Once I had the roundel started, I was able to finish the vessel – which, like the flags, I’d not done quite enough of !
By finish, I mean stitch the last bit of the stern that I need, and then cut out, and turn in the edges. Then go around the edges again, covering them with gimp or stitchery in suitable colours to hide the calico.
I also stitched an odd little fragment over a piece of gauze. This is going to help represent the deck cargo in the bows. The colours are quite dark, and stitched-in creases in grey helps to make it a bit more weatherbeaten.
Then there was still more padding to add, and the deck cargo to put in place.
This angle on the bows allows you to see the extra gimp running down the edge, and how much extra padding I’ve put in. You can also see the deck cargo – I cut close to the top edge, and then used the fabric below to attach it to the back of the vessel.
Having got the headland attached, I moved on to the sea.
I began by colouring a piece of fabric with Inktense and aloe vera gel, and then started to work whipped running stitch across the width for the sea. The idea of the colour was to keep the fabric from showing through.
Don’t like it. Not one bit. The fabric was too tightly woven for the threads I want to use, and it wasn’t growing quickly enough.
Fortunately that was the only false start. The second version was rows and rows of couching. I used a less finely woven fabric, although that mattered less in any case when I settled on couching. This gave me the change to make good use of some textured yarns to create the impression of a slightly sullen, lumpy sea.
After the first few lines, I used an overdyed rayon spiral yarn as the “standard sea colour”, and alternated it with variety of other threads, couching them down with different tones of thread and lightening as they came forward towards the front. The tones of the couching threads help to modify the colours of the couched threads.
Once I had extended the flag sunrise -by nearly half an inch in all directions, just in case – I ironed it, and then ran a gathering thread around the curve. I’ve cut a circle of heavy buckram and another of wadding, and stretched the flag sunrise over the top.
Before I tried to attach it, I flattened it very thoroughly, and trimmed away as much of the excess fabric as I could. Then I fitted it into the circle I’d drawn on the backing fabric already, and stitched it down. Since there will be a frame around the outside, the stitching doesn’t have to be invisible, but as a matter of pride it does have to be neat, even and the next thing to invisible…!
The next stage was to add the headland. This didn’t happen all at once, because the first thing to do was to remove the sky. Since there are a variety of edge treatments here, some of the fabric was folded back, and some of it was simply trimmed very closely.
It took two days of stitching time, and it drove me completely mad with frustration!
However, one element which worked exactly as I hoped that it would was the ruined priory’s windows. This is version two of the headland, and the ruin hasn’t been wired. I just invented a way to keep the windows open as I was doing it. Removing the fabric behind this square inch (barely) of needlelace took nearly as long as the rest of the sky put together, but it was worth every minute, and every quiver of anxiety as I pulled threads away.
Just as I hoped, you can see the flag sunrise through the windows!
Here’s a direct comparison of Version One with Version Two – and it doesn’t help my decision making one bit!
That said, when I put a similar picture up on Instagram and Twitter, the top one (version two), of which I had considerable doubts as I was stitching it, was overwhelmingly the favourite of those who responded.
So while I continued to think about that, my next step was to attach the fabric provided for the heart shapes to a backing fabric and draw the shape on it, together with the circle for the roundel. Since the fabric supplied is only just big enough, and there are going to be many layers to my appliqué, I want to ensure that it remains stable and controlled during the layering. Attaching it to a backing fabric and then stretching the backing fabric in a frame seems to me the best way to achieve this. It’s also a very good use for the remaining “good” section of a lovely cotton sheet I had put my foot through!
I made photocopies of the flag sunrise, the headland, and what I have done of the ship so far, trimmed them close, and made an unwelcome discovery. Neither the flag sunrise, nor either headland was quite as wide as I wanted them to be, which is a little worrying when you consider I could have sworn I used some form of measurement!
So, version two. Different threads and colours, slightly different techniques.
I haven’t wired this, and I have worked the buttonhole stitch facing outwards to make a firm edge. I’m planning to cut away a section of the fabric to allow the windows to be windows…
The thread is silk, again, but a heavier thread this time, and I have tried a slightly different approach to the windows that conceals the edging a little more. It seems clunkier, but it might stand up to the “flag sunrise” a little better.
Again, a slightly different choice of materials and stitches, and when I went back over to add my extra layers of detail it was specifically using the photograph again. I hid version one away where I wouldn’t be able to see it!
I became a little worried at this point, because the slightly heavier stitching, and the fact that my dark colours were darker, made the whole thing a bit spotty, especially at close quarters. But of course, I was worried at the same point on version one, so I decided I would have to keep going.
So I did – the grass used trammed and then untrammed satin stitches in rows, and then the cliff face, after much thought, I worked in Bayeux Stitch. With the variety of tones and layers, it looks less cliff-like, but more stitched, which I think is a good idea.
The result of all this staring and stitching is that I have layers and layers of stitches built up, creating details and changes of tone and colour. It’s surprisingly hard to do, partly because looking requires so much concentration, and partly because all those layers of stitching start to become difficult to stitch through (this is probably no surprise…).
After much staring and stitching, and the addition of a cliff face in a variant of Brick Stitch, I decided that the best thing to do was to tack the needlelace into place, and take a good hard look at the result.
I expect to add other details during the assembly phase, so the fact that the joins between the needlelace and the main piece are so obvious isn’t something that worries me. I rather like the raised effect of the needlelace – it might even create tiny shadows through those windows
Something does worry me, however. The stone is very yellow, which is not only inaccurate, but may argue with my “flag sunrise”, and the whole thing may fade into the background more than the “heraldic” feel of the piece would dictate. It’s surprisingly hard to anticipate from a skein what will be the overall stitched impression created by a thread – the choice of stitch and the orientation of that stitch can both affect the result, even before the possibility of selecting the parts of a thread to use (wasteful, I know, but sometimes magical!)
I began by transferring the outline of the headland and priory to a piece of linen, and then paused to puzzle over it.
I want a slightly matte effect as the basis of this layer, so I’ve used crewel wool. For the base layer of the buildings, I’m using brick stitch. It won’t be quite even, because although it is a square fabric, the linen thread is quite slubby, making it a less-than-evenweave. That doesn’t matter, as the details aren’t going to be especially fine.
For the grass, I’m using the technique I learnt with the ground of “Eve in the Garden of Eden“, but using tapestry needles instead of knitting needles.
I am using one of the photos I took as the reference for my stitchery. If you click and zoom in on the embroidery, you will see that I have already begun to add more stitches in different threads and colours on top of the base layer of brick stitch, even before finishing the green of grass and slope or beginning work on the cliff.
You could say, I suppose, that I am using the oil painter’s technique of beginning very broadly, and gradually tightening up the details, modifying colour and shape, bringing the whole thing gradually into focus. This means that as I make more and more progress, the effort involved will become more concentrated as well – fewer stitches, but more looking before I stitch. When I was watching the BBC One show “The Big Painting Challenge”, one of the judges, Lachlan Goudie, noted that the contestants weren’t really looking at what they were painting, and added that doing so is really much harder than people think. He’s right. What he’d think of doing the same, but with stitchery, I don’t know, but he’d probably think (correctly!) that it is adding substantially to the difficulties!
In the intervals of concentrating on the details, I continued to stitch the various levels of the headland. I used different types of needle to give different heights and thicknesses of ridge on the ground, and then used two different very dark greens for the shadowed area of ground which is on a much sharper slope. I used a sort of random Bargello stitch here, which I hope will create the effect of slight changes in the shadow on the ground. It does when I get the lighting just right, but this area may need more work when I’ve assembled the whole thing, because I can’t rely on precise lighting in the various exhibitions that the Embroiderer’s Guild are planning.
Finally, there is a cliff section going down to the beach and the water. I’ve simplified this section substantially, because it mustn’t compete with the vessel when that is added, and also because my reference photos just don’t provide enough information for me to do a sensible job.
As I got further on with the vessel, I decided I could no longer put off a trip to the north east to have a good look at the Priory for myself. It was a breezy day, so the light changed a lot, and I was nearly blown off the pier into the sea, but I got about 250 photos, so I hope to have enough to provide a basis for my depiction of the Priory.
Unfortunately all those photos haven’t really helped me to settle on how I am going to represent the priory. I am going to have to do Something, and see whether the Something unlocks the floodgates of ideas that I need. One thought is to make slips to give the Priory some more of a three-dimensional feel, so I’ve started by roughly colouring the base fabric and the paper-covered wire, including outlining the window-slits.
In other cases, the wire edging is often done last – as I did myself with the Stumpwork Violets – with the edge of the blanket stitching facing outwards. In this case, I really don’t want the edge emphasized, so I’m hoping to use that looped edge to sew into instead. The edges of the window outlines are rather nestled up to one another, and they’re so small I didn’t even attempt to do separate top and bottom tiers. Quite how well that will work, I’m not at all sure, but then it’s all an adventure, isn’t it!
After a couple of days of concentration, this is what I finished up with, together with a needle to help you get a sense of scale. And after all that care to colour the fabric, I ended up using needlelace. The main thread is a variegated stranded silk, but once I had detached the pieces from the base fabric I stitched in again to add some more detail. Whether it’s enough detail, or the right detail, is another question. That decision can wait until I have the rest of the headland done, I think.
Back to the bridge and crew quarters. The photograph shows a lifebelt set on each side of the bridge, so once I had a little more of that section completed, I went looking for ways to represent them. Some rather gorgeous thread from one of the Frostings boxes was my first thought, but it proved impossible to get the proportions right.
Oh well, the number of attempts it took to get there gives a pretty good idea of quite how difficult that is. Each of these rounds is worked in stranded cotton, around different sizes of bone stiletto, using different numbers of strands. They are all simple and straightforward rounds of buttonhole stitch over a wrap of the same thread it is stitched with, but I was beginning to wonder how much smaller I would have to go!
But I do think it was worth the effort. I’ve attached the two lifebelts with satin stitch to replicate the colour alternation, and extra stitching to add details of the funnel, chimney, and the beginnings of the wheelhouse. I can’t finish it until I have the land and sea done, but I’m quite pleased with the results so far!
I had a momentary wobble as I continued on with the vessel, and cut out a circle about the size of the roundel I intend to use in order to check on the possible placement. I’m now reassured that I will get the sort of effect I want. And now I also know that the stern of the vessel will be “out of shot”, as it were, so I don’t want to spend time on it.
I did some more thinking, and then got started on the bridge, wheelhouse, and crew quarters. At the moment I am using stranded silks, and simple stitches, primarily long and short stitch. I’m using the black and white photograph as a reference for tone, but as with everything I do, it must look like stitchery. I can tweak colour and tone, but I’m not aiming for photorealism!
Each section will have repeated visits and I hope it will gradually come into focus. Some of the work on the bows, here, should show this. I’ve added the stem, the curve of hull about the tumblehome, and a squiggle of grey silk gimp to represent the anchor.
I’m also beginning to blend out the colours in the hull with a second layer of stitching, this time using a single strand of the same overdyed rayon as the first layer.