I started this traycloth years ago, largely to experiment with the pulled work stitch I used as the background of the decorative panel.
The idea was to have a sandy background against which the shells, seaweed, and seahorse would be set, and although I enjoyed doing it, it isn’t the most successful of my embroidered experiments. It feels a bit lacklustre, but at the same time, I can’t say I’ve been filled with enthusiasm by the idea of doing anything substantial with it.
While I thought about the details, to see whether I could find something that would work, I hemstitched around the edge, so I will have a useable, if not enchanting, traycloth.
Then I thought hard. Maybe something could be done to differentiate the various elements without actually unpicking them all. The upshot is that the backstitched outlines have been whipped with a different colour of thread in each case, to pull out the differences a little more.
It still isn’t wholly successful, but it is now a usable traycloth and out of my welter of Unfinished Objects which occasionally leap, unanticipated, out of boxes I thought contained something else, to hit me in the face.
I love flat silk. The colours fairly glow, and it gives you endless options for creating threads of different thicknesses and twist levels. I’m hoping to use at least some of those possibilities in this project, to represent the gloss effect of the brightly coloured faience broad collars that inspired it.
I’m sure I’m missing some of the possibilities, but the mere fact that I’m excited and intrigued by what I’ve already thought of tells me that my holiday with the Three Wise Hounds was the right thing to have been doing.
The first thing I have to do is to pad all the elements. I’ve padded them using stranded cotton, which has a bit more body than the silk. I don’t have quite the right colours, but trust me, that’s not going to matter, as the padding won’t be seen.
There are at least two layers of padding almost everywhere (only one for the lilac tips of the backmost petals of the open lotus flower), and most of them have four. The padding stitches of each layer are at an angle relative to the previous layer, which stops them sinking into one another.
The basis of each element is going to be satin stitch in flat silk. The flat silk spreads beautifully over the cotton padding, so that at least will be pleasing to see.
I’ve set my frame up properly this time, with the fabric you will see supported by calico, and the combination is strong and taut enough to bear the weight of my little magnetic needle keeper. It’s the first time I’ve been able to use one, and it’s turning out very useful indeed. I’ve had it for a couple of years, and now I am wondering what took me so long.
Now, if your memory reaches back to the beginning of Akhenaten (no surprise if it doesn’t – that was in 2017!), you may recall that at the very beginning there were four layers – the calico, polyester wadding, light cotton padding, and then the silk. The first stage was then to outline Akhenaten and cut away all of the light polyester padding that wasn’t behind him.
So once the calico was laced into place, the next layer to be dealt with was the cotton padding. The eagle eyed may have noted that there’s a new piece of card here. That’s because this card has slots in to carry cotton tape. I’m intending to lace the finished panel to the middle of a larger fabric covered panel, and these tapes will help to support the weight. I hope. This is not a method of mounting I’ve ever seen before, and I’m making it up as I go along!
Then I pinned the silk into place, carefully, and not too tightly. Once I’d finished that, I turned over the whole thing and breathed a sigh of relief – the uraeus is still undamaged!
Then I wrapped him in acid-free tissue paper and put him away in a box. There are two reasons for this – firstly, because fibres and fabrics, particularly delicate ones, don’t like prolonged manipulation (yes, honestly, fibre in spinning mills is often left to “relax” between processes!), and secondly, because I’m still thinking about the details of the next stage.
The next stage is to fix the silk in place, and I’m still trying to work out how to do that without tangling with the cotton tape. I may decide to use double-sided sticky tape, but that is more likely to degrade and give way than lacing, and I really don’t want to do this job twice!
When, after my holiday with the Hounds, I came back to the Faience Necklace designs I’d created with my painted cutouts, I found that the version I’d liked then no longer appealed. Instead, it was the various spirals that sprang out at me, so I began to play with them a little more, tweaking and varying the design.
I must remember paper cutouts as a future designing method. It makes it much easier to play with a lot of variants in a relatively short space of time!
Then I had to decide on a fabric. No, I hadn’t ironed the silk on the right. This was very much an improvisation! From left to right – a quilting cotton I used in “Loading The Felucca“, a leftover of the silk I used for the “Head of Ankhsenpaaten“, and a silk in a shade very similar to that used for the “Colossus of Akhenaten“. In the end I decided that the sandy print on the cotton would help to evoke that sand in which they were digging, and framed up. I’ve put a calico backing in in the frame, and attached the cotton over the top.
Since it’s winter, I’ve been working under my craft light, and it does rather wash out colours. I’m using Japanese flat silk (not sure why, it just seemed to be what I wanted to do), and I’ve started by hand-twisting some fine thread and outlining each element in reverse chain stitch.
This does two things – it covers the design transfer lines and it allows me to think about how I’m going to tackle it. Originally I was going to work each element in satin stitch, to echo the high gloss of the faience, but now I’m beginning to think more and more of using stitch to echo the natural elements the faience depicts. Remember what I said, when I finished the Hounds, about returning to my first love, the effects of stitch and thread?
The Spiders Web Wheels in this case aren’t Spiders Web Wheels at all, but a needlelace variation. I think they are both worked in a spiral, and I’m not absolutely sure that they are the same: the slight difference in appearance may be purely a result of a different working tension or spacing.
I’ve only just realised that the small leaves aren’t worked stacked fly stitches, but in close, long-armed feather stitch. In fact feather stitches and their variations show up a lot in Grandmama’s embroidery – she must have enjoyed them!
I don’t think it has ever occurred to me to work needlelace stitches in bands, as she has here, but I can see myself trying it, one of these days! I do have a book, somewhere, full of needlelace stitches, ready for when I have a suitable project and the opportunity to Experiment…
When I was working on the lifebelts for the ship in “Leaving The Tyne”, I used the technique of a buttonhole wheel on thread, and discovered just how fiddly they are to make. Grandmama’s are even smaller and fiddlier, and sewn onto needlelace and not fabric!
The two embroidered leaves in the middle remind me just how effective simple stitch length variation can be. Much as I love my complex, textural stitches, sometimes all you need for a border is a blanket stitch variation!
The variations possible to fill a circular shape seem to be endless, don’t they – a sort of beginning of a Maltese Cross at the top, a really dense Spiders Web at the bottom.
And this time, I think the two central leaves are in Wheatear Stitch, outlined with very close and small feather stitch outlines.
I really must try some of Grandmama’s stitches one of these days. Somewhere in the house I have the notes she took on a course, and I’m pretty sure they included sketches of stitches I haven’t seen in all my shelves full of needlework books….
I’ve used stranded and floss silks, in variegated and plain colours.
The stitches are Woven Stitch, Bokhara Couching, Trellis Couching, Burden Stitch, and Darning Stitch, and wherever it’s possible to use two different threads in a stitch, I have done so, usually contrasting a plain with a variegated colour, or (sometimes and) a stranded with a floss silk.
Oh, I forgot – there was stitch orientation, too – vertical, horizontal, right-facing diagonal, left-facing diagonal!
Okaaaay. That made the “duality” idea a tad daunting, but not half so confusing as starting without any plan at all!
Anyway, the result is that the areas of high stitch density and high reflectance have been moved around a bit, and the details of the patterning have changed a bit, too.
I’m going to drape the panel somewhere I can see it for a couple of weeks, to be sure I’m happy with how it’s turned out, and then I’m going to line it with another pashmina. I’m planning to stitch in self-colour along all the gold lines, which will provide a slightly quilted look, and control the fabric a bit better, too.
Not to mention, making for a seriously cosy shawl!
You might recognise some of the motifs on this teacloth..
Grandmama worked it, we think during the War, and it involves some motifs I used for the Coat of Many Colours.
In fact, even if I don’t use the exact motif, this teacloth, and a tablecloth (a sort of extended Director’s Cut!) are frequently the first places I look for inspiration when I am trying to put together a design for something stylised but floral. I suspect Grandmama would be laughing like a drain, as the family puts it, at the mere idea of being an inspiration all these years later!
I’ve also learned an even greater respect for textile and embroidery historians, examining and cataloguing design and stitch use over the years. It’s all too easy to assume, complacently, that one’s first assessment of a stitch was correct, and I learnt when I looked at this photo that I was definitely wrong about the second of these two leaves. It might be Wheatear, but I suspect I will have to look at the back to be sure.
And I’m far from convinced that Grandmama didn’t simply make up the other one as she went along. It’s a whipped or wrapped Something, but it looks like a more complex composite stitch to me…
Whipped Spiders Web Wheel as a needlelace stitch, a sort of floral motif of needlelace, and a pair of leaves in the top left that I thought for a moment should have been cut away. However, looking more closely (aren’t smartphone cameras really useful on occasion!), I see that the edging isn’t buttonhole, but chain, so, no.
And that pair of leaves in the bottom left? They’ve been puzzling me for a while. The stitch looks a little as though it’s a whipped or wrapped stitch. Maybe stem stitch worked over foundation stitches?
The point at which the four seam treatments joined looked a little untidy, so I decided to cover it with Something.
After some thought, and given that I don’t have a box of ready-to-go trims and buttons for the purpose, that Something turned out to be a disc crocheted using Soie Gobelins, a fine steel hook, and my magnifier.
I felt a little cross-eyed when I’d finished, in spite of the magnifier, but satisfied with it, all the same!
Then I only had to attach my little disc over the centre point to camouflage the meeting point of the seam treatments.
Once the Tame Crazy Patchwork was completed, I gathered it over the padded disc of card that matches the one the Robin was stretched over, and ladderstitched the two discs firmly together.
Using silk sewing thread. My, how my attitudes have changed since I’ve done all those Historical Embroidery projects!
I need to provide a hanging loop and cover the edge with cord, and then the Robin will be properly finished at last!
The next task was to work the outlines and the ground.
Each hound is outlined in a contrasting colour, as is each leaf shape.
The outline colour is also used for the little details – mouth, eyes, ears, and at the point at which I took this photo, I’d stitched all the ground (in twisted chain, which I don’t think is at all historically accurate, but it was fun!) but not yet outlined the tree trunks.
This photo gives a sense of the effect of the chocolate brown outlines around the green trunks, and affords you a nice close up of the leash on the front hound, worked in cable chain stitch, very small and neat. This is another one where I doubt the historical accuracy, but I was so pleased to find myself thinking up ideas like that I was in no mood to spoil the fun.
I don’t usually go in for such overheated ideas as New Year Resolutions, working on the principle that if I want to change something, I don’t hang around waiting for the new year to do so. However, stitching the hounds has given me something a bit like one – I need to go back to my first love, to the effects of stitch and thread, and the use of them to denote the textures or the ideas I want to convey. Let’s see how that pans out!
I give you The Three Wise Hounds, design by Tanya Bentham, stitched by me. I didn’t quite finished them by Twelfth Night, but since Epiphanytide lasts until Candlemas, on the second of February, I think I can get away with it!
One of the delights of Laid and Couched work is the slight sense of a return to childhood, but with added skills, as it were. The first layer consists of the threads laid and couched (hence the name), and is rather like “colouring in”: it produces a layer of flat colour, which will be tweaked and detailed later.
Or in this case, not quite flat colour. The thread Tanya includes is wool that she has dyed herself using natural dyes, and there are unevennesses in the colour that only adds to the charm. As you can see from the two large blue leaf-shapes. I was a bit over-determined to pack in the stitches on the frontmost hound and didn’t have thread leftover for the leaves. This being a holiday project, I went rootling in my stash for an indigo wool, and they only one I have is both much darker, and a different structure. But that will matter less when the details are added, so onwards!
Each leaf-shape used the other colours in a different way – as grid, as outline, as couching stitch. The outlines are in split stitch, and each of the grids is couched slightly differently, with a horizontal stitch, a vertical stitch, and upright cross or a diagonal cross.
In addition, I experimented with grid spacing for the blue one shown here. I like this variation, even if it does produce a rather loud plaid effect!
I was quite glad to find the variations slipping in. They might be a sign that I’m recovering from Akhenaten!