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.
After I’d (mostly) finished Loading The Felucca, I found myself temporarily lacking inspiration for the Dreams of Amarna, so I thought I’d have a go at an idea that has been burbling around in the back of my mind for a while. I’m hoping a change of scene, as it were, will “reboot” my imagination.
The background fabric is a silk brocade, and I’ve padded the thistle itself with wool felt, in several layers (three under the topmost green circle, in fact).
I drew the whole thing freehand, and I think I will remove and replace the lefthand leaf with a reversed version of the righthand leaf. It will look more balanced and altogether happier if I do.
I’m intending to use silk purl and coloured wire purl for the thistle flower, but I wanted something for those to be embedded in. I’ve chosen to use a gold and viscose gimp, and I’m couching it down in a series of fringes zigzagging across the flower.
Each fringe is twisted back on itself – I used a pin as a sort of handle – and held down with small stitches at each end. As each additional layer went on, the “free” ends were held down a little less firmly. It’s a delicate balance between controlling the thread sufficiently (and remember gimps are very stiff and have a mind of their own!) and leaving it looking free and springy!
At long last I got a chance to finish up and turn the Tudor Rose into a little mounted panel. I got a local framing shop to cut me two pieces of acid free mount board, and mounted it over one of them, with a little padding to bring it to life. Then I covered the other (also with wadding) with some upholstery fabric that happened to be to hand, and overstitched the two boards together.
I covered the overstitching with a ribbon trim left over from when I finally mounted Christus Natus Est (whoo-hoo, some stash busting achieved!) and then, at some length and not without difficulty, attached a fine kumihimo cord around the front edge of the panel to frame it nicely.
It will go in that famed (and so far, still mythological) Winter Decoration Corner that I keep on talking about – when I finally create it.
The work on the Tudor Rose continues.. The stitches used for the leaves are what I really wanted from this course, as I am hoping that they will help me to create elements in the Dreams of Amarna – the ancient Egyptians were as keen on bling as the Tudors!
Zoom in on the picture to the right and you will see that there are four different combinations of metal and silk threads.
The stem – whipped back stitch
Alternating silk and metal chain stitches
Ceylon stitch with silk thread woven through it
Up and down buttonhole stitch with silk threads overcast through it
It was very hard to weave through the Ceylon Stitch – I didn’t pack the threads as tightly as Tricia’s instructions show, even after four leaves (two on each side). I think it would be easier in some of the applications I intend, though, because I am expecting at least some of them to have straight edges!
The overcasting through the Up and Down Buttonhole stitch was tricky to start, but once I’d got it started it was fairly straightforward – and a lot of fun.
The final element of the piece was the pearl purl and check purl in the centre. That was quite fiddly, and I am not sure that I worked the initial layer of bullion knots in silk in such a way as to make the layer using metal threads easy to do. I have much more practice to do to get my metal thread work to the level I saw at the Eye of the Needle Exhibition in the Ashmolean Museum a few weeks ago.
What with one thing and another – largely to do with the Hittite Amulet and the consequent overdose on metal threads – the Tudor Rose has been snoozing quietly in a boxfile for months, not drawing attention to itself.
I’ve decided, however, that it’s time it got finished, so that I can move on to other things, and the first step was to complete the white and silver petals of the rose. I was puzzled and confused when I did my first petal after the break, because it didn’t present the same appearance as the other ones. Can you see why?
I’m going to leave it like this, to remind me to pay attention next time…
The next stage was to work the bullion knots in the centre. I’ve decided (again, not quite following the order of stitching in the instructions) that I’m going to leave the cut pieces of purl until everything else is done, so having done the bullions – with varying degrees of success, I admit! – I moved back to the leaves.
So, onward and forward, as my Grandad used to say…
Some of the leaves are worked in Ceylon Stitch which is then woven through using the silk thread. Those of you who were reading my blog when I was working on the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass may recall that I found Ceylon Stitch something of a trial. Working it in leaf shapes really doesn’t make it any easier!
There are three more of these, two each to be woven into with different colours of green Soie Perlée. Tricia says to pack the weavings in as tightly as possible.
We’ll just have to see how that turns out, won’t we…
Having attached the ultrasuede and doctor’s flannel to two of the triangles, and made a brocade pocket on the third, the fourth was given extra padding, and extra stitches created an almost upholstered effect, making a pincushion.
Once the brocade backing triangles were attached, the four triangle assemblies had buttonhole loops added at the top corners, to provide a channel for the ribbon that will hold the étui closed. Then they needed to be joined in a chain at the bottom corners, and attached to the circular brocade-covered skirtex base to create a square-based pyramid.
It turned out really well.
I’ve had lots of practice with trellis stitch and detached buttonhole stitch with return, I’ve Spangled until I’m seeing stars, and I’ve done a lot more reverse chain stitch in gold.
I can’t quite see myself using the étui in my ordinary stitching life, but I can see myself putting it in a carefully lit corner and gloating over it!
Before we move on – here is the Glittering Nightcap, being modelled by Mandy, who was given to me for my first Christmas. My grandfather made me a cradle to fit her, and I intend to make some bedding, and some clothes for Mandy, to go with the patchwork coverlet my grandmama made for the cradle. Unfortunately, I carried Mandy around by her hair for years, so the hair you can see is a wig, which in turn meant that that when I found Mandy again I didn’t think any modern little girl would welcome her. The cradle, with bedding and Mandy will end up as a sort of display piece. Eventually.
In the meantime – doesn’t she look sweet!
The étui is made of triangular sections covered with brocade and mounted on brocade covered circles to create a little pyramid. Each external face consists of skirtex with padding covered with brocade, and then has a different element – a doctor’s flannel panel for needles, an ultrasuede scissor pocket, a pincushion, and a brocade pocket for stilettos or mellors. The ultrasuede is a real trial to stitch – very, very tough to get the needle into – but it’s done now.
Each face is backed by another triangle, of card covered with brocade, and the two slip stitched together. Then there will be the interesting challenge of mounting the triangles somehow.
So now, having finished the embroidery, I need to assemble the Nightcap. In addition, Tricia has designed a stand for it, which is in the form of an étui. Consequently I have a rather distracting heap of brocaded silk, doctors flannel, ultrasuede, ribbon and gold lace. Not to mention batting and buckram…!
As I’ve said before, I am never entirely at ease finishing a piece into three dimensional form. So there was a slight hiatus while I gathered my courage to begin.
I decided to finish the Nightcap itself first, as – not least – I was rather keen to see it!
The first stage was to add the lace to the top of the brim, and then create the shape by sewing up the seams on the crown. The lace was easy enough to apply, once the folds were in place, but sewing up the seams on the crown was surprisingly fiddly!
I had wondered, in looking at the instructions, why the seams were embellished with reverse chain stitch, and I think you can see why in this photo of the Nightcap finished (externally) apart from that detail.
As this picture shows! Admittedly the orange background also helps to bring the Nightcap to life, but the reverse chain stitch in gold is another detail – like the pearl centres on the Floral Glove – that adds sparkle and polish to the piece.
The next stage was to line the Nightcap – using a lovely pale gold silk brocade. Again, simple enough to state, but slightly tricky in execution!
Lining completed, another deep breath and pause prepared me for the next stage…
At this point, the challenges abruptly increased… The petals are to be filled with Up and Down Buttonhole Stitch With Return (which is one of the stitches from the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass), but in a combination of metal and silk threads. The outer petals will be red and gold and the inner petals white and silver, and we are explicitly instructed to finish the back stitching (both white and red) before tackling the filling.
The red silk is used for the return – the straight bar stitch – and the gold for the up and down buttonhole stitch. This means, of course, that there are long stitches on the back of the fabric, but it also creates a rather lovely chequerboard effect of gold and red. Up and down buttonhole stitch is one of my favourites, but as a detached stitch it offers a few challenges, especially in the gold thread. I was very glad to be working this in a frame resting on a stand, as there were times when both hands, and one of my bone stilettos, were needed to bring the gold thread under control.
I’ve noticed that in the metal thread, the stitch is squarer than in the silk, which compressed itself into a much denser fabric. I suppose this adds to the contrast in textures, but it will be interesting to see whether it becomes more even as I become more experienced with it!
I’m rather pleased with it so far. In a couple of the petals, the rows somehow are not as straight as they should be – I’m not quite sure how that happened – but, if you click on the image you will see the larger version, and I think it shows evidence of improvement in technique. Which, after all, is the whole point of my following these courses…!
Having finished the embroidery on the Glittering Nightcap – even if I haven’t assembled it yet – I decided that I would allow myself to begin on the Tudor Rose. The goal of this course is to introduce stitches and effects that combine silk and metal thread – in the same stitch, not in the same thread – and I am hoping that it will give me ideas for tackling representations of ancient Egyptian jewellery for the Dreams of Amarna.
The first element is a fairly simple one, in effect a version of Pekinese Stitch, but with three rows of back stitch for the base, and a metal thread used for the interlacing. The challenge here is in making sure that the silk thread is sufficiently loosely stitched to make the interlacing possible, without being so loosely stitched that nothing stays in its’ place. Since the metal thread structure is of a core wrapped around with a fine film, when the thread is bent, the film sometimes stands away from the core, catching on the silk. Another key for Tricia in this course – as in fact in all her courses – is learning to be aware of the use to which a particular thread was intended to be put. We need not restrict ourselves to that use, but we do need to be aware of it!
I rather suspect Tricia of letting us in gently, here, because the next element she describes is also fairly simple. The leaves are outlined in reverse chain stitch, in silk, and then filled using alternating rows of reverse chain in gold and in silk.
I hasten to add I have no objection to being let in gently – I’ve looked at the instructions for some of the later elements and rather expect a deal of unpicking to happen, so I’ve been able to enjoy handling the silk threads, which are quite heavy, but soft and “lofty” so they don’t punish the fabric unduly. If you look closely at this photo you will see that the olive green used for the stem is slightly thinner than the more emerald green thread used for the leaves. The weight matches nicely with the gold thread, so the more complicated elements that are coming up should look well balanced.