Playing with Flox 4 – finish

Different shades of french knots, something like lavender flowers

I worked both ends of the table runner at the same time, because I thought that would enable me to see the whole thing as a single piece, rather than two pieces the same. As I’ve said many times, I have a real problem with repeating motifs, and this is one way I try to trick myself into not seeing the repeats, as it were.

The other thing I did was to put the stems in quite early on in the process. Partly because it was an easy choice to make, and partly because one of my other discoveries over the years is just how much different it makes to the sense of making progress if the design is visually joined up. “Spotty” designs are very discouraging, but if the design elements are linked, somehow progress is easier to see.

Pink frilly flower is now blue and in two shades

In the picture here, you see most of the decisions I made for the main section. Each of the orange petalled flowers uses a different combination of the several orange threads I had in my bundle, which turned out to be just as well, as it makes it look deliberate while reducing the terrors of playing Thread Chicken.

I also learnt from the first frilly flowers and when I reinstated them in blue, I used two shades, which makes for a much lighter and less blocky look.

The two shades of pink in the bell flowers also help to make the whole thing a bit less monolithic. It’s just as well, because the weight of the thread does make the stitching very emphatic.

Finished profusion of floral forms

So, it’s finished, although yet to be pressed owing to the fact that the ironing board bites and I’m rather fighting shy of it at present.

My suspicion, based on my experience with Kai-Lung, is that had I been able to use the original transfer, the design would have been larger, making it maybe possible only to do one end of the table runner, but also changing the relative scale of design to thread. The design is a little small for the thread, so when I come to use up the leftovers on something else, I must remember to enlarge whatever I use. I will just have to be ingenious with my colour distribution!

Getting Back To William Marshall

William Marshall panel, with guidelines for basketweave underside couching finally in place.

You probably recall that before Christmas I had started to practice my basketweave underside couching and had even got as far as drawing in the guidelines.

And there, I got stuck. Partly because my stitching frame was in the way of the Christmas tree and had to be folded down, and partly because I rather lost my nerve – the interval, you understand!

Finished practice panel of basketweave underside couching

I decided to finish the test patch with the actual thread I’d decided to use, and then I would have No Excuse.

And in fact, this doesn’t look too bad, does it?

There are bits I’m less than chuffed with, but on balance, the pattern is fairly clear, clearer than on the previous piece, and I think I have to decide that any further improvement had better take place in situ, as it were.

About four rows of underside couching in place!

So here I go!

I decided to start on one of the straight lines I drew at intervals to help make sure I stay on track, and slightly off-centre, so that any particularly egregious infelicities in the changeover aren’t bang in the middle. You may recall that one of the discoveries from the practice piece is that I am more comfortable working horizontally and away from me. So I will work from this point to the far edge, and then turn the frame around, and work to the far edge in the other direction.

Wish me luck!

Playing with Flox 3 – a couple of missteps

Densely stitched flower forms in warm colours, looking very congested

Flox is quite an odd thread to use. It’s tough and almost wiry. I love the shine and brilliance of the colours, but even the fairly loosely woven fabric I chose was a little bit too closely woven for the thread. I had rather a battle with it, and it was a bit tricky to find stitches I liked the look of. I’ve ended up using a very small selection of stitches – chain stitch, stem stitch, French Knots, and fly stitches.

The pink fly stitches on the frilly flower, I decided, were a bad choice. I’ve no quarrel with the stitch, but pink beside the apricot/ orange of the six-petalled stitches looked wrong, too congested and overheated and all in all, Just Wrong. Amid much muttering, and no little anxiety (dear heaven, I’m not used to playing thread chicken to this extent any more!!), out they came.

Experimenting with the bell shaped flowers

I replaced them with two shades of blue – much better!

The final flowers were the bell shaped flowers. I did wonder about working them with a full-coverage stitch, such as Romanian Couching or something like it. You can see in the picture at the right that I tried a fully stitched bell. That came out two. But then I discovered that my two pinks were slightly different shades, like the oranges. So I’ve deployed the two shades to eke out my thread a little.

I did the same with the six petalled flowers – each of the four is a different combination of thread shades.

Overlays Are Tricky!

The panel with the View of the Excavation, with kumihimo braid pinned over the intersections.

A further episode in the Difficulties of Assembly…

I spent hours – literally – making some kumihimo braid to trim the main Amarna panels, and finally finished the second three metre length during the MathsJam weekend in November. Rejoicing at this success, I pinned the braid in place over the interections in a panel, sat back, and was rather pleased. I thought it looked crisp and added a lovely finishing touch. WooHoo!

Oblique shot of the same panel, with braid, and the overlay cast over the top.

Then I put an overlay over the top and I was Most Disappointed. Rather than adding a neat little finishing touch, the braid seemed to shout over the embroidery, breaking up the panel into the constituent parts, rather than stitching it together.

That’s very odd. I’m not sure that the photograph really conveys the impression, but it was very striking in real life, and when I checked my perception by showing the piece to my mother, she agreed. She’s not been living with the project as I have, so I can trust her not to be jaded and seeing difficulties where none exist!

Shot from behind of the photographer concentrating on the Amarna panel set up with an overlay hanging in front of it.

So that braid may need to find another home.

As you can see, the Trickiness of The Overlays continued into the photoshoot. It’s as well that the braid was not included in the end – there’s a length of fishing line in the horizontal gap, tieing the panel to a very solid weight to keep it upright. And the framework from which the gauze is hanging was macgyvered on the spot. See what I mean about the photoshoot turning into a creative collaboration?

Fun with Fabulous Shoes

The title photo for the instructions laid over two squares of felt with pattern pieces drawn on .

The instructions for a set of Fabulous Shoes in felt caught my eye when I was in at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate. I thought they’d make a perfect Reset Project for the beginning of the New Year, something a million miles from my usual adventures. When I bought the instructions – and the felt – I hadn’t found the Flox, so I wasn’t anticipating coming home with two projects for Twixmas, as people call it now.

Still, they will be a good change of pace from William, once I get onto his gold, even if that means neither the Flox nor the Felt is finished for the Feast of the Epiphany!

A piece of light teal felt, with pattern pieces for one plain shoe drawn onto it.

There are so many piecs to organise that rather than pinning my pattern pieces on, I’ve been drawing around them, only when I have got as far as having some confidence in my planning. It is going to involve quite an orgy of cutting out, and more than is usual for me of what might be called Plain Sewing, but I think it is going to be rather fun.

I shall probably hang them up in a corner of my studio (we’ve been calling it the Pre-Studio all this year, since it’s still in an intermediate state, but since I do use it as such, at least part of the time, I’m abandoning the prefix!) when they’re done..

A single pattern piece drawn on a darker piece of felt

Naturally, not being a lover of black and beige, I didn’t buy the ready-planned kit of felt, but instead a selection of pieces I liked the look of, teals and greens. And red for the Christian Louboutin-inspired soles, of course.

In fact the teals are smaller pieces than the pieces of black and beige, so I’m going to have to do a bit of playing around for the third shoe.

Watch this space, as they say!

What It Takes..

On the left, my photo. Granted, with my mobile phone, but it’s the best I have available to me. It’s in the same place, and against the same background, and with nearly the same lighting, as the one on the right, taken by Bernard.

In Bernard’s version, the colours are brighter, warmer, the crevices and shadows are reduced or enhanced in different places to bring out the details in the various elements, and the placement of the highlights on the glass was carefully tweaked and managed to ensure that the shape of the dome was brought out without any odd little bright spots in the wrong place. The highlights even bracket the embroidery, framing and presenting it.

Photograph of the set up needed to get the professional photo, with mirrors and reflectors all around.

And now you see what it took. Lighting and diffusers, and then a whole slew of little improvised mirrors and reflectors, including one held in Bernard’s hand while he operates the camera with the other one.

We all say that embroidery is hard to photograph, but in truth, until you’ve seen the effort that an experienced professional photographer will put in to get a good shot, you have no idea just how hard!

And all this tells me something else – part of the trick is that, with a lifetime of doing this behind him, Bernard can look through a view finder and think, no, we can do better. I would be impressed from the start, and give up too early, not because I don’t want to achieve a good result, but because I’ve no idea just how good a Good Result can be, and still less of an idea of how to attain it.

But incidentally – I’m so glad I tinted the base of the dome. That dark, vaguely walnut shade works much better than the plain pine!

Playing With Flox 2

A close up of the corner of a piece of cream, loosely woven fabric. It has been hemstitched by hand in yellow.

I found a suitable – fairly loosely woven – fabric, and evened up the edges (a lot of unravelling happened!), then hemstitched around the whole thing. In the past, I’ve done the hemstitching last, but as I had a few occasions coming up on which I had time to myself, in public, in which stitching might enable me to be usefully occupied and not loom at people, I thought this was a good use of my time. One reel of cotton, my knitter’s captive blade, and a needle – no other equipment needed, and no risk of losing any of the precious Flox!

A photocopy of the design, coloured in with pencils to plan the colours, and blackened by a failed attempt at prick and pounce.

Then I did a colour plan for the chosen design. I don’t usually plan pieces like this so much in advance, but since I have limited thread to work with, I picked out a crayon for each colour I had, and had a go. The background is blackened because I first tried to used prick and pounce to transfer the design. It didn’t at all – possibly because the fabric is too loose and all my pounce ended up in gaps rather than on threads. The next attempt was a transfer pencil. That didn’t work either, not at all, no sign of transfer of anything. I wonder whether transfer pencils degrade with time?

Main design lines transfered to the cloth in narrow black pen. There are few details

So then, which much muttering, I moved on to my cheap and nasty LED lightbox substitute. If I ever find an old-fashioned one I shall leap upon it, LEAP, I tell you.

You can see that I didn’t transfer all lines in all detail. This is a legacy of the Stitch Off, and a result, also, of the efforts I’ve been putting into painting and sketching over the years. This sort of design doesn’t rely on precision, all of the charm of it comes from the sense of life and profusion, and the fabric and thread are both too chunky to allow for much delicacy. So I’m trying to minimise my reliance on guidelines, and indeed, gradually make the guidance still more minimal. A work in progress, again.

More Delegation

Bernard and Rachel poring over the display on his camera, with Nefertiti on the easel to be photographed.

Before Christmas, but still, thanks to an arm injury earlier in the year, very much later than I had hoped (remember the original report, on the first photography session, was in April!), I took the remaining Amarna pieces to the wonderful Bernard Rose for their portraits to be taken.

In fact, we had a great time, because although it’s fair to say I was delegating everything about the photography to Bernard, he took a very collaborative attitude. He was interested in the stories I was trying to tell, and the impressions I was trying to convey, and that meant that, rather than just going “point and shoot” (albeit with better equipment and lighting!), he put great effort into bringing the best out of the various pieces.

The first of the main panels, set around the Map of Amarna, is set up vertically on a table, and the gauze overlay of Nefertiti is suspended from a framework of pipes and clamps. You can just see the photographer to the side and frome the back.

Although, halfway through the morning, as he tried to develop a structure from which we could hang one of the overlays, he did comment on the level of puzzle-solving being demanded of him, which is apparently not entirely usual with other clients!

It’s a good thing that my arm injury is reduced to a mere occasional twinge, though – there was quite a lot of heaving things around, and the two main panels, now consisting in each case of four wooden frames screwed to a half centimetre or more of MDF, are really quite heavy and awkward.

The Nefertiti Shawl swathes a metal mannequin, set in front of a sandy coloured background

The mannequin belonged to him, too. The battered paintwork helped to bring out the idea of something inspired by archaeological discoveries. And the fabric drapes beautifully, in spite of the heavy embroidery, and the additional layer of the lining.

So I think all the photography is now done – although I will be writing a bit more about what I observed and learned during the two sessions.

That’s a relief!

Playing With Flox

Photograph of an advertisement for Anchor Flox in the 1930s. The headline is "Making things GAY!" and the text reads "Make your embroidery brighter and richer, by using Clarks "Anchor" Flox. The brilliance of this silky thread gives life and vivacity to your handiwork. And you'll find that Flox "fills up" so quickly that it not only makes your work twice as gay - it also does it in half the time!"

Well, if I had paid attention, forty years ago, to the adverts in those nineteen thirties The Needlewoman magazines, I would at least have known that Anchor “Flox” was a twisted, fairly heavy thread. I might also deduce that it was fairly new, because the tone of the adverts suggests that the reader needed to have the idea of it explained. So it is a fairly heavy thread, glossy and lustrous, and brightly coloured, creating bright, impactful pieces for interiors, rather than tiny delicate pieces for baby’s layettes.

Two rows of brightly coloured, twisted cotton embroidery thread

I laid out all my colours from the bunches I bought on the Embroiderers’ Guild stall at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show in colour families to see what I had to work with. Bright, colourful, lustrous, yes – yes, all of that. The thread is a bit heavier than the heavy pearl cottons, but the twist is not so tight. I wonder how it will make up? (Apart from “in half the time”!)

Now I look at it in better light, the red is more of an orange, so it’s misplaced, but there’s a fair range of colour here, as long as I’m not going for subtlety..

I went through my magazines, to find a selection of designs that were specifically intended for Anchor Flox, but not so huge (the Persian Fantasy Screen was intended for Anchor Flox, and that ends up as five feet by six!) as to demand more thread of each colour than I have.

I’ve decided to do one of the floral table runner designs, the middle of the top row here, because I think it will talk nicely to the Queen Anne style teacloth which is presently gracing a side table in the the living room. After that, if I seem to have enough, I am very tempted by that parrot…

Still Practicing Beforehand

First attempt at Basketweave Underside Couching. It's a bit tatty.

As my regulars know, all too well, I’m not much given to practicing beforehand. Therefore, the sight of me practicing should give everyone a slight sense of discomfort – the world is out of joint!

For this first practice, I used a gold metallic thread that is a bit finer than the recommended one, but it was at least the right structure and type. I did improve as I went through it, sufficiently to then move on to the real thread for the next practice panel.

Halfway through the second practice panel of Basketweave Underside Couching. It's using the gold thread intended for the real piece, and the pattern looks crisper.

This seems to be going better. The thread is slightly stiffer and thicker, and having taken the suggestion that Tanya made, I tried every combination of working away, working towards, working left to right, and working right to left, until I found the version that worked for me.

Horizontally, and away from me, since you ask!

William Marshall panel, with guidelines for basketweave underside couching finally in place.

Anyway, I intend to finish the second practice panel before I start on the real thing, but in the meantime I have now sufficient belief in myself on this one to have put in the guidelines on William for the real thing.

Even that wasn’t entirely straightforward, as my lightbox substitute is a little too big to fit comfortably under the frame, and has a slightly fragile usb connector, but it is now done.