I have a rather nice circular wall mirror that my uncle passed on to me, which was his mother’s. That makes it close to a hundred years old, more than likely, and it occurred to me one day that it might enjoy having a stumpwork oak leaf frame.
Then one of the other embroiderers who joins in Hand Embroidery Hour on Twitter, the textile artist Caroline Hack, mentioned a new toy – a pen which allowed her to draw and create plastic outlines. Now, I know that there is perfectly ordinary cake-decorators wire to do the job, but I wondered whether this new material would add anything to the experiment. Like the star she is, Caroline drew a few oak leaf variations for me to play with, some with veins, some not, some using more passes of the pen, and some not, and posted them.
My first experiment plays with gauze. I’m thinking that the oak leaf frame might include some fabric leaves, as well as needlelace. After all, the mirror is a foot across – a wreath would involve a LOT of leaves!
So in this case, I have entrapped my leaf shape between two layers, tacking roughly around the edges to control the second piece of gauze, and very carefully down the central vein so that the leaf shape would stay where I wanted it to. Even by my standards, this is an odd proceeding…
I thought that while I was throwing experimental ideas together I would see whether the slight “spreading” qualities of floss silk help to cover the plastic outline, because gauze tends to ladder if you stitch it too closely. I don’t mind that if it’s part of the plan, but it’s better to know how to avoid it if you want to!
It was certainly an interesting experience. I didn’t quite get the floss silk to spread as much as I might have hoped, and there were some rather tense negotiations between the needle and the few points where there were two separate lines in the leaf shape.
I haven’t yet had the nerve to cut it out!
Episode 56 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live. In which I continue to make progress, almost silenced by the unnerving freedom offered by a Year of Experiments..
Of course, as I was unpicking the seat, I had to unpick more than just the seat so that I could get to the stitches I needed to unpick (are you keeping up?!). I suppose I should have seen it coming, but the result was some rather uncontrolled gold thread flapping loose. I found myself becoming very afraid that I would end up crossing the gold thread, and that would never do!
So I found a nice, slippy machine thread and used it to tack down the thread in the middle of the unstitched area. I didn’t want to be too thorough, in case I ended up leaving gaps that weren’t there originally, but at the same time I had to control all the threads..
Reinstating the seat was actually rather less troubling than Akhenaten’s kilt, which required some extra thinking about, because of course pleats falling close together, and pleats opened a little as they curve around the body look rather different.
But this is now at the stage where I need to start considering how to mount it, which in turn means, I think, deciding how to assemble a velvet-covered stela. I may need some help…
Episode 55 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which I declare a Year of Experiments, muse on lessons from The Camberwell, and consider the need to develop thread-wrangling techniques.
The background of freeform Bargello was rather entertaining to do. Working using nine strands of stranded cotton allowed for some subtlety in the colours, combining various blues and greens in different proportions and shading them into one another, sometimes gradually, sometimes stongly. I was surprised, sometimes, when progressively adding a particular colour, to find that it didn’t make as much difference as I expected – but this is why we experiment!
Once I came to the Fishie himself, there was a bit of puzzlement. I wanted to have a different pattern for the head, the fins and tail, and the body. I wanted a vaguely “scale-like” pattern, and I wanted to make sure that the stitches were at a different orientation to the water.
I settled on Moorish Stitch for the body, Mosaic Stitch for the head, and Encroaching Gobelins Stitch for the fins and tail. And I left in the tacked outlines. They only show in a few places, and I think they give the impression of sketched lines, which is quite suitable for an exploratory piece. I’ve also left out the eyes, since I’m looking from above.
Looking at it now, I’m pleased with the sense of flowing water that the bargello nearly creates, and the fish is interesting, but maybe not entirely successful. Some of the edges and joining points are a little clumsy – but that may be because this is an experiment, thrown together to see what I learn.
I’ve had at least one idea for another fishy experiment, so you will be seeing more of this sort of thing…
And indeed, Episode 54 of SlowTV Stitchery describes the beginning of the Second Fishy Experiment, in which I begin a second fishy experiment, this one attempting to give the impression of the fish seen through water, making some slight changes to the form of the freeform bargello, and anticipating tussles with my very leftoverish leftover thread.
One of the joys of this past year has been the “Georgette Heyer ReadAlong” on Twitter, founded by @MissElvey. In fact, do read her account of why and how she started it. It spun off quizzes via Zoom on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve (I think I’m right), and so far two Zoom sessions of book recommendations, which have both added substantially to my list of Authors I Enjoy.
“The Rose of Sebastopol” was recommended during one of those, and quite apart from the fact that it’s the quiet, conventional cousin that goes off and adventures, the striking thing about the book is the very prominent part that needlework plays in it. The main protagonist is a highly skilled needlewoman, and needlework becomes both her refuge and her superpower as she uses it to transform herself and those around her to meet challenges she never expected to face.
Reading it, I realised that in over forty years of voracious reading, I’d encountered very few books in which needlework of any description played a prominent role. I thought a bit harder, and came up with Tracy Chevalier’s “A Single Thread”, in which the main character joins the Winchester Broderers, learning needlework almost from scratch.
So I have started asking for suggestions on various social media, and on SlowTV Stitchery and putting together a list. There have been more suggestions than I expected to find. In a few days, I will put the list on a separate page you’ll be able to find across the top of the page, and I’ll add to it any that are suggested to me, but bear in mind that I won’t have read them all yet, so I can’t offer personal recommendations!
The eagle eyed will have noted that my Ko-fi button has a specific aim now.
With the exception of one last piece to finish (and you will be seeing that, I promise) I believe “Dreams of Amarna” is now finished and just (just!, she says, whimpering quietly) needs to be assembled for display.
I’ve put so much effort into it that I would like other people to see the various pieces, but in order to hold an exhibition, as well as the excitement of preparing things for display, there will be supporting materials required. I don’t even know what those are yet, and I would be grateful for any support in arriving at the start of that adventure..
Advice also welcome!
In the meantime, please enjoy Episode 53 of SlowTV Stitchery, in which we continue to search for needlework in fiction, accompanied by the string quartets of Maddelena Lombardini Sirmen.
Remember this? Remember how suprised I was at just how much I was enjoying canvaswork?
I found the last pattern in “Victorian Needlepoint” by Freda Parker, another one inherited in a bundle. I keep meaning to have a good rummage in that bookshelf, and work out what I want to keep, but as it is, it makes a good resouce when I’m looking for “something, I don’t know what, but I will know it when I see it”.
Since I’m stash busting, I used several different skein remnants for each colour on the chart, so the pattern has more variety than drawn. There are three shades in the very darkest sections, and I was surprised by how little difference two of them showed once they were stitched. You learn things at the oddest times.
That panel is the last, by the way, because at this point I ran out of canvas!
It does, however, make a squarish, ornamental panel. If I can find some suitable fabric, I can give it a backing and turn it into a cushion.
Episode 52 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which I challenge you all to name some works of fiction in which needlework has a prominent and positive role…
At the moment, the idea for The Vision of Placidus is that the main picture – the encounter between Placidus and the Christ/Stag – will be framed with a depiction of denizens of the natural world – underwater creatures in the lower section, bulrushes and dragonflies in the upright sections, and birds in the upper section. I’ve been thinking of putting the symbols of the Evangelists in the corners, to obviate the necessity of dealing with getting the design around those corners.
However, what I’ve not yet sorted out is the technique I might choose to use. This is going to be an experiment to see whether using canvaswork – a sort of freeform Bargello with embellishments – will create a pleasing effect.
I was really very pleased with how quickly this came together when I began thinking about it. The red line is a guide for the freeform Bargello, representing the current in a stream, and the fish is simply there to help me test how to deal with the boarders between the flowing background and the motifs.
That might be easiest to achieve if I worked the fish, and then added in the background, but if I do that, I think it will be nearly impossible to place the background correctly on the far side of the fish. So this time, I’m doing the background first, putting in the stitches across the fish in sewing cotton, as a sort of “draft”.
I’m using stranded cotton, separated and combined to create blended shades. As it turns out, six strands are not quite enough for full coverage, so here I am using nine.
Episode 51 of Slow TV Stitcery is now live, including a comparision of bone and steel laying tools, consideration of two possibilities to experiment with for Placidus, and thoughts about taking sagas seriously.
It has been some time since I reported on the Amarna Family Group, and that is partly because, when I had finished the basic design, I was more than a litttle uncertain how much detail I wanted to add, and quite frankly, I was a little unnerved by the mere idea of adding any detail at all!
However, eventually, I gathered my courage in both hands, and started to make an attempt. First, a few lighter and darker purple stitches on the grapes – I may decide to add more, but I don’t want the details to overwhelm the design.
And this is the point at which I went astray. Whitening the kilt with dark lines for the creases and additional white stitches was rather difficult and stressful, so I moved on to tackle the seat. I tried to add enough details to bring the seat to life and pull it away from the background, but instead found it too detailed, too fussy, drawing the eye away from the warmth of the family group and emphasizing the furniture. Not at all what I wanted.
I left it alone overnight, hoping that it would settle together and I would see it with a clearer eye.
It didn’t settle together, and I did see it with a clearer eye. I was so frustrated and upset, I didn’t stop to take a picture, but sat down, picked up scissors, stitch ripper, tweezers, and a blunt tapestry needle, and unpicked it.
It took all day.
That was some time ago, so Episode 50 of SlowTV Stitchery is about Something Else Entirely. A fishy experiment is introduced and there are some musings on the blending of threads.
The next stage with Silkie were the main details on the head. The eyes, the beak, and the beard were all long and short stitch, which is not a favourite of mine, as long term readers are very well aware.
However, I have now grown reconciled to long and short stitch to the extent that, if I believe it to be the right choice, I will settle to it without too much grousing. Just a token mutter or two!
In truth, satin stitch isn’t a huge favourite, either, but the jewel-like golden shapes were what attracted me to Silkie when I saw the kit in the shop, and besides, silk thread is such a joy to use, and so rewarding in both satin stitch and long and short stitch.
So Silkie’s decorations, eyelashes, and bushy eyebrows all came together in something of a rush, and brought the goofy expression properly to life.
The final detail was to seed stitch the neck and the forehead. As it happened, I couldn’t find anywhere in the instructions the detail of which colours to choose, so the final detail may not be as intended.
But I like it – lighter on the forehead where the eyes, eyebrows and beak all concentrate the darker colours, and darker on the neck to bring out the flower with its un-outlined petals.
Now I need to work out where to put Silkie so I can continue to enjoy him!
Episode 49 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live. In which we tackle the Angel’s hair, remember the Great Ladys Magazine StitchOff, and consider music while we work.
The second, simpler version of the stripes works better – much better. I like the deepening colours, and the change of spacing creates a changing rhythm.
The next band uses three different yellows to make little diamond shapes, alternating darks and lights – although as the darks and lights looked closer togther when stitched than on the hank, the alternations don’t show as much as I thought they would!
I became a little ambitious after that, and found a celtic knotwork pattern in a book (Celtic Needlepoint, by Alice Starmore) I inherited with a bundle of other things from a local lady who seems to have been as adventurous with her needle as I am, but with a greater emphasis on counted work.
I went astray a couple of times. Knotwork patterns are a little taxing!
I hadn’t quite recovered from tyeing myself in knots when I did the next narrow band. This was intended to be a chain link pattern, but I ended up with something else – what, I’m not quite sure!
The next Episode of #SlowTVStitchery is now live – remembering the agony of unpicking Akhenaten’s seat, while considering the question of the right style of detail to add to a design, with particular reference to the Christmas Angel.
If you have been watching the videos, you will know how the Angel has been going, but it’s sometimes helpful to see things straight-on, which my videoing set up doesn’t achieve.
I got to the bottom edge and felt very pleased with myself – only to discover that not only was the top edge not done, but working the pattern in the other direction is slightly trickier than you might expect! It only slowed me down by a week or so, so not too serious… The next decision was about how to edge the angel, which edges, and with what. I’ve gone for a mixture of threads and cords so far, making different choices depending upon the sort of edge and how emphatic I want it to be.
Yes, I know I haven’t done the hair yet! I’m still not sure how, and I want all the gold done first, so I know what the hair has to deal with.
At the moment I have tacking stitches in place for the wing patterns, while I stare and try to decide which I want to do.
And while we all consider that, I can report that Episode 47 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which we return to the Amarna Family Group to add some details, recollect the working of the Colossus of Akhenaten, and discuss needle choice and other technical aspects of the additional details.