. And I still have some felt, some thread, and some gauze left over for further experimentation!