The Azorean Cutwork was not a very successful travelling project, as it needed to be precise, and the poor light of the average hotel-room made precision difficult.
I think this tea-cloth came from the same lady responsible for my fragment of the Quaker Tapestry, and the extra embroidery frames I knew I hadn’t bought. The instructions suggest a welter of unlikely colours and an excess of satin stitch, and I was nearly weak enough for follow them.
Then my mother pointed out that I’ve just done a single-stitch project, and should maybe cut loose a bit.
No sooner suggested than taken up! The wild colours are staying, but the stitchery will be a little more diverse…
After doing yellow satin stitch daisies with orange centres, I used blanket stitch fans for the next flower. I’m sure I’ve seen this before, or used it before, but I can’t remember where!
The design is composed of four corner designs and four straight sections which are all the same. I’m working each bit as I decide on it, rather than working one whole side and then copying it three times. That means that the puzzling and decision making is alternating with the stitching, rather than an orgy of decisions followed by the tedium of doing the same thing over and over and over again.
The purple flower is part of the corner motif, and alternates fishbone stitch (the dark petals) with nested fly stitches. The centre is a circle of blanket stitches with some random interlacing to fill them in.
Any book on embroidery will usually tell you about methods for transferring designs to the fabric. In fact, I think some of them are guilty of plagiarism – although from whom, in the best traditions of the circular firing squad, it would be hard to know.
Last week there was a discussion on Twitter relating to the Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off and particularly concerned with transferring the design once you’d chosen it, and I suddenly realised that not one of my shelf (ahem, shelves!) of embroidery books actually suggested which method might be most appropriate when, or what hazards or difficulties they present.
So I thought I would pull together what I’ve picked up and found out over the years…
First, Prick and Pounce. This is one of the oldest methods – almost certainly the only one available to the Lady’s Magazine subscribers. I’ve come to it relatively recently, but I use it a lot. It’s not good when my tennis elbow flares up, because pricking holes in the pattern is a slow and repetitive business, perfectly designed to produce a repetitive strain injury. It’s also not good – as I discovered with the pashmina for the Stitch Off – with a mobile fabric which is a little widely sett for the thickness of the constituent yarns. I had to reinstate the lines with a dressmaker’s chalk, which wasn’t nearly as precise as I would have liked!
Next, the Light Box method. Actually, not having a light box, it’s a “tape it to the window and do your best” method. I did this with the Gentleman’s Glittering Nightcap, and it worked fairly well, but it’s limited to the size of your window or lightbox, whereas Prick and Pounce is limited by the size of your table! I also become nervous when using indelible ink such as the (recommended and provided) Pigma pen. I’m always terrified of inadvertently drawing a line somewhere I can’t cover it.
Which leads me on to a caution. I’ve used quilter’s “disappearing” felt pens instead in the past, and had one of the scariest embroidery experiences I’ve ever had. First of all, the lines didn’t last quite long enough for a hand stitcher, and then…
When I washed the piece, the lines reappeared, and what’s more, they kept coming back. I can’t remember what it took to be rid of them, but certainly some prolonged soaking in detergent was involved.
Hair-raising doesn’t begin to describe it, and as mine is nearly a yard long, that’s no joke!
I used a Transfer Pencil for the Map of Amarna. This works nicely – provided you remember to reverse the pattern if it needs it! – if the fabric is a natural fibre. However, it can be hard to keep the transfer clean as you make it, and then there is a risk that you will transfer indelible smudges to the fabric.
I’ve also found that the lines sometimes spread as they transfer, which may or may not be a problem, depending on how detailed the design, and how much unembroidered fabric may be showing. As it always says on the packaging – test the whole process on your fabric before using it for anything important!
In the case of a really tricky fabric, such as the velvet for the Camberwell Panel, Running Stitch through tissue paper works really well. It’s rather time consuming, but then, I don’t think any method is especially swift.
There are soluble fabrics which I know many stitchers recommend, but I’ve only worked one piece using it, and the design drawn on the soluble film was hard to see, so I can’t describe it as an unalloyed success.
In truth, a stable natural fabric such as linen will probably happily accept anything thing you do, and the fragile, “difficult” ones will each require a different response. The trick is to remember to pause before starting, to make sure you pick a sensible method for the fabric and the design!
There’s a woven spiders web wheel for the top of the picnic basket, the little girl’s red hair is worked in coral stitch and her older sister’s is satin stitch. It’s barely visible in the photo, but the satin stitch is angled this way and that to create something that looks a little like a Marcel wave – a very grown up style on a relatively young girl!
This motif, “Reading” shows particularly clearly how skilled the designer was in making the best possible use of simple shapes and simple line. Much of the design uses straight stitches – for the leaves, the bark, and the stems of the leaves.
It couldn’t be simpler to do, but doesn’t it look good!
This is the point where – after nobly containing my experimental impulses for quite some time! – I indulged in a few wanderings from the path laid down. The shorts are actually woven! It must have been tricky to get right, but it’s worked really well – they look slightly tweedy, but in any case the sort of heavy fabric that any sensible mother would clothe her child in for scrambling around rocks and beaches.
The little gold fish is worked in Vandyke stitch, which is tricky to keep even but creates a strong line down the side of the fish to contrast with the net in the background.
I worked this immediately after the First Voluntary Project, and my goodness, is there a difference between the two! I think I must have talked with Grandmama and looked at some of her embroidery, and it looks as though suddenly the whole idea “clicked”.
The motifs are from transfers from another of Grandmama’s Needlewoman Magazines (August 1934, if you are interested!), worked on an old piece of linen in stranded cottons. The design was suggested to be a cover for a photograph album, but since my family isn’t really photograph-conscious, I felt that such a thing would be superfluous, and finished it as a traycloth instead. We added the seagull to cover a hole in the linen, which was already quite old.
The range of stitches is very limited on this piece – I must have been following the instructions in the magazine – and the whole thing is surprisingly neatly worked. I love the little girl’s spotty dress (satin stitch spots!) and windswept stem stitch hair, and the starfish is wonderfully knobbly, with closely packed French knots.
Most of the outlining across the whole piece is in back stitch, and although I didn’t count it precisely, I suspect the weave of the linen made that much easier to do than it might have been.
The designs themselves are very reminiscent of the children’s books of the period – it’s even exactly the right sort of dog, slightly scruffy, but always ready to play!
I worked on this very early in my embroidering career. The design comes from a free transfer in one of the Needlewoman Magazines my Grandmama gave me (September 1934, since you asked!), and I worked it to go with the curtains in my bedroom which were a wonderful Regency strip in red and gold. It’s a table runner – I used it on my dressing table – and it is very nearly two feet long.
The original article to accompany the transfer described several different colourways and a whole range of sketches of suggested uses. There was the idea of sprigging (organdie) curtains with the single motif, embroidering a sunshade, a bag (linen), a luncheon set, gloves, embellishment on the brim of a hat, even on a nightdress or slip (silk of course!). Sometimes I wish I had lived in the Thirties!
I used some fine linen – essentially altar linen, a fine even-weave, nothing fancy, and embroidered it using pearl cotton. As you can see from the close up, pearl cotton really was rather too heavy for the fabric, but then I liked it at the time, and if you don’t like what you’re doing, it tends to take longer to finish.
I should have had the courage of my convictions and worked the French Knots as seed stitches (I hated French Knots at the time – possibly because I wasn’t very good at them). There are only three stitches – straight stitch, stem stitch, and French Knots, so it was very easy and simple to work.
I simply had to keep going at it. That’s when I discovered that I’m not very happy doing repetitive embroidery!
And – in case you are interested – although the linen was old when I worked the embroidery, it has in fact outlasted the bedroom curtains… They don’t make fabric like that anymore!
As Spring shows her head after the chill of Winter, I am beginning to fish out clothes other than bulky winter woollies. This is a simple polyester blouse I embroidered some years ago when I had time, an itch to embroider, but absolutely no money to buy fabric.
I used a Free Transfer from The Needlewoman of January 1934 (from the boxful that Grandmama gave me), showing sprigs of flowers which they suggested might be used for lavender bags, traycloths, handkerchiefs, or underwear (if only I had the time and skill to make lovely silk embroidered undies!). The silk threads came from my stash (even fifteen years ago my stash was extensive and varied!), and in fact I think the whole idea of the project was that I wanted to use those threads in particular.
I’m not really a “floral”-type person, or at least the florals I stitch tend to be quite heavily stylised, and I’m also not someone who likes perfect symmetry. So I snipped out some elements from the transfer and arranged them irregularly on the front of the blouse. Once they were transferred, I arranged the threads, so each colour appears on each side of the button placket, but not on the same flower sprig.
I will provide close ups in another post, when I have worked out how to format them!
This design is from a transfer I picked up in a hurry a few years ago so as to have something to stitch while on holiday. It went swimmingly for a while and then ran into a brick wall and I have only just finished it.
The threads are wool and cotton, with a little bit of rayon. I intended the panel as a companion for my Jacobean Firescreen, so the colours of teal, brown and gold more or less chose themselves. There aren’t as many overdyed threads as I sometimes use, but that allows me to experiment all the more with the stitches.
Since I picked it up again, I’ve used it to play with some of the stitches which are new to me that I found in my copy of Yvette Stanton‘s Right Handed Embroiderer’s Companion. The whole thing became much more fun at that point!
So here, for example, the centre of the flower is worked in Spiral Trellis Stitch. I used a single strand, round thread overdyed in rust brown and purple, and although it was hair-raising to stitch, because I felt I was twisting myself in a spiral at the same time, I think it is rather successful. It’s not perfect, but I’ll do better another time, and I do think it looks rather good!
The dark brown rather lacy stem is worked in Mountmellick thorn stitch – another new one. Here I used one strand of a three-stranded cotton yarn. I think it would look better in a slightly heavier yarn, but it was fun to do and I will use this stitch again. The calyx of the strange fruit shows two of my favourite stitches – Cable Chain and Portuguese Knotted Stem.
I’m not entirely content with either of the flowers, but as I’m not sure why I shall leave well alone. Both of them have been unpicked at least twice, and I don’t want to wear out the fabric… Still, now it’s finished, I enjoyed working this!
The Lady in the Garden, again came from a transfer, and was stitched as a companion to the Peacock, and a homage to Grandmama’s Lady. Unlike Grandmama, I made no effort to provide the lady with lovely graduated ruffles – if I am honest, because I really didn’t think I would finish them if I tried! Instead her dress is sprigged with flowers (in Sorbello stitch, which was rather fun!) and only ruffled around the hem.
Because I conceived of the Lady and the Peacock as a pair, I emphasised the flower colours around the lady, and worked some elements of her dress in one of the blues I used for the peacock.
The inside edge of the bonnet is ornamented with Rosette Chain stitch, while the outside is edged with closed feather stitch. This would also have been an ideal opportunity to use bonnet stitch, but I didn’t think of it in time! I also used Rosette Chain Stitch for the ruffles on the the lady’s collar. I like to use a variety of stitches – the trick is not to use so many that the eye becomes bewildered. Using a basic stitch and its variations is one way to maintain some sense of uniformity, as is keeping a small colour palette.
The bodice is in Bokhara Couching, and the sleeves outlined in coral stitch. I’m surprised at how well this works – it should look thorny, and heavy, but somehow manages to evoke an airy gauze sleeve. How does that work?
The bows above the flounce of the skirts are in satin stitch, and the impression of the flounce is given by lines of chain stitch. Almost all the visual weight of the dress is at the bottom, and the airy sprigging on the skirt allows the flowers to take some of the limelight.
Again the stitching is simple – fishbone stitch for the leaves, detached chain stitch and French knots for the flowers, and as almost all the threads were variegated, I got a lot of subtle – and not so subtle! – colour variation “for free” as it were.
I had already worked the Jacobean Fire Screen when I started work on the Peacock and the Lady, and was beginning to feel that I should do some more designing for myself. I will probably still use other designers’ work, because sometimes I want to concentrate on a particular thread or technique (as in the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass) rather than the design. Besides, who knows what else I will find in the archives to write about!
The title of this post – for those who are scrabbling around in their memory – is the first line of “Silent Worship“, written by George Frederick Handel as an aria in his opera Tolomeo, but far more popular than anything else in it. Beware if you Google it – the last time I did so the first two links were for ringtones!
I’ve only recently begun to design my embroideries entirely for myself. To begin with I took painted canvases or transfers and worked them using a variety of stitches and thread combinations, depending on what I had to hand and what aspect of embroidery was catching my attention at the time.
I was attracted by this transfer of a peacock a long time ago, in fact I think I bought it when I was still a teenager. If I had paid attention to my whims I would have bought a good many canvases and transfers of peacocks over the years. In fact there is a painted canvas that I didn’t buy that I now would, if I were to see it somewhere!
The fabric is a linen napkin, and the threads are a variety of silks bought when a needlework shop I worked in as a teenager closed. I got a very good discount, in gratitude for services rendered..
I didn’t actually get to begin stitching the Peacock until after I was married. He’s worked using chain stitch and heavy chain stitch, rows and rows and rows in blues and greens with a little purple in some of the eyes on his tail. I quite deliberately left some fragments unworked because it was beginning to feel rather congested, and although a peacock’s tail can look pretty bedraggled when it is closed, I wanted to bring to mind the glamour of the open tail and not the impediment of the closed one!
Now I look at the design again, it is worked almost entirely in chain stitch and chain stitch variations. The olive green tree is worked in twisted chain, with detached chain stitch leaves.
The brick work is outlined in ordinary chain stitch, and the arch includes cable chain stitch, which is one of my favourite surface embroidery stitches. It looks much harder than it really is, produces a line which is slightly more marked than ordinary chain stitch, and can be tweaked and ornamented with French Knots or simple seed stitches inside the links.
I tried to make as much use as possible of the variation of colour in some of the threads, so the work in this piece is done by the colour variation rather than by trying to make excessive use of stitch texture changes. It is now stretched and mounted over padding and framed without glass, so that the textures and colours have the best chance of being seen, and hangs in our spare room. Whether our guests notice it is altogether a different matter!
There was one project in those magazines that I positively ached to do, but it was a four fold screen inspired by the Rubayat of Omar Khayyam and Grandmama did not have all of the four magazines that it was in. I resigned myself to looking wistfully at the picture, and got on with life – O-levels, A-levels, degree.
Then Grandmama died, and I inherited the black lacquer box. I tried to work out whether I could re-create the transfers I did not have from the photograph of the screen, but my skills with a pencil were not up to the task. And computers, in those days, did not have the fabulous range of image editing facilities now available at the click of a mouse.
Needlecraft magazine was launched. I subscribed promptly, and wrote to the Letters page, describing the panels, naming the issues, and asking, could anyone provide me, perhaps, with a photocopy of the missing stitch diagram? They could, and they did, but then of course I had to find some fabric.
I was still looking, when a rather bulky parcel arrived in the post, which changed the direction of my search. My correspondent had the actual transfers, but she had wanted to check with her daughter to see whether she wanted to stitch the screen before sending them off. Suddenly, instead of looking for a fine fabric to produce the panel at the size of the stitch diagram, – much more excitingly – I was looking for a somewhat heavier, upholstery-type fabric..
I also had to gather my nerve. I’d seen the pictures and sketches in the magazine, but I hadn’t quite realised just how big those panels were – each one is about eighteen inches wide by five foot high!
I finally found some material, thanks entirely to a family friend who at that time owned a weaving mill in Lancashire. A loomstate cotton twill – so rather than having all the various bleaches and finishes applied, and the fabric shrunk to its’ finished state and difficult to embroider, it was perfect for playing with heavy ornamental threads, and the soft creamy colour would provide a pleasant and restful background.