When I finished the first set of embroidery on the sleeves of the coat I said I thought it might need Something More.
After some thought, I decided that the Something More in question was a bit of light. This required a little negotiation, as my client (my mother) had wanted rich colours, and had originally enacted a veto on the lighter ones I had picked out. But then, she’d not seen what I had in my mind, and once she did, my tentative suggestion of a few lighter bits was met with a definite “Yes”.
She also said that what I’m doing is not quite what she had in mind, but it’s better. Phew!
The first small, exploratory illumination was to add some pale blue stitches around two of the lobes of this bud (flower?). I didn’t want to add too much because, first, this isn’t meant to be actual illumination, and second, I felt that if I added these stitches all around, not only would I run into trouble in terms to angle and sense, but it would suddenly start looking a bit stiff and too “matchy-matchy”.
There’s a phrase I never used as a teen, even though I certainly had the concept…!
For the second sleeve, it was harder to settle on the best way to “lift” the motif. There was already the tiny tuft of pistil stitches stitched directly onto the fabric, which had done something a little similar.
For now, I’ve simply added a row of French knots highlighting the curves. The yarn is mohair, and has a lovely high shine which adds to the variation in the effect.
In case I needed to say so – I am really enjoying this project!
The second sleeve began in the same way as the first, with felt motif elements lightly needlefelted into place. There is a similar motif on the body of the coat, but with the colours reversed. Whether I will use similar colours in embellishing it, I don’t know – wait and see!
I am removing the tacked design outlines as I go, at least where they show around the edges. It may not be entirely necessary, but it’s much more satisfying not to be spotting them as I work, and I know I would spot them in the finished coat, even if no-one else could do so.
The edges of the large leaves on the second sleeve began with straight stitches over the edges, using a wonderful mohair yarn from Gumnut Yarns. The different amounts of shine from the various threads I’m using will help to add another level of interest to the whole design.
The second level of detail is worked in Up and Down Blanket Stitch, which is a very old favourite. This time I’ve changed the relative heights of the two uprights to create a more varied effect.
There’s a lot going on with the flower motif; Thorn Stitch on the lilac petals and a variant of Loop Stitch on the purple ones, using different thread colours to change the emphasis on the colours.
Crested Chain Stitch in teal edges the flower shape (given it’s a Jacobean style design, realism has nothing to do with it – I’ve not the vaguest idea what sort of flower it is supposed to be!) and I complicated matters for myself by working inward from the tips of the horn shapes to the centre. It is a directional stitch, so although most people won’t be able to notice that sort of detail, I think it is worth doing.
Having decided to start with the sleeves, and with stitch and thread choice for the small teal leaves in place, I could start to think about the other details. This picture shows the basic motif, with no stitching on it and really no idea where to start.
Incidentally, the coat fabric is a lovely clear pale green, and it doesn’t matter what I do, it just doesn’t photograph to advantage – or at least, not in winter daylight. I’m hoping Mam will be able to wear it in the spring, and we’ll be able to get some good photos for you to see!
I have decided that each of the motif elements will be stitched around the edge, or – as with the feather stitched leaves, stitched from edge to edge.
I think the stitch around the edge of the purple shape is called “Loop Stitch”. It creates a “spine” which can have arms of whatever length you want. In this case I wanted them neat and not too big, and they’ve almost disappeared into the felt in some cases.
When I’d added the outline, I felt something more was needed, and added the scattering of blue French Knots. They help to vary the colour and change the tones a little. This is not going to be an exercise in minimalism!
Here you see the – for now – finished motif on Sleeve One.
The large leaves have Blanket Stitch edges, and a large central vein made using one of the un-named stitch variations from my books by Edith John.
The reason I say “finished for now” is that I feel it may need a few light details to add a bit of sparkle, although I’m not sure of colour, or placement. I’m leaving the idea to sort itself out in my head as I continue to stitch.
The second stage, after all those stems, is to start adding colour. I’ve started with the sleeves because they are a bit more manageable than an entire coat, and it gives me a chance to feel my way towards the colour distribution of the stitches over the felt.
The purply colours and the teal are from sheets of that lofty felt I used for the princesses, while the beigy-brown was one of my grandfather’s sweaters, found in a box looking moth-eaten and thrown in a hot wash to felt it a bit. We’re a thrifty family…
The placement of the motifs is different for each sleeve, one above and one below the elbow, and it isn’t even the same motif. Repetition is overrated!
I think I will probably settle on using feather stitch over the felt for these tiny leaves, which are scattered throughout the design.
The rest of it is going to be a riot of stitches and stitch combinations, so this will provide a moment of rest in embroidery, a moment of reassuring similarity from which the exuberance can take flight.
It will also give me something to be doing if inspiration fails for any of the motifs!
One of the things I have learnt, over the years, about working on these large projects that involves making it up as I go along, is that there needs to be something useful to do while the next bit is being mulled over – it reduces the pressure and gives space for the mind to wander over new and interesting stitch choices.
I’ve been quietly attaching the chunky knitting wool along the lines of the stems, and I’m quite pleased with progress so far. I’ve tweaked a couple of tendrils, and there are a few details I’m not quite sure about, but it’s a start.
In fact, it’s better than that, because I have started on the felt appliqué!
Both of the sleeves have motifs on them, one placed above the sleeve and the other below.
I decided to test the next stage on one of the sleeves, in case it didn’t work, but I rather think it will. I’m using the same lofty, fluffy felt I used for the Amarna Princesses, and I have lightly needlefelted it in place so that I can add the embroidered details without stabbing myself on a pin.
The design wraps around the back of the coat, leaving the front mostly unadorned. There are sprigs placed on the sleeves, too, one of them above the elbow, and the one on the opposite side below it. Remember the comments I’ve made in the past, about taking inspiration from Grinling Gibbons, and aiming for balance rather than symmetry? That goes for the placement of design elements in apparel as well as anything decorative.
My mother has commissioned the coat with various other garments and accessories in mind, and one of the ways we thought would help to tie the coat in with them would be to use a knitting wool which is involved in those accessories. Now, as it happens, I have experience with this sort of trailing design (remember the Piano Shawl?), and I remember that it can feel very disjointed and dispiriting as you work individual motifs, and however confident you are of the whole, it’s hard to be motivated when it keeps looking spotty and halfhearted.
However, the stems pull it together, so I thought this time I would start with the stems. It’s a big, chunky, variegated knitting yarn, so I will end up with the skeleton of the design, and all sorts of colours within it. I’m catching it in place with a fine woollen yarn, using small oblique stitches buried within the twist. They should be almost invisible.
However, that too is going to take a while, so I can trial colour placement for the motifs themselves! As you can see, we aren’t aiming for a naturalistic colour scheme. This may not be the final arrangement, and there will be tweaks along the way, but I’m happy with this as a starting point.
This is going to be a truly multi-generational project. The design elements are stolen from a tablecloth my Grandmama did during the war, and I’m going to embroider it on a coat for my Mam (her daughter). I will write a post about Grandmama’s tablecloth one of these days, because it’s an absolute cracker, full of wonderful needlelace patterns I’ve never seen anywhere else. However, as it is stitched in white on white fabric, I will have to become a better photographer first!
You may recall that during the Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off, I wrote a post about the different methods for transferring designs, particularly concentrating on their advantages and disadvantages in different circumstances. The fabric of the coat (this will be the second incarnation of this fabric!) is a pale green boiled wool. It’s dense enough to have some structure and weight, light enough to be easy to stitch (I think). You might have thought it would accept gracefully any method I chose.
However, when I thought about transferring the design, I found myself ending up with the most time consuming of the lot! Since the garment is unlikely to be washed, and rubbing may damage the surface, my options are somewhat limited. Transfer pencils spread, sometimes, if the ironing temperature is wrong, the chalks have a nasty habit of not always rubbing off when they’re wrong, and my quilter’s pencil doesn’t work on strongly textured fabrics.
So, running stitch through tissue it is, then. This will take a while…..
I’ve run into a bit of a problem here. I still love the idea, and I still want to finish the Nefertiti Shawl, but I’ve lost all momentum, and all sense of structure.
I’m happy with all the red circles. I like the colour variation and the unevenness – in real life, in a half-decent light, which winter in Britain rarely provides, there’s a vibrant, lively feel, and the use of the line stitches reflects the original pattern I used for the filling. Good.
The blue section is where the trouble started. I’ve done two of them already in spite of my doubts because I’ve come across all too many instances where a piece only worked when I’d kept on through the doubts.
I’m not sure whether it is the yarns, the colours, or the stitches that are the problem, or even whether there is a problem at all.
The pashmina is in a lovely twill weave which flows beautifully, but it’s quite fine, and a lot of the threads are thicker.
But the problems of the blue section fade into nothing when I get to the green. I love the overlapping scale pattern, and I was really looking forward to stitching it. But I can’t find a pattern of stitching that works, and again, I’m not sure whether this is the colour, the thread, or the stitch.
I have no idea how to sort this one out. Unless inspiration strikes, it will be some time before you see it again.
Remember, the two inner circles are always in the same stitches – Open Chain Stitch, and Stem Stitch.
The two outer circles in this case are in Herringbone Stitch, and Half-Chevron Stitch. I’m a little disappointed that neither the counterchanges of colour nor the counterchanges of thread seem to show in this photo. I assure you, they were there when I worked it!
The first of these is Breton Stitch, which is a little like Herringbone stitch with added twist. I’m sure I could have done it with the twist towards the outside, but I think like this, it will balance some of the other circles which have a strong edge.
The second is Wheatear Stitch, which I have found myself turning to every now and again, although maybe not often enough. It produces a spiky but continuous line, so while it has definite uses, it is also one which doesn’t work in all contexts. That said, I enjoyed working it, so maybe I will be able to tweak either the context or the stitch, so as to use it more…!
This pashmina is going to be quite the stitch sampler, isn’t it!
The circles weren’t perfectly drawn, so the slightly wonky appearance of perspective is partly owing to that. The lighter coverage is Cretan Stitch. I often have trouble using cretan stitch in my more figurative projects, so I’m hoping that being reminded of it will help me to find uses for it in future. Up and Down Buttonhole stitch is an old favourite, as long term readers will know. I’ve done it more neatly, but I always enjoy stitching it.
This pair was actually among the last to be finished. Italian Border Stitch can be described as a fly stitch with a French Knot instead of a straight stitch. First I did a single row, and it looked a bit thin, so I added a second layer. Much better!
The second circle is in Chained Feather Stitch. This one curves well around the circle, and has something of the feel of a victor’s laurel wreath about it. Maybe an omen for me finally finishing the Dreams of Amarna in the next year?