It occurred to me recently that when I finally finish the Dreams of Amarna panels I will probably want to exhibit them somewhere – displaying them at home would require a complete redesign, including moving walls! – and that, however large or intricate they may be, two panels do not an exhibition make.
At the same time, however, I’d had an idea for a design for which I could apply the combined silk and gold stitches of the Tudor Rose, and furthermore, that might allow me scope, later, to play with some of the mixed media techniques that are available…
So I went rummaging among the assorted copyright-free and Creative Commons images on the web (my goodness, there are thousands!) and found a photo of the famous painted head of Nefertiti which is in the Berlin Museum. Then with some cropping and processing, from a photo of the bust in its case it became a plain headshot with no background, rendered in the style of an old-fashioned newsprint picture. An email conversation and a payment later, that image had been turned into a custom-made Thermofax screen…
At which point, all the simplicity fell over. I’ve actually done four screen prints on the faience-coloured linen, and about three on sandy coloured linen, and none of them was good enough for my purposes. I’m not sure whether the screen is too detailed for the fabric or whether it is simply my technique that is faulty.
So I guess I just need to try harder!
I decided to create a chequerboard effect for the pincushion. The four panels are stab-stitched together with the raw edges visible. I think that makes for an interesting effect, although it can be over-used.
The first panel has a few French Knots, lots of straight stitches, and some singleton scroll stitches around the base of the stems.
The second is lots of French knots, and palmate leaves made of lazy daisy stitches.
The third is primarily lazy daisy stitch, with the flowers made using blanket stitch.
The four panel is feather stitch with French Knots.
The pincushion is only lightly stuffed. I felt that somehow stuffing it to the point of solidity wouldn’t be quite right, although I don’t know why.
In this case I closed the edges with glove stitch. This is really a sort of variant on overcast stitch, so it isn’t difficult, but – even with shaggy bits of embellished fabric appearing around the edges! – it gives a slightly more “finished” effect.
One of those details that most people don’t consciously notice, but it still has an effect…
The finished set looks cheerful and springlike, in spite of the increasingly distant relationship between the stitchery and the spring flowers that inspired me.
I’m rather pleased; even if it took me months to find the inspiration, the final result makes me smile!
I’ve started adding more detail with needle and thread. The chevron pattern, the eyes, and the detail on the beak are all made using straight stitches in single strands of Appletons wool. I can’t think where I got a whole series of greys, unless it’s from hand-me-downs. I’m glad I have them now, but it isn’t a colour I much like and I can’t imagine going out and buying them!
For the legs, I have used three different colours of wool in the needle. I can see that for all my staring at photographs and trying to sketch, I’ve not really got a clear or accurate idea of the details of goose anatomy! And somehow, for all my care in placing the cut out felt geese, they’ve ended up attached in not-quite-the-right place.
Still, let’s not despair.
I’ve also added some ground below the the geese. Three strands of different colours of wool, again. I did a sort of loopy knot stitch crossed with a split stitch, which I couldn’t reproduce if I tried. But it produces a very good broken-ground effect, so as long as I don’t decide I need more ground, we’ll be fine.
Then I sat down at the embellisher and tried to blend the fabrics together. This meant quite heavy embellishing, but fortunately the fabrics are none of them dense, so there was room for the fibres to mingle.
When I noticed that the legs weren’t getting caught in, I twisted some more threads around them. That’s better.
Then another pause. Do I add leaves, to match my vague memory, or shall I leave well alone?
I’m continuing to think about that quotation from Pliny, and considering how I might bring it to life. In the meantime, I’m trying to develop some familiarity with small-scale dyeing, rather than the huge machinery of my course, so when I heard that The Wild Dyery, not far away, was running an evening of indigo dyeing, I decided to go along.
I found a cotton T-shirt in a charity shot, and proceeded to embroider it using every different white thread I could find. I want to see how the different threads respond, because it occurred to me that I could add to my adventures by embroidering with mordanted threads.
Ever the over-complicatrix of my own life….!
Justine, owner, tutor, and guide in our adventure, kindly hauled everyone’s pieces out of the dyebath for them. As the dyeing process with indigo is an oxidation reaction, incautious splashings in the dyebath, even drips from a piece being removed, can compromise the dyebath by removing dye from it before it has a chance to bond with fabric.
Besides, as she commented – there’s no need for everyone to leave with blue hands!
Brought home, rinsed, hand-washed and then left to dry, the T-shirt came out lighter, blue rather than turquoise, and with a few interesting discoveries made…
Working from the top down…
The herringbone stitch leaf shapes are in Anchor Marlitt, and that seems to have taken the dye nicely. I’d expect that, I think, although the thread is so glossy I might have expect it to have some finishing treatment.
The line of twisted chain stitch is in that frustrating DMC linen. I didn’t enjoy stitching with it, as it it rough, stiff and lifeless. It’s taken the dye in a rather patchy fashion, and I suspect as I wear and wash the T-shirt, the dye will wear off even more.
The next, the circle of chain stitch, is pearl cotton, and this is such a popular thread with the companies that overdye threads that I was expecting it to take the colour much more strongly.
The next photo shows that circle in full, together with the twisted chain stitch in linen thread that curved around it.
The paisley shape in stem stitch is in soft embroidery cotton, and this absolutely astonished me. I was expecting at least some signs of attachment, but there are only the faintest suggestions that the dye was able to attach to the yarn.
Cotton usually takes dyes really well – just think of how easy it is to revive an old cotton shirt with a packet of dye – and if, anything I was expecting it to be one of the darker results. As it is, I think this will wear off in short order!
The line of cable chain stitch is more the colour I was expecting from the soft cotton. It’s a tightly twisted, stiff, mercerised crochet cotton, and it seemed to swallow the dye and hang on to it.
The diamonds of romanian couching stitch are stranded cotton. That has taken the dye well, too, although there are hints that whenever the threads have crossed each other there has been a resist effect, which may show more as the T-shirt is worn.
The feather stitch is pearl cotton and the trail of seed stitch is soft cotton, and they haven’t taken the dye any better than before.
Well, that’s given me something to think about, hasn’t it!
I have a picture in my mind of a gaggle of geese, fresco’d on an Amarna wall. Unfortunately, all my rummagings haven’t turned up a reference or any idea where I saw it. So I am going to make it up!
I spent some time online, looking for pictures of geese, and made some sketches. I’ve decided to use my embellisher – this is a sort of “bonus” project, as it won’t go on the main panels.
So the next stage was to cut out some geese from some light grey pre-felt. One of them is to be slightly more upright than the other two, but since needlefelting – like wet felting – reduces the dimensions of the piece, it’s anyone’s guess how clear that will be when I’ve finished!
I’ve tried to create the basic appearance of the goose using fragments of wool – several shades of grey merino, and some of the very wiry white wool from Heligan. It’s all needlefelted into place by hand. Not enough hands – I’m sure I could have done with another pair, or some other way to control the bits I hadn’t managed to deal with yet!
At this point there was a pause for thought… I have neither the inclination nor the patience to add the details with needlefelting, but equally, how much detail will I really need?
Once I’d finished the little needlebook, using the little pack from Rowandean, I thought I might have a bit more of a play, and make a scissors case and a pincushion.
So I fished out a piece of dyed silk left over from a book box my mother made for her fine binding of The Wind In The Willows, and a whole hank of fantastical, textured threads, and spent an afternoon tacking them in place and then playing with my embellisher, in order to create a mossy, textural piece of fabric to line the scissor case and back the pincushion.
Bear with me, I know the textures would snag the scissor blades! I used some of the pieces of gauze from the kit – also run gently through the embellisher – to smooth down the lining. The texture is still there, but it has been muted and slightly smoothed over. And now the scissors will be beautifully padded and protected!
The edges are simply whipstitched – a considerable effort, through two layers of felt and two layers of the embellished fabric, but I’m glad to say I didn’t break any needles doing it!
For the front and back, again I used simple stitchery, in undivided stranded cotton. A vaguely wisteria-like (not really Spring any more…!) fall of lazy daisy flowers with French Knot centres enliven the front.
And three wheatear stitch stems (seedheads left over from winter, perhaps…?) decorate the back.
The variegated thread makes all the colour changes happen by magic, and since my other main project at the moment is the 40-count tent stitch of Eve In the Garden Of Eden, six strands of stranded cotton is a blessed relief..!
You may recall that last year – or was it the year before? – I joined in a “Make & Take” at the Rowandean stand in Harrogate. Last time, I bought a little kit and one of Katrina’s pages of ideas and brought them home to play with.
Of course, as we all know, the Bringing Home is the easy part… !
The colours are soft and fresh, springlike, so I thought I would start by playing with forms vaguely inspired by spring flowers. The ultimate inspiration here was from snowdrops, made by stitching a fly stitch and a twisted fly stitch on top of one another. It has almost worked, certainly close enough for my purposes. Maybe an embroidering botanist would like to play a bit more.
The flowers are stitched on a piece of gauze which is layered over a piece of silk, which in turn lies over apiece of felt. The french knots in the corners held everything together while I tackled the flowers.
The next fragment was vaguely inspired by grape hyacinths, which are among my favourite spring flowers. Overlapping detached chain stitches worked well, and layering gauze over the felt helped to bring the flowers out from the background.
I may choose to fray the gauze further, but I was struggling with light at this point and decided to see what I thought under different atmospheric conditions!
I did mention that I’m no botanist! The ultimate inspiration here were the stripy crocus I see a lot near where I live. They are getting a little old and blowsy, not the trim, upright bolts of colour that first appeared, but nevertheless the ones I’ve stitched look more like some strange new flora, unknown to either science or art!
I rather enjoyed them, all the same…
I’ve turned the resulting pile of felt into a needlebook, rather more illustrated that is usual, and with a dramatic stitched spine. This was a distinct piece of experimentation – I could have done with a milliner’s needle, but not having one I improvised with a beading needle, which was very flimsy and flexible, but did the job in the end.
Now I’ve put it under a heap of books to flatten it gradually without the squashing effect of an iron. And I still have some felt, some thread, and some gauze left over for further experimentation!
Just before Christmas I was struggling with the “Dreams of Amarna” designs, but I still had itchy fingers from longing to stitch, and sore eyes from staring at “Eve In The Garden of Eden“, so I wanted something a bit less precise..
My Dad’s shaving cream comes in a rather nice wooden pot. There are refills, but sometimes the shop doesn’t have them, and consequently – since they’re much too nice to throw away – my parents have ended up with something of a stockpile. I’ve taken one of them off their hands, and turned it into a pincushion.
At the moment the lid is being used as a coaster, but I am open to suggestions for it!
The threads are silks, bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show, worked on felt acquired at the same time. I created the shape of the pincushion itself with shaping stitches, stitching around and around the padding and the felt top layer, rather as doll and puppet makers do, and once I’d settled it into the bowl, I drew a chalk line around the waist, took the pincushion out, and started stitching.
Coral Stitch, Cable Chain (do I ever do anything that Cable Chain doesn’t sneak into somehow?), Semi-Closed Feather Stitch, and Scroll Stitch, all stitched into the felt, catching as little of the stuffing as I could.
Then I decided to do make a scissors-keeper for my lovely Ernest Wright and Son Ltd scissors, so I started by using one of the threads, and my lucet, to make a cord for it. I’d forgotten some of the knack of lucetting, but it came back gradually, and it’s ever so satisfying!
The stitches on the scissors keeper are Sorbello Stitches (another favourite of mine) and Tied Cross Stitches, and the the pieces of felt are stitched together with ordinary blanket stitch. In silk!
Don’t they look good…!
The pashmina, when it arrived, was a lovely caramel colour, with rather unanticipated silver spots on it, and it was a good deal flimsier than I was expecting. The others I have are all in fairly sturdy twill weaves. In truth, I’m not sure that would be easier, and if I ever finish this one, I may choose to find out..
Regular and long term readers of my blog will be aware that I have a thing about scale – scale of thread, scale of stitch, scale of weave. I’ve even discovered – much to my surprise – that the dreaded Plaited Braid Stitch isn’t always easier when it’s stitched wider and longer. So it will be no surprise that I spent a bit of time playing with various different threads to see what I thought of them, before settling on a final choice.
Scale isn’t the only concern, either. The right texture and sheen matter as well.
In the end I have settled on silks. The Medici yarn might have worked if I had had more of it, but I don’t think it is even made any more. The Appletons crewel wool was too heavy, and the Gumnut yarns (although I love them) somehow didn’t settle in comfortably.
Now I have to unpick my experiments and get started. I already have a newfound respect for any lady of the period who embroidered her muslin dresses, or her silk gauzes. There’s a story that Jane Austen embroidered a muslin dress with satin stitch spots, and the mere idea gives me cold shivers!
Although I doubt they had to contend with stuck-on paillettes!
Rummaging around on Twitter, I found a most intriguing idea. A research team at the University of Kent, headed by Dr Jennie Batchelor (@jenniebatchelor on Twitter), is investigating the content and development of an eighteenth century periodical, The Lady’s Magazine. The magazine was sold with pull-out song sheets – and pull-out designs for embroidery. Generally speaking, they don’t survive, having been pulled out and used as they were intended to be.
But recently, a bound volume of a half-year (1796) came to light, with some patterns included. A little more discussion, the idea arose of scanning those designs for modern stitchers to play with, and The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off was born. For more on that, visit the project’s blog post on the subject.
I couldn’t resist the idea. I’ve downloaded the first five designs, and started to stare at them thoughtfully. The project suggests that stitchers might like to work modern versions as well as in some cases working versions which are as historically accurate as possible, so there is going to be quite a variety to look at.
I’ve decided that I’m going to work the designs on a pashmina shawl, and while I am waiting for it to arrive, I’m contemplating what I might choose to do, from highly modern needle-felted versions, to more or less classical embroidery.
I wanted to share it with you before I started stitching, because the vagaries of the post may substantially delay my first stitch, and a few of you may want to join in. Do let the project know if you do, they’re really enjoying what they’ve been seeing!
Update: They have recently posted their first round-up of Stitch Off contributions and planned contributions.