Found and to be finished

Tudor-inspired octagonal design of an Acorn surrounded by gold and silver strapwork

Very long term readers may recall that over a decade ago, I was working on some additional designs from the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork course, became thoroughly fed up with them, and shoved them in a dark corner until my good temper returned.

It’s taken a while…

Anyway, I’ve found them again, and while the Parterre Knotwork is being difficult, the Amarna finish-work is being difficult, and Aethelflaed is being difficult, I thought I would see whether my good temper had returned, and I could get them finished.

Tudor style design of a honeysuckle sprig surrounded by dark green tent stitch. There are furry bits of unpicking and knots of thread starting all around, and the green isn't yet all in place.

The Acorn was completed – some time in 2012, apparently, and I’d started on the tent stitch for the Honeysuckle, and found myself with some miscounting and unpicking, which I think may have contributed to the loss of temper.

So the first thing to do was to finish all that tiny dark green tent stitch. In fact what you see here was some considerable way into the process – almost all the right side outside the strapwork gaps is new – but with my new-since-I-started working light with magnifier, and my working spectacles, it actually went rather better than a decade ago.

The same honeysuckle motif, green background completed, and first element of the strapwork in place

The first addition was silk Spiral Trellis for the centre of the flower – I enjoyed that, even though it’s so tiny. So now I can start on the gold and silver strapwork!

First up is reverse chain stitch, which was a relatively easy way in. I like the stitch, and find it useful, so it’s familiar. The round-eyed Japanese needles are less so, and I struggle to thread them, but they were such a feature of the Online University courses that I feel I should persevere with them.

A closer look at the overlays

In the process of mounting a gauze overlay on a frame,

It occurred to me that I rather skipped over quite a few elements of the rather haphazard development of the overlays, and a slightly closer view of the way the overlays have been managed might be rather interesting, at least for some of you, so here we are.

In fact I got the framer to make two frames, one the frame that will be seen, which is what I painted gold, and the other a fillet, very fine “infill”, in effect, that will not be visible, but will be part of what keeps the gauze tensioned and in place.

Close vew of one corner, with the fillet in place. The next stage will be to fold the gauze back over fillet and frame, and glue and trim it to place.

Here is a close view of the corner. This is the point where I had quite a bit of wrangling to do. The gauze stretches over the front of the frame, and around the back, and is then caught into the ledge that would normally hold the glass. There is double sided table on the frame, and double sided tape on the fillet, and in effect I used it to tack the gauze in place.

So I worked from front to back, and around the frames, to make sure that the gauze was taut, and on the straight grain. Then we (at this point, The Australian was acting as Studio Assistant!) hammered nails through the fillets and the gauze and into the frame. And then turned it over, all panicky in case something had sagged.

Frame resting on cream dessert pots to raise it over the main panel, and with one of the old overlays laid over the top.

Which, fortunately, it hadn’t. So then I spent a bit more time wrangling the gauze, gluing and trimming it in place. In fact as long as the glue holds long enough to keep the gauze held back until it doesn’t want to straighten into odd directions, that will do me, but the other advantage of copiously gluing the gauze (me and glue – aren’t I being brave!!) is that it now won’t fray.

The next complication is that I need to work out how to get the design element in the right place, given I don’t want it bang in the middle…

So it turned out I hadn’t finished…

I took out the finished Amarna panels to measure them recently, and found the overlays looking faded and muddy, so I need to do something different…

Two frames on the floor, being painted gold

Cue much experimentation and puzzlement. It came in two parts. The first was, can I use different media to create the image in a way that will be more stable? The second, can I make the overlays less susceptible to damage?

That second part was easily answered – I have always expected that the overlays should be properly framed, so I just (a word to beware of!) have to work out how to do so. I had concerns about tension and keeping everything square, but when I talked to my fabulous framer, she seemed much less worried than I, so I commissioned her to make some large frames in plain wood that I could paint with gold.

An experiment with acrylic ink on gauze, producing a face of Nefertiti

Yes, I know one can buy mouldings which are already gold – they’re all much too bright. I don’t want the frames drawing the eye, I want you to look through and past them, into the main panels.

Then I did some experiments to see whether I could find new ways to put the faces on the gauze, less prone to disintegration. I had a lot of fun playing with acrylic inks on small offcuts stretched over embroidery frames, picture frames, anything to hand. I sprayed water on the gauze before, or after, painting on the images. I tried thickening the ink with pva glue or aloe vera gel. I tried ordinary acrylic fabric paint. I stencilled. I dabbed with a sponge. I tried all sorts of experiments!

Frames covered in gauze showing the faces of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, drawn using quick diagonal cross-hatching with inktense blocks. They are set at an angle so that you look through them.

And once the ink was dry, even black ink seemed to vanish. The fabric paint filled up the weave too much, and created a rather clumpy effect.

So in the end I went back to the inktense blocks (in purple, not that you can tell!), put my newsprint style guides under the gauze, and put them in, quickly and vigorously. Then I sprayed the gauze lightly with the sort of fixative pastellists use for soft pastels. I have no idea at all whether this will work in the long run, but it seems to me it has a reasonably good chance…

Some Thoughts on the Path

Some test stitching for the "path" sections of the parterre. Both of them look a bit busy.

While I’m thinking about the large octagonal borders (they’re proving very tricky to plan!), I’m also thinking about the “path” section. I really like both of these stitches, but they are both much too close in scale to the stitches in the border, and I think they’d be much too busy as well. The path is much the largest area, and I need to keep it from fighting with the borders. There needs to be some calm somewhere!

Several variations of yarn and thickness of thread in a single stitch.

This is more promising, but the lower experiment with lots of different colour combinations and thicknesses is also too busy. I think if I can stretch out the variations to create larger sections and make the colour changes less strident, this might work. The stitch grows quite quickly, as well. I just hope my stash is equal to the task…

I wasn’t intending to start on the path yet, but given the already-referred-to difficulties I’m having with the octagonal borders , I wanted to be making progress somewhere!

The Octagonal Borders Are Giving Me Trouble

Octagonal shape outlined with mosaic stitches, with some borders tacked in with stranded cotton.

If the long borders were looking monolithic, the large octagonal ones looked like a huge outcrop in the middle of nowhere!

So, as before, I’m playing with tacking stitch divisions to see whether I can plan some shapes that will give me a start.

These borders are too narrow, I think. They are the size that works in the long borders, but the different outline shape makes a difference, I think.

Octagonal shape outlined with mosaic stitches, with some borders tacked in with stranded cotton.

And I don’t think this works, either. The broader border somehow seems to make the shape unbalanced, which is very peculiar when it seems closer to dividing the shape into thirds on the diagonal.

At this point, I started to think in different directions. Maybe, instead of geometric divisions, I should think of a large “hero” stitch or stitched motif, which has rivers of stitching around it, or even one single other pattern running around it. Hmmm….

Octagonal shape outlined with mosaic stitches, with some borders tacked in with stranded cotton, and further stranded cotton outlining of a very large stitch motif, experimenting with placement.

So this next picture, believe it or not, is playing with that idea.

The red stranded cotton is placing the main skeleton stitches for a stitch motif called Milanese Pinwheel (another one which looks a lot like a patchwork motif to me!). The visual effect is a bit square in comparison with the real thing, not as helpful as I hoped – I may just have to Be Brave and be ready for a lot of unpicking!

Research for Aethelflaed

A grid of pictures - three of items from the Staffordshire Hoard, and one sketch of the burgh symbol on the obverse of some coins minted in Mercia during Aethelflaed's rule.

I think I’m going to try to do Aethelflaed next.

At the moment, my thought is to have her riding (side-saddle) towards the refortification works at Chester (which is where I grew up). I looked up “side-saddle”, owing to having some doubts about how recent or not it might be, and the history and techniques of riding sidesaddle seem more complex than would at first appear.

Of course they are.

There’s the technique you probably think of first, with a leg hooked up and the rider facing forwards (think Queen Elizabeth II riding Burmese to Trooping The Colour, way back when). The development of that design is credited to Anne of Bohemia, Richard II’s Queen, so it would be anachronistic, to say the least, for Aethelflaed. However… The older style is more like a chair set on the horse’s back, with a footboard, and the rider faces sidesways. Generally the horse is then lead, either by a someone on foot, or by another rider, but I simply cannot imagine Aethelflaed not being under her own steam, as it were. I suspect that she would just have a really voluminous skirt or a slit skirt or even just wear men’s clothing and ride astride. But that would not create the image I want, so I’m going to have to balance storytelling with other concerns. Well, that’s part of what is interesting to me, so that’s ok!

A grid of sketches of some of the patterns seen on items from the Hoard. They were done in a museum, in front of the real thing, which is much tinier than the photos you see suggest, so they are scrappy and inaccurate, but they might still help.

I had a lovely day out a little while ago to see the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition at the Museum in Stoke on Trent. It’s the closest source I can find for patterns that I might be able to use, and although none of these sketches or photos will be useable directly, I can, for example, imagine taking the style of that processional cross in the grid at the top, sketched in the grid to the side here, and using that at the cardinal points of the border.

I’m also wondering about taking one of the patterns from the pieces in the Hoard, and turning it into a border design, somehow. That might make everything a bit busy, so, more thought needed…

More on the Long Borders

Close up of one of the long borders, Victorian Step stitch on the outer sections, and a stitch inspired by delta wing aircraft in the middle.

When I found a stitch called “F-106 stitch” and notionally inspired by delta wing aircraft, I thought it would be a good one to include. The section looked a bit monolithic, so I faded the colours of the “background” stitches outwards from the centre. Although I have to say – I’m no flier, but that formation looks dangerously close to me!

Close up of half of one of the long borders. The Victorian Step Stitch has been continued, but in slightly different colours.

I’m trying to balance the patterns and keep them from proliferating too much so when I’d done these sections (on both long borders), I thought it would be a good idea to continue the Victorian Step Stitch pattern through the second outer sections, only altering the colours slightly. I’ve even tried to keep in step with the first sections across the divider.

The last division of one of the long borders, worked in a stitch called "Wild Goose Chase". All the wool used is multiple strands in different shades to create a more varied effect.

The triangles by the border required another pause, but in the end I kept with the aero theme, and picked a stitch called “Wild Goose Chase”, which I rather suspect may be inspired by a patchwork pattern. Trying to maintain a certain amount of echo and balance, I’ve used similar colours to the first blocks of Victorian Step Stitch, and also reflected the pattern on either side of the centre line.

Research for Rahere

Grid with a red background, showing three pages of sketches inside the church of St Bartholomew The Great, around the oldest part of it.

I had another chance to go to the Church of St Bartholomew The Great in Spitalfields recently, and managed to get in a solid couple of hours of sketching and thinking while I was about it. I did attract a bit of attention – someone came and asked whether they could take my photo as I sketched, and even photographed the sketch itself, but it was in the morning on a cold and wet Saturday, so there wasn’t too much activity. By the time the tour groups started to come in and obscure what I wanted to sketch, I was becoming chilled and clumsy and in need of food and a hot cup of tea.

Another grid with a red background, showing two photos and two sketches, again from St Bartholomew's. The photos show a scallop shell on a pew and a Victorian fresco of Rahere. The sketches are of details from the ornate tomb monument to Rahere that was erected in the 15th century.

I might use that coloured tile pattern in the border of Rahere’s panel, instead of a plain colour. I think I’d want to make the colours closer, to create the effect of a rich damask-type fabric, but I feel a bit wider variation is needed among the four panels. I want each of them to stand alone, but if they end up displayed together, they need to look happy…

I had been wondering whether it would be legitimate to include scallop shells in the borders, to reference pilgrimage, since most often I have heard of the scallop shell being associated with the Camino to Compostela. Plainly the makers of the pews thought so!

Sketch down one side aisle of the church, looking upwards towards the arches. It's a bit scrappy, but atmospheric, I think.

I’m still trying to work out what to set behind Rahere. Arches? A single arch, maybe, with the gold underside couching within. That may be a bit too reminiscent of a halo, and no-one, as far as I know, has ever even suggested Rahere as a candidate for sainthood. If Kipling’s version of him has any veracity (it’s certainly not based on research – you might call it a possible emotional truth), he’s very much in the category of people who make for an challenging example – speaking truth to power is not a gift we all have, although we may all agree that it is important that it happens.

Sketch looking across the church towards Rahere's tomb. There is a figure in a cassock kneeling at prayer befor it.

In truth I think he’s more valuable as an example to follow without the accolade. He is credited with founding an institution which continues to provide healthcare, 900 years after foundation, he is still remembered, and no one suggests that what he did is the less valuable for the lack of a sainthood.

As you see – he is still remembered.

Long Borders

Close up of one of the long borders of the Parterre Cushion, with skip tent stitch filling. One of the possibilities I dismissed!

There’s a good deal of trial and error with this one!

Once I’d divided up the long borders (both of them, so that it remains easy to keep track of) I started to experiment with stitches to fill in the various sections.

For a while I thought I might like to play with voiding some of the patterns, so I started with a sort of skip tent stitch. I wasn’t happy with that – it ended up combining stripes with a general appearance of not being there at all.

Another test stitching, this of Diagonal Rhodes Stitch, widely spaced. I decided against this as well!

So, next trial – what about some large bosses, Diagonal Rhodes Stitch or something like that, which will be nicely reminiscent of the topiary experimentation that inspired the cushion?

I suppose this might have worked, maybe with a river of stitching in another colour to join the three diamonds, but when I looked at it in the context of the entire border, I wasn’t happy with it. Quite why, I’m not sure, but it felt like a false start. I’ve had quite a few of those with this project, and I’m beginning to recognise the sensation!

The two innermost external borders filled in Victorian Step Stitch, in alternating rows of green and reddish brown, mirrored across the centre line.

So, in the end, I settled for finding a smallish full coverage stitch, using vertical stitches like the borders, which isn’t on quite the same diagonal as the border edgings, but seems nevertheless to work. It’s called Victorian Step Stitch in Jo Ippolito Christensen’s book, and I’ve never seen it anywhere else (that goes for a lot of the stitches in that book!). A small advantage was that it mirrored relatively easily about the centre line, creating an arrowhead.

Fabulous Felt Shoes Finished

Side view of a high-heeled shoe made of felt and stuffed, then decorated with felt flowers. The shoe has a red sole, like the famous Louboutins.

Yet another Twixmas project that lasted longer than I anticipated…!

I enjoyed making these – the instructions were clear, and in fact, you make a basic court shoe shape, and then add variations and additions. Some of the felt I had was a little flimsy, so the two decorative additions to the first two shoes are both made of two layers of felt stitched together, using patterned blanket stitches, before I attached them to the shoes.

Another felt shoe, this one with smaller decoration and a high vamp

I varied the stitches I used, not quite following the instructions.

Of Course I Did.

The basic shoe shapes are put together using stab stitch, which I use when I’m making felt cradle toys. It’s secure, simple, and leaves a nice raised seam, which I think adds to, rather than detracts from, the finished effect.

Front view of the simplest felt shoe, a court shoe with florid decoration over the toe.

I think the instructions suggest back stitch for the leaves, but I’ve chosen reverse chain stitch. I like the solidity of the line, and it somehow enhances the slight dimensionality of attaching the two leaves together.

The instructions also suggest ready made felt balls for the flower centres – I didn’t have any, so I just made small stuffed balls of the same felt as the leaves. And there are two sorts of flower – one is made of two discs stitched together and stuffed, the other is, effectively, a Suffolk Puff.

I think they are both charming!

A small square felt cushion, presented on the diagonal and decorated with felt leaves, flower and buds. The shoes will be hung from this to create a mobile.

Once I’d done the shoes I gave some attention to hanging them. I had some felt left over, so I made a small felt cushion using the shoe colours, and then made some more flowers and leaves.

The finished mobile is delightful, but it goes very badly with my studio, which is still decorated in the taste of the previous people to live here – yellow (no quarrel with that) with a border panel in pink, blue, and green.

I’m going to have to redecorate the studio, aren’t I!