The Aztec Blind

Aztec Hall Blind
Aztec Hall Blind

Our predecessors in our current house had a somewhat flamboyant decorative style, and we still haven’t replaced the Aztec inspired wallpaper in the hall. If the combination of terracotta and ochre makes it dark, that same colour combination also makes it seem warm, which in a draughty, 100-year-old house is  a consummation devoutly to be wished. Especially since my Geordie friends tell me I’m “nesh” (translation: excessively susceptible to cold)!

Since it’s also Grade II listed, we can’t simply double glaze,  so the first winter after we moved in, my mother suggested reviving the idea of  “blackout blinds”, padded to reduce the draught. With my usual knack for complicating a perfectly simple project, I embellished the hall blind with an Aztec inspired embroidery in rusty coloured wools on a coarse cream linen.

Jaguar Head
Jaguar Head

I started with the Jaguar’s Head frieze across the bottom. The main outlines are in twisted chain stitch, and the spots and the eye are in rough satin stitch. The background lines in the lighter shade are in my favourite Cable Chain Stitch.

I enjoyed working the jaguars. The simplicity of the stitching and the rather stark line drawing combined to create something that was very easy to do.

Central Motif
Central Motif

Unfortunately I then lost my nerve. The jaguars alone could easily have created all the effect I wanted, but the expanse of bare fabric unnerved me slightly and I filled it with another motif.

There’s more going on in this one – feather stitch and star stitches, jacobean trellis couching and burden stitch (running vertically instead of horizontally).

I may yet unpick all that section and wash the fabric again to pull the threads back into line..

Although, as it stands, it provides a salutory reminder, every time I go past, that more isn’t necessarily more !

Kai Lung of the Golden Hours

Kai Lung
Kai Lung

This wonderfully contorted Imperial Dragon was another Needlewoman Magazine design (March 1934),  and he got his name from the Golden Hours of Kai Lung, by Ernest Bramah, which I was reading at the time, because it had been mentioned in one of Dorothy L Sayer’s books (“Strong Poison”).

The pearl cotton I used was really too heavy for the base fabric – another old piece of linen – but it gave a fantastic lustre to his scales, which were worked using nested fly stitches (not my idea – I followed instructions on this piece!).

The tongue is closely-set stem stitch, the claws are fly stitch (so are the teeth – I think the designer liked fly stitch!) and the mane is made of interlocking blanket stitch. I worked very hard on this piece, to keep the stitches neat and even, and I used to take it with me to visit Grandmama when she was in hospital. There’d probably be a riot now if I sat at a hospital bedside, embroidery in hand, but Grandmama enjoyed watching me work and made a lot of useful and encouraging comments as well.

The magazine no longer had its transfer of the Dragon, which was intended as a Firescreen (other suggestions included the back of a bridge coat, a footstool, a cocktail tray,  a cushion…), so I worked it at the size of the diagram in the magazine, on the back of a dress. Had I worked him full size, he’d have been too big for the dress.

I was thrilled when the wife of one of my father’s friends recognised it, told me that she had worked it herself when the magazine came out, and fished out the firescreen she had made using the design the next time we went to see them. She was the person who told me that you can tell he’s an Imperial Dragon, because he has five claws. She’d worked it in pastel shades to go with their drawing room of the time, and it was absolutely stunning. She and her husband are both dead now. I do hope that that screen found a happy home!

Happy Holidays – The Sea Tractor At Burgh Island (part two)

The Sea Edge
The Sea Edge

Continuing the Saga of the Sea Tractor…

I worked the sea edge in short lengths of  scroll stitch in close pastel blues. The idea was to create the sense of the ripples at the edge as a wave settles and flows back down the beach – but only on one side of the sandy bar that leads out to the island. I wanted to create the sense of a prevailing wind that came at an angle so that the waves would be more noticeable on one side than the other.

Cloud, island, and sea suitably depicted, I could leap in and render the Sea Tractor in all its outlandish and spindly glory.

The Sea Tractor
The Sea Tractor

The Sea Tractor was great fun to do. I worked bi-coloured Dorset Buttons for the wheels, to evoke the painted metal hubs – pretty ambitious for my second and third Dorset Buttons ever!

The canopy and the base of the chassis seem to be in Brick Stitch, the main structural elements are either stem stitch or back stitch – the latter in particular for the terrifyingly spindly steps. Notice, by the way, that the steps themselves didn’t actually make it into the embroidered version. I wish I could say that was to emphasie the spindliness – that would be why I would do that now – but I have a strong suspicion that it was really either forgetfulness, or simply not being able to get the angles quite right.

Detail Of Sea Tractor
Detail Of Sea Tractor

I used heathered stranded cotton (red and black) for the engine-mounting, and ordinary black for the exhaust pipe that goes up through the roof.

The planks that create the side barriers were a bit of a challenge. In the end I settled on two long stitches in one colour, couched down in herringbone stitch in a lighter colour. I think they make pretty convincing planks, and looking at the detail, I even added the bumper at the back.

I didn’t include the barriers of the back or far side of the sea tractor, but I do recall thinking about that point. Even a painter – even a photo-realist painter – has to edit their image to make sure that it “reads” properly. Often this is a matter of making sure that the colours of things in the background recede sufficiently, but sometimes that isn’t enough. In this case I decided that adding those details would make the Sea Tractor even harder to work out, and discretion would be the better part of valour.

There really wasn’t enough stitching on this piece to qualify for a needlework competition, but I enjoyed working it!

Happy Holidays – The Sea Tractor at Burgh Island (part one)

The Sea Tractor At Burgh Island
The Sea Tractor At Burgh Island

This piece was intended as an entry in a competition run by “Needlecraft” Magazine about 25 years ago. The brief was to recreate “A Holiday Memory”, and as it happened, that year we had had a great adventure – a ride on the Sea Tractor at Burgh Island in Devon.

“Needlecraft” had also run an article shortly before, describing and teaching Dorset Buttons, and they seemed perfect for the Sea Tractor’s wheels. Since time was short and the complexity of the Sea Tractor likely to be time-consuming, I also experimented with a painted background on my cotton fabric.

The Cloud Stitch Cloud
The Cloud Stitch Cloud

In retrospect, the painted background isn’t hugely successful, and it doesn’t have enough stitchery to qualify for high marks in an embroidery competition, but I enjoyed adding those details I did create, and so often in these early pieces, you can see “Rachel-Now” and her ideas prefigured in the stitch choices of “Rachel-Then”.

Looking at it now,  I might have done better to work the cloud filling smaller, in white rather than pastels, over a painted base, and without outlining it. Still when you consider that the whole thing was an experiment….!

Hillside Stitch Details
Hillside Stitch Details

The hillside details involved a lot of different stitches in lots of different greens. There are straight stitches, French Knots, chain stitches, and arrowhead stitches (upside down to look like shrubs). Again, if I were to work this now, there would be a great deal more stitchery in it, but I suspect that the combination of lack of time, and a disinclination to work areas of repetitive stitching led me to stop before I should have done.

What I can’t, now, recall, is whether I was pleased with it at the time. I’ve had it propped up in my living room since I rediscovered it, and I’m very tempted to crop it to show just the Sea Tractor itself – which would at least afford me the opportunity to re-block the piece and get rid of the ripples!

A little light repair work

A Cutwork Tablecloth in need of some loving attention
A Cutwork Tablecloth in need of some loving attention

One of the advantages of a family obsession with textiles is that no-one looks at me strangely when I get excited about a fabric, a thread, or a stitch.

One of the disadvantages is that between us we have a good many pieces stitched (probably) by an aunt, great-aunt or grandmother, which have been in constant use for years. Furthermore, as table-linen, if they get dirty, they just go in the washing machine. Usually this simply results in a cleaner cloth, but sometimes forty years of machine washing will catch up with us.

More detail of the Cutwork Tablecloth
More detail of the Cutwork Tablecloth

We don’t know who stitched this, or even whether it was bought by some ancestress of mine who wanted to rescue it from a jumble sale!

It seems to be a combination of cutwork and pulled work, with some elements I have yet to identify (fortunately I have a whole bookshelf of books to help!), and sadly, it needs mending.

Needs Mending!
Needs Mending!

As you see! There are buttonhole bars (or are they overcast bars?) which have actually broken, and in order to repair them I will need to reinstate some of the edgings as well.

Then there are other elements of the embroidery that I will need to identify and and replace. As far as I can tell, everything is worked with a single strand of stranded cotton, and would you believe, in spite of a considerable stash, I had to go out and buy some thread to match the existing one!

Another eBay Project

Dressing Table Set in Cutwork
Dressing Table Set in Cutwork

When I first discovered eBay, I bought a lot of transfers and some threads, and this dressing table set in cutwork arrived in one of the parcels, already stamped and half-heartedly started.

You’ve probably already gathered that I’m not very enthusiastic about working a one-stitch project, so I eyed it askance for a little while, but then it occurred to me that my grandmother’s dressing table would be the better for a little embellishment, and that this might make a good travelling project.

(Translation: Travelling Project –  a small, simple project that can be easily taken on visits. Sometimes I use a large project as a travelling project, if it is simple enough – for example, the initial stages of the Map of Amarna, when I had only one thread colour to use and no decisions to make)

Flower On Dressing Table Set
Flower On Dressing Table Set
More Edges on the Cutwork
More Edges on the Cutwork

I had to buy a special pair of supersharp, super narrow scissors to deal with the cutwork. Truly scary – have I made the edge strong enough or haven’t I?  The close-ups show that there were a few threads that weren’t quite properly trimmed, but they don’t show as much in real life.

And, as it turned out, I rather enjoyed keeping the buttonhole stitch close and neat, and didn’t find the project half as tedious as I feared!

Something I didn’t quite think through

Not quite thought through...
Not quite thought through...

I’m really not at all sure what to do with this. It’s an abandoned experiment that I recently rediscovered, and which is nagging me more than somewhat! I really should finish it, or do something with it. It was originally intended to be a traycloth, and I’ve also run out of the thread I was using to hem the piece.  So, since I can’t remember what that was I have some unpicking to look forward to, whatever I decide to do with it.

I wanted to play with the idea of stitching the background, rather than the design. I also wanted to take advantage of the fact that Caron Collection colourways are dyed onto different threads (in this case, a fairly fine single-strand thread, and the heavy three-stranded type).

As it stands, I’m not happy with it. Maybe I chose to make the pulled work too large (it goes over four stitches in each direction), maybe it is too dark. Maybe I just haven’t done enough stitching yet?

I still think that doing most of the stitching in the background – a little like Assisi work – would be an interesting variation. Back to the drawing-board!

Quaker Tapestry kit – Cooperation is better than conflict

Cooperation is better than conflict
Cooperation is better than conflict

I suppose you could say I inherited this panel. A local embroideress died, and her daughter gave me (and I believe many others!) various bits of her stash. This was nearly, but not quite, finished. I’ve now finished it and haven’t the vaguest idea where to put it, as I’ve no wall space to spare!

It is based on one of the panels of the Quaker Tapestry, which is a fascinating piece of embroidery depicting the history and development of the Society of Friends. The woollen fabric was woven especially for the project, and the kit included not only the woollen fabric, but the cotton muslin backing that they recommend to stop the fabric puckering.

Fly Stitches For Hay
Fly Stitches For Hay

I was delighted that the lady was willing to give me this piece to finish, because we had seen the Tapestry (which, like the Bayeux Tapestry, is an embroidery!) during a visit to Kendal a few years ago, and I was fascinated by the variety of the stitches used, and very impressed by the general level of skill demonstrated, considering that it was embroidered by many groups of people.

In fact this kit doesn’t employ the whole variety of stitches used in the Tapestry, but I liked the use of Fly Stitches for the hay,  and the use of the long taut straight stitch for the rope between the donkeys is just like my use of the same technique in the Camberwell’s rigging!

 

Rethinking The Elephant Doorstop

Needs More Thought
Needs More Thought

I originally decided to use plain stranded cotton for the Elephant Doorstop, in colours chosen to match the curtains in the living room as closely as possible.

However, once I started stitching I rapidly came to the conclusion that that just wasn’t going to work.  We don’t want the Elephant to cover all my careful stencilling, but at the same time, he needs to show up. And he looks pretty hidden, here, as you can see. What’s more, I wasn’t enjoying it, and picking stitches was proving troublesome. I knew I wanted to stitch him – revisiting the original inspiration has been in the back of my mind for a while – but somehow, not like this.

There are two things I need to think about – the colours, and the weight of the thread. The creamy colours we chose are too light to show up well against the rather busy stencilled background, and although two threads of stranded cotton would be fine on this fabric, if it were a plain fabric, it is rather fine. Furthermore, one of the stitches I want to use is braid stitch, which is always a bit tricky in stranded cotton.

I’d already unpicked this section twice before I came to this conclusion, and I was beginning to feel rather anxious in case inspiration flagged completely. Then out of the blue, I was deafened by some triumphant trumpetings.

“I know what to do, I do!”, said he.

“What, then?” said I.

“Use some of those variegated silk perlés you’re always looking at. You can do any stitch that takes your fancy, the colours shading in and out will give you the lightness of effect you want, and – Ta-DA!”.

So now I’ve been told….!

The Elephant Doorstop

An Elephant Of No Distinction But Infinite Charm
An Elephant Of No Distinction But Infinite Charm

Do you remember the Elephant of No Distinction But Infinite Charm, who inspired the canvaswork footstool I made for my mother? She’s now commissioned me to work a doorstop with the same inspiration. Naturally she didn’t want me to work it in the same technique. For one thing, the furniture in the living room has been reupholstered since I did it, and the jungle-inspired green background (although the footstool still looks quite happy) would no longer be as suitable as it was.

 

First Stage - stencil prepared and paint chosen
First Stage - stencil prepared and paint chosen

So we’ve picked a fairly loosely-woven linen, in a sort of pinkish beige (actually, “natural” unbleached linen run through the washing machine on Hot!), and rather than leaving the background completely plain, decided to stencil it with an all-over pattern taken from the lamps. The design is inspired by crystanthemums, as is the design on the curtains (a Designers Guild design which is older than me, and is proof that good design doesn’t date – it hasn’t looked dated or old-fashioned in more than forty years!).

Stencilled fabric
Stencilled fabric

After consulting my clients (!) I’ve decided to use a gold fabric paint for the background pattern. When I tested the stencil on paper the paint ran under it a little, so I chose to use a sponge instead. That seems to help in ensuring that the fabric paint isn’t laid on so thickly as to be unembroiderable, as well.

I didn’t create a proper, regimented repeating pattern, because I felt that it would make the stencil design too obvious. Instead I have twisted and turned the stencil and added extra leaves to fill in any really obvious gaps.