Some early (very early!) experiments for the Vision Of Placidus – Part Two

First wet felted tree
First wet felted tree

Once everything had dried, I could sit back and look at my trees.

This is the first one I did. It used some multicoloured merino in the trunk, and two greens from the beginners felting kit I bought on eBay a while back. They’re not very nice greens, but all I’m doing is investigating the technique.

There are only two or three layers of wool in this one, which means there are gaps in the felt, and the junction of the trunk and the canopy is a bit flimsy. Gaps in the felt for the canopy are no problem at all – they would help to add depth to the finished piece. Since everything will be caught down (somehow – I don’t yet know how!), strong, dense felt isn’t really the aim here.

Second experimental tree
Second experimental tree

The second experiment had the addition of some short staple (that is, short fibre length), very crinkly wool. I was hoping it would result in greater shrinkage, which it has a little. It also produced a greater variety of shades in the canopy, lightening and interrupting that rather dull green. This may have promise, and the felt itself seems a little more stable and would be easier to stitch into.

Since the fibres are rubbed and soaped and rolled, and generally beaten up, it’s not surprising that the effects of trying to place the fibre colours to create a particular appearance is, to put it mildly, an inexact science. I wonder whether I could combine needle-felting with wet-felting to make the results more controllable?

Third experiment, with yarn
Third experiment, with yarn

In the final experiment, I added crocheted chains and some tangles of yarn as well. Some parts of the chain didn’t felt in quite as well as I might have hoped, but with more crocheted chain and a better understanding of how to felt it in more thoroughly, it might produce a very good effect.

My semi-spun yarn on the trunk has worked, though, and looks even better in real life, although, again, what it needs is the courage of my convictions and rather more of the same.

So, not a completely unsuccessful experiment, and certainly a good basis for further experiments, perhaps with added stitching…

Some early (very early!) experiments for the Vision Of Placidus – Part One

Experiment One
Experiment One

I’ve been struggling with a sore and stiff shoulder for some months now. It’s made me reluctant to go back to Eve In The Garden of Eden because at this stage she demands perseverance in a single, small stitch for the gold groundwork. The Head of Nefertiti has involved more variety, and earlier signs of progress, while the canvaswork is perfect for evenings.

However, my shoulder is beginning to ease and I’m feeling more willing to experiment. So I had a very entertaining morning last week (it was on Instagram and Twitter) having a go at something I saw on someone’s blog a few months ago and thought might have possibilities for the underlayer of my planned Vision of Placidus panel. If what you see looks familiar, please let me know and I will gladly edit the post to give credit!

Wetted Out
Wetted Out

Now, the Placidus panel is going to be about five foot by four foot, so even using some of the chunky threads I am happy to use (… and may even spin for the purpose!), it will take quite some effort to cover it. So I thought maybe I could wet felt some rough elements – trees, rocks, clouds, the stream, which could then be applied and tweaked, improved and generally titivated with stitchery.

In the absence of a real – waterproofed! – studio, therefore, I was to be found squatting on the kitchen floor, using a Lakeland Limited tray for cleaning oven shelves to contain the splashes and soap. I must have looked distinctly odd, but I’m accustomed to that!

Experiment 3 - First Layer
Experiment 3 – First Layer

In the case of the final experiment ( I did three), I rummaged for some fine crewel wool and made a crochet chain, with some very slapdash and freeform loops added in, and laid that down first, with a tangle of leftover yarn.

I also fished out my spindle and had a go at spinning and doubling some wool to create a different effect on the trunk. That didn’t work too well – the yarn kept unspinning itself. My shoulder isn’t up to a concerted attempt to crack spinning, so I made do with what I’d got, and backed it with various other wools to hold it together.

At this point – creaking slightly in the lower back – I decided to stop, rinse everything off, and let my trees dry before going any further. .

Another Worktop Bin

Diamond Framework
Diamond Framework

The first worktop bin was such a success that I decided to do another one.

This time the bin itself is a cardboard drum that used to contain chocolates. It’s rather bigger than my sawn-off milk bottle, and furthermore, the canvas is finer (I’m only using two strands of Paterna in the needle, not three), so the canvas is going to take a little longer to do.

Stage Two
Stage Two

I’m staying with browns, and with diamond patterns, and starting with this diamond lattice pattern. I’ve had enough of the creamy beige wool to work the framework, and since it is only two strands, I should have enough of it to work the edging and seam as well.

But there is a lot more dark brown to come and I may very well find myself combining threads to stretch my varieties of dark brown to fit the pattern. Never mind, I will then have made some Stashbusting Progress!

Stage Three
Stage Three

Has anyone else noticed what a very inexact science stashbusting is? You embark on a project, full of hope that it will consume vast stores, only to find that the Stash in question has shrunk not at all…

Right up until the project when you rely on that happening….

Shadow Play

Printed on gauze
Printed on gauze

I decided, as I stared at the printing of this blocky pattern onto gauze, that I wanted to use the transparency of the gauze as part of the finished effect.

I don’t have a destination in mind for this piece which will give me a theme, so I decided that, in order to highlight that one quality, I would use a single thread (as it happened, a variegated silk), and design a fragment that would allow me to experiment with the effect of stitch cover and openness.

Sketching
Sketching

I leafed through books about pattern, saw nothing that gave me the combination I wanted, and then evolved the fragmentary organic sketch on the far left to give me the balance of line and form I was looking for. Incidentally, this is quite possibly the swiftest and shortest progression of any sketched design I’ve ever come up with!

Finished Fragment
Finished Fragment

It’s astonishingly difficult to trace a design onto a fabric which is essentially invisible, and still harder, I might add, to follow the lines when you have finally put them there!

I used Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch for the stem, satin stitch for the solid side of the leaf, and Jacobean trellis for the flower-head. Clearly that gives me a solid coverage, and a firm line; I was hoping that the Jacobean trellis might offer a sort of half-shade.

Shadow Play
Shadow Play

 

A qualified success, I’d say. The printed pattern doesn’t create a shadow, and the Jacobean trellis shadow isn’t a sort of half-depth.

But, my goodness, the shadow of the stem and the leaf work exactly as I hoped! The gauze itself almost disappears, leaving the printed pattern floating above the surface, and the leaf and flower thrown forward by their shadows.

The Head of Nefertiti, Embellished with Silk and Gold

Screenprint of the Head of Nefertiti
Screenprint of the Head of Nefertiti

This is much the best print I’ve managed of Nefertiti, pressure, speed and amount of ink all working nicely, and very few really dark sections. What I want to do now is to highlight the coloured elements of the crown she wears – unique to her, apparently, no-one else in ancient Egypt has ever been depicted wearing it. I’ve got some gorgeous silk threads from Mulberry Silks which should do the job perfectly, but first they need a skeleton of gold. I had a lovely rummage in among the assorted wonders I’ve received from Thistle Threads (they have their own special box, of course), and after staring critically at the linen fabric, picked out the Special Tambour, and made a start.

My idea is to create a framework of Ladder Stitch, and then add colour – as in the Tudor Rose project – using silk threads. Long term readers may recall that during the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass, I had some trouble with Ladder stitch, so although I was fairly sure the idea would work, I sat down with some trepidation.

To be very pleasantly surprised. Something has happened in the intervening few years, and my ladder stitch wasn’t as trying as I expected, and moved fairly swiftly, too. I may yet decide to redo the stitches, because I re-tightened the fabric in the frame about halfway across, but that will depend upon how much better the second section looks when I have done it.

That’s a good start to a new project, isn’t it!

Finishing the Form Cushion – Stage One

Corner of the Form
Corner of the Form

When I’d finished the stitching of the canvaswork for the Form Cushion, it was a little puffy and warped, and badly in need of blocking, but being long and thin I had nothing suitable for blocking it on. Until I had an inspiration – use the form itself!

We covered the form with an old towel, and then worked on alternate sides of the form. I’ve put an old length of cotton curtain header over the canvas, so that when I come to remove the staples, it will be fairly easy to do.

In theory…

It took quite a lot of heaving and tweaking, and the combined efforts of my mother and myself (for a client, she’s having to put a lot of effort in here, isn’t she! – she’s started on renovating the form too.), but in due course we managed to get the canvas firmly attached, and stood back to look at it.

Taking The Long View
Taking The Long View

 

It didn’t look nice and smooth as it does here. It was bumpy and lumpy, and not very happy at all.

So I steamed it gently, using a steam iron but not letting it touch the wool. Very, very carefully, and slowly..

It started looking a great deal better (even upside-down), but then we set it aside, still stapled in place, for a few weeks. We wanted to be sure that it was very thoroughly dry before we moved on to actually making the cushion.

And besides, I’m not entirely clear on the type of cushion it will be!

Three Rabbits – or are they Hares?

Three Rabbits Bag
Three Rabbits (or Hares) Bag

Rummaging around as I try to reorganise the house, I’ve rediscovered a bag I made some time ago.

The Three Rabbits (or Hares) design is an ancient one, found all along the Silk Route and in many different cultures. I’ve seen it in textiles and ceramics, carved as mere outlines, polychrome with a wealth of fabulous detail. I’ve also seen variants with animals other than hares, and even variants with more animals in the circuit.

Close up of the rather travel weary hares on David's bag
Close up of the rather travel weary hares on David’s bag

I think I first encountered it when I first met David Singmaster, the mathematician and metagrobologist – it’s one of his many interests, and he has a drawstring bag decorated with the design that he takes everywhere, stocked with mathematical puzzles and games to entertain anyone who comes near. I saw it recently when David and his wife were at a conference my husband and I attended, and his wife remembered that her mother had had to remind her of how to do the French Knots for the eyes. I took delight in noting the puzzled brows that ensued whenever David took anything out of the bag!

My version is one of the simplest, I suspect. I designed a very simple circuit of hares (or rabbits!), and embroidered it using chain stitch on a russet coloured furnishing fabric. The bag is padded with wadding and lined with the same fabric.

Bunny Buckle
Bunny Buckle

Finally I designed a small buckle-type ornament made of a strip of fabric embroidered with a very definite bunny  embroidered in stem stitch, and put one on each end of the strap.

I’m intending to do a much more complicated version one of these days, maybe with a mille-fleurs background like the tapestries in the Musée de Cluny.

Watch this space, as they say!

The Worktop bin – finished

Edges turned in
Edges turned in

There is always more “engineering” involved in these projects than you expect. Once I’d turned in the edges and done the herringbone stitch “piping”, I realised that the top of the bin was probably going to be on show on the inside. I found some felt to line it with, but since it was a spare offcut, I decided to run a line of straight stitches on the inside, just in case there wasn’t enough of it!

Felt lining attached
Felt lining attached

I attached the felt with small stitches, not too tightly, but just enough to make sure that it doesn’t move unless I want it too. It’s almost a pre-felt, not too dense, so it showed some adventurous tendencies. Some firm treatment, a tug or two, and it settled down nicely.

Vertical Seam
Vertical Seam

Which allowed me to consider tackling the seam turning it from a flat piece to a tube. After some of my usual thoughtful staring, it finally occurred to me that I already had the answer: Herringbone stitch, just like the edge finish at the top.

Obvious, really, isn’t it! It makes a sturdy seam which won’t permit much lateral movement, and since I’ve used it on the top edge, it doesn’t introduce yet another texture.

Finished and in service
Finished and in service

When it came to sorting out the base, I put the sawn-off milk bottle inside to make sure I made everything fit, and folded in the canvas, holding it with a few rough stitches.

Finally I attached a piece of very dense felt to the bottom to hide all the canvas edges and make sure they don’t scratch any of the furniture. It is already in use, and you have to admit it’s very much better than an unclad sawn-off milk bottle would be!

 

Experiments for The Head of Nefertiti

Screen and equipment
Screen and equipment

You may recall that the final “Dreams of Amarna” pair of panels is intended to include the heads of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, screenprinted onto gauze, and floating over the top as free-hanging veils.

I decided to have a small screen done of Nefertiti, in order to practice the technique and experiment with the different types of gauze.

Too heavily printed
Too heavily printed

The screen duly arrived, and I did about six prints, all of which were dreadful. I put the screen away in disgust and decided to try another time.

This print shows some of the problems. I pressed too hard, obscuring some of the detail and caking the fabric – in this case a linen, because I have a plan to add silk and gold embroidered highlights. It would be impossible to get a needle through, and if I did, a metallic thread would be stripped in short order.

Printnig On Gauze
Printnig On Gauze

There’s clearly a trick to it – a combination of pressure (not too much), amount of ink (enough!) and angle of the squeegee (just right).

These two prints on gauze give me some hope. The orangey-terracotta is the small, blocky screen I bought to test out the idea first of all. I’ll embroider something over the top of this, just to see how it works.

And the head of Nefertiti is rather better, too. Next time I get out my Dreams of Amarna pieces to stare at them and play with layouts, I will be able to hang the gauze in front and play with distance and placement.

I’m beginning to think that it isn’t outside the bounds of possibility that I might finish the Dreams of Amarna one of these days, and even be pleased with it!

Coalbrookdale in Cross Stitch

Coalbrookdale - Detail
Coalbrookdale – Detail

Many years ago I used to design counted cross stitch kits, and did some for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. I did think of turning a certain very famous picture into a kit, but since we never finished the test stitch, it is just as well they decided not to go with it.

This is something else we’ve found in a fit of tidying up, and thought,”hmm, we should finish that – it will look good!”

"Coalbrookdale By Night" by Philip James de Loutherberg. Copyright The Science Museum
“Coalbrookdale By Night” by Philip James de Loutherberg. Copyright The Science Museum

It was done in the early days of computer-aided cross stitch design. I scanned a postcard of “Coalbrookdale By Night”, in the somewhat apocalyptic vision of Philip James de Loutherberg, and then spent some time tweaking the number of colours the computer used to render the design as a cross stitch piece. One of the problems with this form of computer design was that, no matter how much human intervention was involved, the design tended to end up being a bit spotty.

Coalbrookdale Cross Stitch
Coalbrookdale Cross Stitch

You can see that spotty effect in the detail picture above.

The human intervention did at least result in the removal of the entirely superfluous lime green stitches that the computer package used to scatter across every design it was involved in. I never did understand why that happened, but the first change I always had to make was to change the lime green into something more suitable.

What I have to do now is think of something useful to turn it into when it’s finished….