This shows the start of the work on the cotton twill which will form the basis for the hull and superstructure. I have used two layers of navy gauze where the shadows need to be darker and cut sections out of one of the layers where I want a lighter shade. The transferred outline – made using an iron-on transfer pencil – barely shows at all, and fades with age, so there is little risk of anything showing where it should not.
As the additional slip for the hull will cover the raw ends of the fabrics, I decided only to sew down firmly those elements that will be unprotected. I found that as I added embroidery and fabrics to my slips-in-preparation, they shrank – not something my books had ever mentioned, although it really should have occurred to me. That is why I ran the gauze down into the area which would be covered by the hull, although I only caught it down lightly. Although there will be padding under the hull, I was afraid that a strongly stitched line might show where it wasn’t wanted.
It is hard to see what I’m aiming for in these photos of the work in progress, so in this picture I have overlaid the slip made for the hull on the cotton drill in approximately the correct place to show the general effect I hope to achieve.
It was at about this point that the project woke up and started talking to me.
Before you book my place in an asylum, let me explain: that’s how I describe the feeling of having a near-absolute certainty of what to do next or how to achieve the next stage. Some of my projects never really do wake up, but the Camberwell chattered incessantly for the next several months, even when I decided to undo and redo some elements. When I was in doubt, I found that if I could in some way lay out the choices, they became blindingly obvious as soon as they progressed from imagination to fabric.
This shows the cotton twill with the basic outline transferred to it for embroidering. I decided that the whole ship would be made on this cotton twill and then the twill applied to the background fabric over the sky and sea fabrics, with some padding to raise it. I checked with my client (my cousin, remember!) to be sure that she was happy with raised and padded appliqué, rather than wanted something very flat, and on receiving an intrigued and enthusiastic “Go for it” started planning what would be padded and by how much.
The photo also shows the satin that I chose for the hull, with the design, again, outlined in running stitches.
The next stage was to apply a layer of navy net and a layer of navy gauze to the satin where the hull was in shadow, and stitch over those edges in navy satin stitch. I built up several layers of net at the forefoot, with lines of stitching to add form.
Then I added a layer of tawny net to the light side of the hull to cloud the colour slightly and stitched along the main plating lines of the hull to help reveal the shape.
The next stage on this piece was to stitch over all the edges that will not be covered by other stitches and fabrics to ensure that no raw edges show. At various stages in the project I chose different stitches for this job, but in this particular case I used buttonhole stitch to make the edge crisp and clear.
I could have left the background until I had made some progress on the Camberwell herself, but I wanted to be sure I kept the design balanced, and having the background ready so I could lay the cut outs on it to think about seem the best way of achieving that.
The fabric for the sky is a pale apricot coloured georgette. At this stage I still had not decided whether there should be two layers, to create a deeper colour and more dramatic effect, but as I was going to be working on the ship herself on a separate piece of fabric and applying it later, that decision could be delayed. I used a zigzagged back stitch in rust coloured embroidery cotton to attach the georgette to the backing.
The blue-green fabric I chose for the sea has a glittering thread running through it at intervals. I was hoping that this would create the effect of sunlight sparkling on the water, without drawing unnecessary attention to itself.
I also found a piece of white cotton twill – slightly lighter in weight than the material used in uniform “tropical whites” but very similar – which seems the perfect choice for the base fabric (for so many reasons). This fabric provided a sturdy basis for the superstructure and the hull, which would involve both fabric appliqué and embroidery.
So here are the final colour choices for the Camberwell Panel, after much deliberation.
I wanted to maintain the flat expanses of colour used in the posters, together with the slightly unreal colours, but at the same time, I did not want to create a wilfully unrealistic colour scheme. So although I decided to use apricot organdie for the sky (after all, we’ve all seen strange colours of sky, haven’t we?), the fabric for the sea was a blue-green georgette, and for the hull a dark orange crepe-back satin, crepe side out. The dark orange is close to the terracotta/red lead colour often used on merchant shipping, while sitting comfortably alongside the apricot. Then I picked some fragments of net in a variety of dark colours to help with the rough textures of the quayside, and navy blue organdie to help create the shade on the hull.
I chose a cream cotton velvet to make a solid, but pleasantly textured background, thinking it would make a pleasant surround when the panel was complete (as you will see, there were some design changes made during the process…!).
This in turn meant that transferring the design threatened to be an exercise fraught with difficulty – right up to the point where I realised that since much of the design would be applied in pieces, all I needed on the background velvet was basic clues for placement.
So I traced the design onto tissue paper, tacked it in place, put the whole thing on a slate frame and went over the main design lines in running stitch.
The Camberwell Panel was a commission from my cousin. I documented the design and progress of the work for her while I was doing it, and she has given me permission to share it with you as well.
The Camberwell was the ship her grandfather retired from in 1938, and when we found this photo in the family home, we thought it would make an ideal subject for an embroidered panel. Although the Camberwell was a merchant vessel (a collier, in fact), the looming prow in the picture reminded us of the liner posters of the 1930s, so that was to be the inspiration for the panel.
That idea in turn lead me to decide to use appliqué as the basic technique, embellished with embroidery. The flat blocks of colour used in the posters of the period would be most easily produced by appliqué, and it is a technique that I’ve never used seriously before. I thought it would be fun to try.
So I began by scanning the photo and then tweaking it digitally to get a sketch. With Master Mariners on both sides of my family tree, the last thing I wanted was to get the rigging wrong!
Once I knew what size the panel was to be (decided on the basis of where it was to hang) I could use a projector to project it at the appropriate size and create a basic pattern.
Then I spent some time playing with colour schemes. We settled on something vaguely reminiscent of the the Art Deco period …