Tag: design elements
A few weeks ago I went to see the Royal School of Needlework Exhibition “For Worship and Glory”, in its second incarnation, in the Lady Chapel in Ely. The centrepiece of the exhibition was a series of embroideries inspired by the Litany of Loreto, donated to the RSN when Mayfield Convent in Surrey was closed during the 1970s. Since I saw the first version of the exhibition a few years ago, it has been discovered that the designs were created by an Italian graphic designer, Ezio Anichini, at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The panels are in a very restricted palette using silk floss and filoselle – browns and golds, some black, and a very tiny amount of blue, and although the stitches are described as “mostly long and short”, with the addition of stem stitch, split stitch and straight stitches, the panels didn’t have the heaviness I associate with long and short stitch. On the contrary, my primary impression was to be astonished and impressed by the manner in which the works were clearly embroideries and yet maintained a kinship with the drawn design. Look at the bark on this picture, the sketchy and textural feel to it, contrasting with the almost naturalistic rendering of the briars.
Even more strikingly – and my phone camera, in spite of the wonderful light in Ely’s Lady Chapel, really wasn’t up to the task – look at the rendering of the folds of fabric here. The stitches are just straight stitches, using carefully chosen shades and thicknesses of thread, at carefully judged spacings and angles, and yet the impression of flowing folds in fabric is beautifully realized.
I was very glad I’d thought to take my lorgnettes, because there were so many enchantingly embodied ideas that I wanted to examine!
Having spent some time in my stash, deciding that mixing even filament silks might be a bit unpredictable, I finally pulled myself together and placed an order with Devere Yarns. While I waited for them to arrive (it didn’t take long), I went back to Tanya’s book and read the early technique sections again. Homework is always more fun when you’re interested.
I do have some darks left over from the Amarna Family Group, so the outlining is sorted. I’ve got three stone colours, three shades for William’s armour, three greens for grass, three shades for the horse, the three heraldic colours for the shield, and a blue for the slate roofs on the turrets.
The blue is probably also going to be the colour I use for the border.
The Victorians remodelled Temple Church, where William is buried, found a strapping six-footer that they believed – based on what we’ve been told of him – to be William, and in due course, reburied him, and everyone else they’d moved, in the garden. So I’m planning a silk border, of blue laid-&-couched work, embellished with roses (for the garden) and common broom (for the Plantagenet kings he served so faithfully).
The grave slab is shown in a leaflet I got when we visited, which is no longer in existence, but is shown in an engraving from the 17th Century, and was thought to be associated with William. The lion looks right, anyway! I’m wondering whether to include that in my design for the border in some way, and if so, in what orientation..
Since I’ve always been interested in heraldry, and deeply distrust online search results, which so often depend on something unexpected in the search terms, one of my bits of research involved an email to the College of Heralds, asking about William’s coat of arms. I received a commendably prompt and completely unperturbed reply from the Officer-in-Waiting, Rouge Dragon Poursuivant, telling me that:
“The left-hand side of the shield, from the viewer’s point of view, should be Or, meaning gold (or yellow). The right-hand side should be Vert, meaning green. The lion should be Gules, meaning red, and it should be rampant, meaning it is upight and standing on its left foot with its right foot slightly raised off the ground.”
You’d think embroiderers emailed for advice every day of the week! Maybe they do, of course…
I had painted a whole series of variants on the design, and then had another thought, namely – maybe I wasn’t exploring all the variations possible. I attempted to do the exploration on my computer, but went to bed that evening with a ligament in my arm squealing. Back to the paintbox!
So I fished out one of my largest blocks of paper, and painted the chateau with a bit more wall on either side, and an actual path, and then painted a separate William, so that I could move him around on the background and experiment with cropping.
I’ve left his shield as white and green in the design for now. I intend to use underside couching for the “sky”, but I’ve not yet decided whether to use couched gold or silk thread on the shield, and making sure the colours are different in the design will help me to remember I have a decision to make.
I’m still havering, but encouraged by Tanya Bentham, who wrote the book that started me on this, I’m thinking about the third of the four options in this post. As Tanya pointed out on Instagram, in the medieval period people messed around with scale and perspective quite cheerfully, so I have no need to make sure my knight will fit through the gate!
I’ve been continuing to think about The Vision of Placidus, but part of my inspiration has shifted, from the mille fleurs background of the the Unicorn Tapestry, to the edge-painting my mother did for a Fine Binding she made of The Wind In The Willows.
An edge painting is exactly what it says: colour added to the edge of the codex of a book, often in patterns or pictures that relate to the story or theme of the book.
So, although there may still be animals in mille fleurs fashion in odd spaces in the picture, I’m also planning to design a border. Underwater will be shown below the main image, just above the water surface on the vertical edges, and the sky on the upper border.
This design sheet shows the design of the edge painting for the book, to give you some idea of what I am thinking about.
There will be a pike underwater, I’m sure, and the vertical borders will be where the kingfisher, and maybe some dragonflies, can go. I might spend some time looking at the symbolism of various animals, just to make sure that the right creatures show their faces.
The corners will probably have the symbols of the Evangelists, but at the moment I’m not sure in quite what style..
In other news, Episode 40 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which we move to the Christmas playlist, discuss the tension between economy and adequate coverage, and express surprise at the amount of real history one can learn from well researched fiction.
After her discovery of the piece of tile that started it all, the first find that Mary Chubb describes is a faience necklace, discovered by the team then in Egypt, and written up in the Director’s Report which she has to disentangle and re-type legibly (remember, in the 1920s, typing wasn’t a skill that everyone had had to develop). It sounds completely enchanting, and yet I’m struggling to bring it to life.
In fact I last wrote about it in 2015, and I’m still wrestling with ways to represent it! I’ve already abandoned any idea of working a portrait of it (as it were). As you can see from the black and white photo, it’s crammed with faience beads, and it’s hard to imagine making a good stitchable design of it. So I’ve cut out some watercoloured beads, and pushed them around, taking photos as I go. Back to primary school!
Then another suggestion came in (thank you @IndiaGraceDsgns ), to think about mandalas…
And now I’m thinking about “samplers” of beads which still recall the way these broad collars and necklaces are sometimes displayed in museums.
I’m planning on using flat silks, when I finally pick one (comments, anyone?), and of course, the next question will be: what colour fabric I will be stitching it on?
I can’t remember where I found the basic outline of this heron. There’s something a bit late-medieval about him, and I found the various shapes a good way of playing with interesting stitches. He’s worked in crewel wool, apart from the orange-gold fish in his beak – that’s silk!
The main, flat colour sections of his body are worked in split stitch filling. This isn’t a technique I’m especially fond of, but it does fit in well with the style of the drawing, and it provides a plain filling that allows the trellis couching over his wing, and the half-chevron stitch in his tail to be the stars of the show.
The butterfly settling on the huge leaf in this second panel also makes use of split stitch filling, with the roundels on the wings working in spider’s web stitch, and the antennae in a single fly stitch. However, the whole reason for creating this design was to have a large space to fill with the ornamented version of trellis couching. I believe that classically, this stitch is worked much smaller and more densely, but what I was trying to do here was to marry the old style with more modern sensibilities, and opening it out creates a crisper, lighter effect.
I’ve not been able to work out what to do with these, either. They’re mounted over board, and waiting for inspiration!
This vase of flowers was on the table in a motel room we stayed in, many years ago. For some reason they caught my eye, and for our whole stay – which was full of activity and outings – I wanted to paint them. But we were never in the room for long enough during the daytime.
Finally, on the morning we were going to leave, I got out my paints, sat down, stared very hard, and painted this. I’ve noticed that if I really want to paint something, it often works much better than paintings I’ve done because I want to practise painting.
I don’t think I even bothered to take a photograph. Everything I wanted to remember about the vase is in the painting.
When we got home, however, it seemed to me that the painting offered possibilities as the basis for a simple embroidery.
A very simple embroidery, but, as you see, making use of a variety of stitches.
The vase was textured glass, not clear, and I represented that using lines of coral stitch among the stem stitch. I didn’t work it more densely, because I wanted it to have a certain lightness of touch.
The twigs were very rough and twiggy, so I used scroll stitch.
Finally, the simple shapes of the flowers were best represented using my neatest and most careful satin stitch. All I really wanted from them was the colour.
I haven’t the vaguest idea what to do with the embroidery, so I’ve laced it over a board to keep it tidy. But I thought you might be interested to see one of my very rarest stories – I know other designers often do detailed watercolours of their designs, but it’s not how I work. More often, I have a rough idea in my head, and work on each element while I’m planning the details of the next, waiting for the piece to tell me what it wants.
This has turned out well, but I’m still slightly bewildered that it happened at all!
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…..
My contribution to the Embroiderers Guild 100 Hearts Project, commemorating the end of the First World War.
Dedicated to the memory of the men of the merchant fleet, and in particular the many immigrants and naturalised citizens who, sometimes in the face of xenophobic hostility, continued to serve their adopted country faithfully and well, and brought up their children to think of it as home. But in especial memory of my great grandfather Henry Frederick Bloom, who was Swedish, naturalised shortly after my Grandmama’s birth, and himself served throughout the War in the merchant fleet.
It has been allocated to the Liverpool exhibition, at Liverpool Cathedral, from September 7 until October 10.