Just when I thought I had no more to do, suddenly my mother asked, would I add a something-or-other to the back of the coat collar.
We thought about it, and decided that since I’m going to do a Morse Code signature that looks like a caterpillar, and there’s already a butterfly, I could maybe add a snail…
The tacks top and bottom show where the seam allowances and turn of the collar leave space for Something. I drew a snail on a bit of tracing paper (loosely based on the one on the Jacobean Firescreen), and tacked on the outline.
The shell itself came together easily, two rows of reverse chain stitch, then a row of half-cretan stitch which was then threaded with wool to create a slightly raised effect.
Inspiration briefly halted when I came to the critter himself. I tried several shades from among the ones on the coat, and two or three different stitches, and was underwhelmed by all of them.
Finally, I picked the right colour (a middling shade of teal) and the right stitch (chain), and he came together beautifully.
Two tiny antennae, a French knot for an eye, and hey presto, one cute little snail to add the final embellishment to the coat.
Now it’s over to my Mam to sew the whole thing together…
The blue buds are outlined in Chain Stitch and decorated with Trellis Couching, and then, in a final bit of frivolity, the stems uses Magic Chain Stitch. I’ve often wanted to use it, and never really had the space before. Achievement, unlocked!
The cream leaves (from some felted gloves!) are couched with Open Cretan Stitch, and the stem – where there is one – is in Portuguese Knotted Stem Stitch.
You can also see the final version of the two leaves at the bottom, which are just above the blue ones. I’m not quite sure what stitches I used in the end, because I was beginning to create odd little mash-ups of my own!
We’ve assumed that the odd element on Grandmama’s embroidery is a butterfly perching on a flower, so that’s what I’ve made it into here, tweaking and altering the pattern as I worked.
The upper wings, in felt, are ornamented with one of the knotted feather stitch variations – I think, Mountmellick Stitch – but then, I simply started to play with needlelace stitches to create more interesting and varied effects.
Having settled on a smaller circle, but still worried about the stability of the fabric, I paused for thought.
I’ve used tear-out fabric stabiliser underneath the fabric, and placed a circle of it over the previous overcast stitch ring so as to leave trimming out what isn’t wanted until the last moment. It’s now enclosed between two layers of stabiliser, so I shouldn’t catch my needle in it.
And this is definitely a case for using a hoop. Most of my Amarna pieces have been worked in slate frames or bar frames, and the Jacobean coat is being worked in the hand, but a table-sized piece of fabric of which a small element is the focus requires a more limited approach!
I decided in the end to use simple cloth stitch for the needle lace, but of course, choosing to work it in a circle rather complicated matters! I had to use several lengths of thread, so it became a matter of concern to make sure that firstly, there was no chance of it coming undone, and secondly, weaving in the ends made sense!
It was also important to bear in mind that while classical, straight cloth stitch has a free “return” stitch, I couldn’t expect to keep control of a “return loop” in my circular variant. So instead of that, I whipped the base of the stitches to create the heavier line.
Once the needlelace was finished, I had to consider the edging. The whole aim of this exercise has been to cover the hole in the tablecloth in a manner that looks considered and deliberate – not just a mend, but a thoughtful mend. So the edging had to be thought about too.
In the end I chose to work a pattern in the buttonhole stitch – the uprights of the buttonhole stitch covering the split stitch and the edge of the needlelace alternate one long with two short. I also considered enlivening the needlelace with some daisies in white, reversing the blue on white of the main decoration, but decided that that was going a bit too far!
Over the New Year, my cousin showed me a rather charming embroidered tablecloth she’d bought, only to discover, when she got it home, that it had been rather amateurishly adapted for a table with a parasol. She doesn’t have such a thing, and all the ironing in the world hasn’t flattened the buttonhole stitch, so she asked, could I think of something?
Yes, I could. I’ll re-do the buttonhole stitch, slightly larger, and infill the entire hole with a needlelace stitch of some sort. I’ve not decided which of these threads to use, but I’m prepared for when the decision is made!
When I got it home, and folded it carefully to check that the hole was central, I discovered that it really wasn’t.
It really isn’t at all, in fact. And this close up gives you a chance to see just how tatty the oversewing around the edge turned out to be.
Oversewing, not buttonhole stitch. I’ll have to do better than that, won’t I!
In fact, once I’d done a bit of playing around and found a suitable circle that both encompassed the existing hole and placed the hole centrally, it was HUGE – at least three inches across!
That seems too big – even for infill with needlelace, it seemed to me that this would unreasonably weaken the fabric, so I started to think of suitable backing materials, and then emailed my cousin to ask whether she had some thoughts. After all, it’s her tablecloth.
She rang, and we had a chat, and she says she would prefer a smaller, non-central hole, without too many baroque attempts at backing it. So simple it is, then…
You can see here that I’ve reversed the colours of felt used for the same flower shape on the sleeve, and added tiny blue stitches as highlights.
Chained blanket stitch, crested chain stitch, fern stitch, and a slightly freeform variant of feather stitch adorn the various petals. The light blue is used to tie down some trellis couching and for three tête-de-boeuf stitches to lighten the bowl of the flower.
The edges of the fawn leaves are simply caught down with an overcast stitch, but the spines are worked in Siennese Stitch, found in one of my multitude of stitch dictionaries. The circle is one of several, edged with up-&-down blanket stitch, and speckled with what Barbara Snook describes as “Knotted Stitch – Danish origin”. At the extreme right there are two small brown leaves, with reverse chain stitch stems and long straight stitches creating veins. The fabric comes from some thick walking socks which felted in the wash!
There were three of these three-petalled flowers (if that’s what they are!) and I worked each in the same way – blanket stitch edges, sword stitch for texture, blue central circle in buttonhole stitch, and teal leaves in fishbone stitch.
As you can see, deciding to keep some elements the same, or similar, has spread beyond the smallest leaves!
One of the exasperating elements of this project is that the lovely clear, delicate green of the fabric isn’t showing on any of the photos I am taking. This strange, rather disheartening cream fails to reflect one of the pleasures of working on it.
Here you see the side of the coat with the two lilac half-circle motifs. There are also three circle motifs, and two huge leaves, not to mention all the little teal leaves that I’ve not even applied yet.
The circles have been relatively easy, but both the fawn leaves and the two lilac motifs are giving trouble…
The first one of the two lilac motifs has rather lost the way home.
Somehow it is fussy, tired, and full of the wrong sort of detail. It’s also too dark. I need to reduce the dark blue and dark maroon stitching.
I’m not even sure that the felt will survive.
That said, I like the blanket stitch variation of the lilac stitches, and the green Reverse Palestrina Stitch.
This is a better version.
There aren’t as many colours, or as many stitches as in the version I’m not happy about. The fronds are in Cable Chain and Twisted Chain, and the purple trellis is couched with the blue.
Now I need to unpick the first one and come back to it, informed by the much better second version. I don’t want it to be entirely the same, but closer would certainly be better!
This photo shows the central section, with the major felt sections in place, and the minor ones left until later. That in turn means that the colour range is not quite right, because the greeny-teal is missing.
What it does show, however, is that the disheartening spotty effect I experienced with the Piano Shawl is entirely prevented by the couched stems!
Since my blue felt was made using layers of blended wool sliver it has some slight variation of colour, which I was hoping to pull out in my stitching. That may not quite work, but at least I can try.
I also want to make the fawn leaves much more varied, so although there are several successful treatments I could choose to use in all cases, I’m going to try to be more experimental.
This photo is already out of date, because I’ve unpicked the fawn leaves once already, and I’m not entirely sure about some of the details on the large blue leaves. The light blue half-Cretan stitch may not survive to the finished garment!
There is a mid-blue knotted edging stitch on the top edge of the two outer blue leaves which I may have invented at the time, and certainly can’t reconstruct in the cold light of day. The spine of the central leaf is Square Chain, with the corners couched down with a darker thread, and the edge is closed feather stitch. There will probably be a lot of closed feather stitch – it is a useful stitch for the edges of these shapes.
I haven’t put all the felt pieces all around the coat, because apart from anything else I have limited tolerance for cutting out bits of felt, but I have a good start made, and I can start playing with stitches, which is much more fun!
This is one of the most complex motifs.
The blue felt is one I made myself, because I didn’t already have a suitable one – which explains the thin patch at the top. Wet felting is not as easy in practise as it seems in theory!
The teal leaves were easy, of course, because I have already decided to use feather stitch. After that, some thought was required..
A teal trellis, couched with pale yellow, provides the “lift” here, and one of my favourite stitches, cable chain, provides the fronds. I’ve reduced the number of fronds – I think there were two between each petal – because I thought it would look fussy otherwise.
The blue stitching on the blue felt is Crested Chain. The colours are close enough to create texture, rather than contrast, rather as the slightly rusty pink square chain modifies the petal colour in a different direction to the dark blue chained blanket stitch of the leaves at the base.
As with all the elements of this design, when I have the whole piece more or less finished, I will expect to add further details and tweaks to balance it all across the piece. We’ll see…
I’ve already mentioned that, although I have more yet to do on the Dreams of Amarna, I have little thoughts, now and again, about my plans for the next Really Big Project, the Vision of Placidus, inspired by Pisanello’s “Conversion of St Eustace”, Elizabeth Goudge’s “Herb of Grace”, my mother’s fine binding of “The Wind in The Willows”, and the kingfisher I saw at Flag Fen. Oh, and the “Chasse a la licorne” tapestry in the Musee de Cluny.
The Stag with the crucifix in his antlers is going to be the major character, and while I know I’m tearing into a genius of the past, I think Pisanello’s stag is a bit too tame for the story…
My first thought was to start from Sir Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen. After all, he’s full of personality and presence, and a recognisable figure to add to the layers of meaning and reference. But no, I think the crucifix won’t settle well into the antlers, and the pose isn’t quite right, either….
Then I spent more time rummaging online for pictures of stags, and came up with another to try. I like the challenging, direct stare of the pose here, but it puts the onlooker in the position of Placidus (according to the stories, he took the name “Eustace”, or more probably a Latin variant thereof, when he became a Christian), and I want Placidus to be in the picture. That said, he was a second century Roman, and I’m intending to dress him in florid fourteenth century dress, so don’t expect too much accuracy…
My next thought came from a book about the landscapes of Capability Brown that I bought for my cousin for Christmas. I’ve told her about the plans for Placidus, and she opened her gift, leafed through it, and then turned the book to me and said “Would this help?”
This is by no means the first time my cousin has helped me with design planning – it was talking to her that enabled me to crystallise the ideas for the Dreams of Amarna – and I like the photo enough to have three attempts at it. I still don’t think I’ve got it right. That said, all of these sketches have allowed me to think, not just about the pose, but about how I will use my threads to create the effect I want, of the illumination in the scene emanating from the crucifix.