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Christmas Angel Finished

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The Christmas Angel is finished. A background of different shades of gold, the Angel in red and green outlined in heavily textured gold thread

So here we are. All the gold canvaswork completed, the Angel outlined in different weights of thread, given tightly curled hair in French Knots, and now ready for however I work out how to mount her and turn her into something pleasing, and useful to decorate the house next Christmas.

I haven’t given the Angel a face, and I don’t think I will. It’s distressingly easy for “sweet” or “joyful” to become “disturbingly weird” with faces, especially when there is so little space, and relatively few stitches to manoevre with. If I experience an inspiration, I’ll reconsider, at least until I’ve mounted her. At the moment I’m looking for a sufficiently tall and wide cardboard tube that I can cut in half. Alternatively, I need to be very clever indeed about my card engineering…

It really only took as long as it did – it was begun in 2015 – largely because there was a lot of background, and it was remarkably tricky to find a rhythm to the pattern. Once I did so, it became much easier, and fairly romped away. Before that time, it spent a considerable period hidden away because – not having found the rhythm – it just made me grumpy to look at it!

Reporting on 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.

Any suggestions?

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.

Stitching the Christmas Angel

Stripy Cape

Stripy Cape

Rather than being stitched in time for Christmas, I found myself stitching the Christmas Angel over Christmas. About halfway through the stitching, I also coloured in the hair with brown pen. It helps keep the head distinct from the background and the wings, and somehow pulled the whole thing into focus.

My invented bargello pattern of various pearl cottons, including some with a metallic twist in them, has turned out fairly well, if redder than I expected.

Shoulder Cape

Shoulder Cape

As a result, I chose to stitch the shoulder cape in greens. There are two variants here – green with a gold thread and green with a bright green thread. I’ve been using the green and gold as the striped “framework” for the Cape, so I simply used the green and green for the spots. The shoulder cape will be outlined to allow for a bit more shaping, using couched gold thread, but that’s one of the last elements of the design.

Decisions regarding the Wings

Decisions regarding the Wings

The next challenge was to decide how to work the wings. I started off wanting to create some sort of strong patterning, just with the stitches, but in the end I realised that, as the background is going to be strongly patterned, and the cape is so striking, the eye will need somewhere to rest.

So, plain brick stitch it is, although in another of those glitter-twisted pearl cottons, which are quite ridiculously tender and tricksy to stitch with, at least on this canvas. Even Gilt Sylke Twist and Gold Wyre seem robust by comparison!

A Christmas Angel

Testing Canvaswork Patterns

Testing Canvaswork Patterns

While I am still trying to work out how to do the Chorus of Angels, I’ve decided to work a single Angel from the Chorus in an entirely different medium – needlepoint. The original idea was to have it done by Christmas, but I’m becoming aware that that isn’t very likely now.

Once I’d made that decision I had a lot of fun playing with bargello patterns and trying to choose something suitable. I’m using a fine canvas – 18 count, I think, although as it came, unlabeled, in among that collection of supplies that included several frames, I’m not sure. It’s full of size and is going to be rather a trial to stitch, I fear.

Gown Done

Gown Done

I’ve decided to use the gold pattern on the far left (slightly altered) for the background, to give an effect a little like the patterned gold background of an icon. The lines of this panel are so simple that I can afford to use some quite complicated patterns, I think.

In the end I settled on the green and red spots in the upper middle for the cape, although choosing the colours hasn’t been quite straightforward. The wings are still puzzling me.

Since I have decided on a gold background for the angel, I decided to paint the background canvas gold as well. That will help to boost any thin coverage.

I’ve worked the gown underneath the cape very simply, in cream brick stitch, and the face and hands using gold tent stitch. None of the variants of flesh colour seemed right, and the gold does at least belong in the design.

Gabrielle, the Christmas Angel – Part Two

And now, the Finale…

Gabrielle's Wings - first stage

Gabrielle’s Wings – first stage

“Angels need wings.  I have never made big wings before, only gauzy ones, so these grew a bit like Topsy! I had, fortuitously, a ball of crochet cotton which exactly matched Gabrielle’s dress, but I had already used crochet to make the lace on the overdress. Needlelace seemed an option if I could find a suitable former to hand.  Wire proved to be too thin, and the thread slipped about, so in the end I made a frame from one strand of the plastic coated wire of electric cable.  Yes, I know you can buy purpose made formers but I wanted to do it now.

Sequins, crystals, and wire support

Sequins, crystals, and wire support

After drawing the shape on heavy card, and arriving at a good shape was an interesting exercise in its own right, I couched on the wire at widely spaced intervals, then covered the wire and its plastic coat in blanket stitch using my turquoise crochet cotton. Not only did this cover the wire but it provided a anchor for the needlelace itself. I used pea stitch at first then increased the number of loops in each group first to five and then to seven to add “weight” towards the lower edge. I hadn’t provided a former across that edge as I didn’t want it to be rigid, but needlelace requires just such an edge! A single thread helped a bit but a piece of applied crotchet finally did the trick.

She looked balanced, if a bit subfusc for Christmas, so I added sequins, left over from one of Rachel’s childhood projects, mainly cup-shaped but the lower ones are long ovals to suggest pinions. Again, the colours, turquoise and silver, were a perfect match.  Some people have all the luck.  Rachel added crystals to increase the “bling”.  The halo is a cardboard former covered with cloth of gold.  I used the gathered side to suggest an aura of radiating holiness and backstitched a banner “Gloria in excelsis Deo” in red on cloth of gold, too.”

Gloria In Excelsis Deo

Gloria In Excelsis Deo

We timed our photography just right, too – the last sunny day of Autumn, before the weather turned thoroughly nasty on us…

Outside, hanging from a fir branch in the garden, Gabrielle made a remarkably effective member of the heavenly choir.


Gabrielle, the Christmas Angel – Part One

Gabrielle, the Christmas Treetop Angel

Gabrielle, the Christmas Tree Angel

Lest you imagine my talent for complex projects sprang out of nowhere, I have asked my mother to write a couple of guest posts about one of hers –  Gabrielle, the Christmas Tree Angel. Gabrielle figured on our Christmas cards this year, and she took nearly a year because she was being improvised as she went along.

“Looking at my collection of crochet hooks, I decided that I needed to do something quickly if I wanted to use the smallest one before my eyesight made it too difficult.  I am becoming increasingly long sighted as the years progress, and my myopic Impressionist wonderland is receding. Coincidentally, it was Christmas tide, and we had just rejuvenated Bethlehem.  (Ask Rachel!)  A Christmas Angel for the top of the tree seemed the next proper project.

Gabrielle herself is one of Rachel’s dolls, rediscovered when we were tidying the loft.  She is just the right size for our Christmas tree.  A rummage through my stash of cloth provided enough satin, a beautiful turquoise, and a square of fine silk which had been the Virgin’s veil when we made a crib one year using Rachel’s dolls as the cast.

To make the dress I cut out a cross shape wide at the top and bottom narrowing towards the crossing place out of the turquoise satin.  The cross piece itself, which formed the sleeves, was short and narrow.  I hemmed the cuffs and a  small opening for her head before folding bottom to top and sewing the side seams.

Lace Edging in sewing machine thread

Lace Edging in sewing machine thread

Next I tackled the silk over-dress.  A line of open blanket stitch along the selvedge gave me a base for the crochet work I so wanted to do. Again, I used ordinary sewing thread and kept the design simple.  It was surprisingly easy to work.  In no time I had a sizeable length of delicate lace.

The original intention had been to make a cottar such as altar boys used to wear, but the very small size and filmy silk made my stitching look crude.  Instead I used two pieces of folded silk over the shoulders fastened lightly to the satin and covered the raw ends with the very gathered edge of my lace bordered silk. It looks more like a pinny, but billowing satin displays the lace beautifully.”


Chorus of Angels

Chorus Of Angels

Chorus Of Angels

My mother and I have been planning a backdrop for some crib figures I inherited some years ago from a great aunt.

We started off by thinking about a stylised landscape (I might still do that one of these days), and then we thought about some sort of embroidered “stable” (likewise!), but none of the ideas really came together.

The crib figures are simple, and carved in wood, and we think they were bought in Germany after the war. We think that simplicity might be best set off by something really gorgeous and colourful, so then my mother designed a chorus of angels inspired by the “May Queen” design by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. She substantially simplified the basic design, added wings and then created two ranks of singing angels.

She’s also created a wonderful top panel of graduated blues and superimposed the text “Gloria in excelsis Deo” over the top. At the moment we are thinking about creating an ombré dyed section for the graduated panel, and couching gold and silver threads to make the framework. Then maybe using golden gauze for the lower panel, using a second layer for the capes.

As for the wings – well, detached buttonhole stitch, perhaps? Maybe in Gilt Sylke Twist, if I can get the right colours. I’m torn between a rainbow of colours, as my mother has painted them, or some other selection. Really, it will depend on what takes my eye when I get to that stage!

We want to work it on silk, and I want to be a bit clearer about what I’m doing before I get started. So it won’t be done in time for this Christmas.

A nice, soft case for my lorgnettes

A pair of half-open pale beige lorgnettes.

An old lady of my acquaintance once said to me, “Getting older is no fun, dear, but it’s better than the alternative”. Well, one of the effects of getting older – for me – is that I now need reading glasses. If I try to move while wearing my reading glasses, the results are sometimes disconcerting, sometimes positively disorientating.

I’d been wondering about what to do about this, until at the end of 2019, it occurred to me to channel my inner Lady Bracknell, and start wielding a pair of lorgnettes. I duly acquired some, with my usual impeccable timing (Ha!) at the beginning of March 2020.

Close up of a piece of canvaswork in cream and yellow. There is a needle in the canvas beside the worked piece, which is about as high as the needle.

Since then, of course, museums and menus have alike been out of reach, and I stowed the lorgnettes in my “Eve In The Garden of Eden” box in hopes of happier times to come. I’ve decided to get started on a case now, so as to be prepared for those happier times.

As I’m now dealing with the exhaustion consequent upon getting within sight of the finish on The Amarna Family Group (which has been going for nearly a year) and the Christmas Angel (begun around Christmas 2015!), I’ve been looking for small quick projects to reset myself, and this should be a good one.

This is a piece of 22 count cotton canvas I found lurking in my stash, and so far I think it will be very simple. I think six repetitions of the scroll will allow me to wrap the lorgnettes with a closing flap, and the light yellow (pearl cotton) and cream (stranded cotton) should make it eay to find in the depths of my handbag.

Episode 59 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which we have almost recovered from the unpicking following last week’s stitching, and consider the particular delight of a fully-stitched fabric.

Continuing the stash busting cushion

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.

Another footstool

Finished Footstool
Finished Footstool

Remember this footstool?

It has a cousin, also worked by Grandmama, which has been working hard as the footrest at my mother’s computer desk, and the stitching of which is past recovery.

So the idea is that I should do a canvaswork panel for it, and Only From Stash. After all, where is the point of having a stash if you don’t make good use of it?

That is all very well – I do have some suitable canvas. Just!

But much of my tapestry wool stash is inherited from others – notice the huge pile of neutrals! – and it might be rather a wild ride to get a 10 x 21 inch piece of sensible 10 count canvaswork out of this selection.

I had intended to do something with Clarice Cliff colours, but as it happens, I don’t have as much leftover of those colours as I thought I had. I’m pretty sure that the pinks won’t figure, and unfortunately the greens are too thin on the ground and too mismatched, as well. Much thought will be needed!

Canvaswork Angel
Canvaswork Angel

While I was thinking about that, however, I also prepared Episode 35, the first SlowTVStitchery video for the new project, the Canvaswork Angel, in which the Christmas Angel is introduced, and there is some discussion of the detrimental consequences of visual confusion and the delaying effect of Doubts.