The next task was to work the outlines and the ground.
Each hound is outlined in a contrasting colour, as is each leaf shape.
The outline colour is also used for the little details – mouth, eyes, ears, and at the point at which I took this photo, I’d stitched all the ground (in twisted chain, which I don’t think is at all historically accurate, but it was fun!) but not yet outlined the tree trunks.
This photo gives a sense of the effect of the chocolate brown outlines around the green trunks, and affords you a nice close up of the leash on the front hound, worked in cable chain stitch, very small and neat. This is another one where I doubt the historical accuracy, but I was so pleased to find myself thinking up ideas like that I was in no mood to spoil the fun.
I don’t usually go in for such overheated ideas as New Year Resolutions, working on the principle that if I want to change something, I don’t hang around waiting for the new year to do so. However, stitching the hounds has given me something a bit like one – I need to go back to my first love, to the effects of stitch and thread, and the use of them to denote the textures or the ideas I want to convey. Let’s see how that pans out!
I give you The Three Wise Hounds, design by Tanya Bentham, stitched by me. I didn’t quite finished them by Twelfth Night, but since Epiphanytide lasts until Candlemas, on the second of February, I think I can get away with it!
One of the delights of Laid and Couched work is the slight sense of a return to childhood, but with added skills, as it were. The first layer consists of the threads laid and couched (hence the name), and is rather like “colouring in”: it produces a layer of flat colour, which will be tweaked and detailed later.
Or in this case, not quite flat colour. The thread Tanya includes is wool that she has dyed herself using natural dyes, and there are unevennesses in the colour that only adds to the charm. As you can see from the two large blue leaf-shapes. I was a bit over-determined to pack in the stitches on the frontmost hound and didn’t have thread leftover for the leaves. This being a holiday project, I went rootling in my stash for an indigo wool, and they only one I have is both much darker, and a different structure. But that will matter less when the details are added, so onwards!
Each leaf-shape used the other colours in a different way – as grid, as outline, as couching stitch. The outlines are in split stitch, and each of the grids is couched slightly differently, with a horizontal stitch, a vertical stitch, and upright cross or a diagonal cross.
In addition, I experimented with grid spacing for the blue one shown here. I like this variation, even if it does produce a rather loud plaid effect!
I was quite glad to find the variations slipping in. They might be a sign that I’m recovering from Akhenaten!
Finishing Akhenaten this year has left me rather wiped out. It’s not helped by the fact that he needs to be got off the frame and mounted somehow and that is proving Not Entirely Trivial, as The Australian would say, so I’ve been getting a 1000-watt glare every time I enter the room.
So I thought I would tackle something smaller and friendlier over the holidays, something that would help me gather my thoughts, and give me a change of scale and emphasis. Tanya’s gorgeous laid and couched work hounds seemed just the thing. I lost my heart to them months ago, when Tanya first showed them, but Akhenaten was such a dog-in-the-manger that I didn’t buy a kit.
However, by the time I went to Harrogate, he was finished, so I decided he didn’t have a vote any more, and indulged myself. After metal threads and silk, wool is a lovely change, and the medieval habit of using the direction for the lower layer that makes for the longest stitch on the surface means that each section is slightly different, and stops me worrying about what I’m trying to represent. Which is also a lovely change.
I’ve decided that they are called Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, in honour of the season in which I am stitching them.
Having been working on the Heart, I was still thinking about Grandmama, and noticing that one of the footstools she made was getting a bit shabby and buckled, I decided to renovate it…
It’s worked in tapestry wool on binca (that strange cotton matting fabric that stitching happened on at primary school – does anyone else remember it?). I think I still have, somewhere, Grandmama’s draft of the pattern on squared paper, but the best I can do for putting my hand on it is to say it is Somewhere In The House! Since I don’t have a workroom, I put the footstool in a plastic tray, which I seem to remember is sold for cleaning oven trays. I use it for wet felting and to contain messes when I’m doing things like this. The blued-steel flat-headed nails were very hard to get out, and indeed, some of them lost their heads (!) and didn’t come out. In due course they were hammered firmly back in, instead!
The binca around the edge was badly mauled by the nails, so I knew I would have to do something about that, but in the meantime, there were sections of the canvaswork that needed to be reinstated. First I washed and dried the whole thing (by hand) and then spent some time looking very hard at the stitching. More than fifty years of use have worn a few small sections, and the stitch took some identifying, but in the end, I decided it was Rice Stitch, and found a pale oatmeal tapestry wool that didn’t shout its’ newness too loudly.
Then I attached the binca to some calico and covered the join with one of the long-armed cross stitches. I wasn’t absolutely sure I had enough of the plain oatmeal colour so I alternated a needleful of each all the way around.
In the end, I had plenty left over, but I’ve said many a time before that when ekeing out assorted supplies, the trick is to Make It Look Deliberate!
I had to do that with the trim as well. Nothing in our local needlework shop was even remotely suitable so in the end I took some bobble fringing, a length of ribbon and some ricrac, and made my own!
There are one or two infelicities in the details, but it’s certainly got a good few years left in it now.
Thank you, Grandmama.
The Swan is a much simplified rendition of a photographed one. I decided in the end to change the lines on the nearer wing, so it more clearly grows from the body of the bird, but one of the great advantages of laid and couched work is that it covers such infelicities of drafting – just so long as you remember to ignore the lines that you had decided to ignore (if you follow me…)!
It still looks a little too naturalistic, but the colours will help (blues and purples, like the Unicorn). I will have to work out suitable embellishments for the wings in due course, as well, and that will also help. As it happens, the layer of laid and couched work gave me quite enough trouble!
I wanted to work the body in the pale blue, to maintain at least some link with the real thing (after all, shadows on white often look blue…).
That made it possible to make sure that I reminded myself to include the forward edge of the nearest wing in with the body.
Then the more distant wing clearly had to be in purples as being more distant and helping to throw the body forward visually. And then I came to a grinding halt – which may explain why you haven’t seen the wretched thing.
I enjoy the technique enormously, but it’s taken me all summer to ignore it and clear my head of colour schemes I hated, come back to it, and try again.
I rummaged around in my heraldry books and online for medieval unicorns (for a quadruped) and swans (for something winged), and produced something of a synthesis. Some of the medieval unicorns had leopard feet, and one of them had a curly, piggy tail. Mine has vaguely leopardly feet, and a lion’s tail. I’ve sized him so that he fills the same space as did Spots.
It occurred to me that I may want to work medieval creatures in the corners of the Vision of Placidus, when I get that far. I was going to use Rusty, Spots, and their friends, but then I realised that in that context, it would be more appropriate to the story of conversion to use the symbols of the Evangelists – the winged ox, ram, man, and eagle.
So I’m still not sure what I will do with these present creatures when they are done..
Since I am using existing stores here, and I wasn’t sure I would have enough of the colours I used for Rusty and Spots, I moved on to a different colour range – purples and blues. These aren’t the slightly fluffy Appleons wools I used for the other two, but are rather smoother, softer version.
Again, I’m stretching out the colours by threading two colours in the needle for the underlayer. And my goodness, doesn’t it grow quickly!
Under Rusty’s very bright and beady eye, I got started on the companion that Tanya provided for him in the Stitchalong on her blog, Opus Anglicanum.
Which turned out to be a Leopard!
This closeup of his head and neck gives you a chance to see the two different shades used side by side in the underlayer of the laid and couched work.
Once I’d finished the couching – in a modern twist, Tanya suggested working all the couching in a single colour, so that the Dragon and the Leopard will offer two versions of the same stitch – I had a slight false start with the outlining. When I tried the dark chestnut red, I wasn’t entirely happy with it. I’m not sure quite why, but perhaps it simply wasn’t distinctive enough against the orangey-red.
I went back to the dark green I used on Rusty, and used the same creamy yellow for the highlights. I don’t think I put in quite the same highlight twiddles as Tanya put on hers, but I like him just the way he is.
Apparently the Leopard of the medieval bestiary is a gentle creature – in spite of the fearsome claws, and according to Tanya, they all look “terminally grumpy”. I was talking about this with my friend @Matheknitician a week or so back when she accosted me at the MathsJam weekend, saying she was desperate to know what I was going to do with Rusty, and a day later she sent me a message suggesting that we should call Spots an Eeyoropard.
So, ladies and gentlemen, – Spots the Eeyoropard! Please be nice to him – he’s rather shy..
I did comment that the laid and couched work romps along, and once I got going, it really didn’t take long at all to finish the first layer.
In the interests of being sure of having enough thread to complete the Dragon, I used two shades of rust-coloured wool for his body. The underlayer of surface satin stitch is worked using two strands – making it possible to blend the threads – while the couching stitches are worked using a single strand.
Looking once more at Tanya’s Dragon on the Flickr Group, I realise that I’ve not quite followed her stitching angle in all places. but I’m very happy with how the first layer turned out.
Once the first layer is done, there are details to be added.
And my goodness, what details!
There was a slight false start, because the creamy-white was too light, the wrong texture, and simply looked wrong.
Since the details are worked in split stitch, the necessary unpicking was a severe trial. However, the combination of a pair of tweezers and my brand new embroidery scissors from Ernest Wright and Sons Ltd (bought when I heard of them following a BBC article) made it as easy as it could be (still not very easy, though!).
I finally picked a creamy shade, lighter than pale yellow I used for his crest, but in the same family. It turned out really well, and even his green teeth don’t detract from his charm. He looks a very genial fellow, and I’ve named him Rusty.
Do I really need another project to fit in, I wonder?
Well, yes, I think I do. Over on her blog, Opus Anglicanum, Tanya Bentham is running a medieval stitchalong, and quite simply, when she showed us a picture of the dragon she’d designed for us, I fell head over heels in love. He’s absolutely adorable, and I really didn’t care that I’m running short of time in any one week to do anything at all!
I decided not to buy a kit, since I have more wool thread than I know what to do with (remember my stash-busting canvaswork?), but I did buy some of the wool fabric Tanya suggested, and then rifled through my stash. Most of the wool is Appletons, but the creamy-white for highlights is a remnant of something rather smoother and silkier.
Maybe I’ll make some progress with the stash-busting, after all!
As it happens, I’m trailing slightly behind the stitchalong – and my blog is trailing behind my progress, because I’ve been enjoying stitching too much to stop and write about it.
The “colouring in” element of the design is worked in laid and couched work, which consists of three layers, in modern terms – surface satin stitch, with long couching stitches at right angles, which then in turn are tied down at intervals. Furthermore, it fairly romps along, which makes a lovely change after all that painstaking or nué earlier in the year!
There are several people taking part in the the stitchalong, not all of them bloggers, so Sue set up a Flickr group so that we could encourage one another..
Sometimes there is nothing you can do for people but give them a hug; sometimes even that is rendered difficult, or even impossible, by distance. For those occasions, I’ve created a Hug For a Handbag. It’s a small square of snuggly cashmere blanketing, embroidered with the word “Hug” and with a small embroidered motif on the top. I have backed these with another layer of cashmere, to make them even snugglier.
The rose on the Rose Hug is worked in bullion knots, which were not among my favourite stitches, but I’ve warmed to them because the rose seems to have worked so well. The inner knots are shorter, and worked using a single thread, while the outer ones are not only long enough to have involved a great deal of wrangling to get them to settle nicely, but worked using a double thread.
The leaves are worked in nested fly stitches, and the stems in stem stitch (of course!), with tiny thorns of straight stitch alternating with the leaves.
You can tell that I have warmed to bullion knots, because I used them for some of the flowers of the gorse on the Gorse Hug. The buds are French knots, and the thorns and sprigs are worked in fly stitches, using single threads instead of the double thread used for the stems.
This is a wonderful use for some gorgeous woollen threads I bought somewhere in Pembrokeshire ten years or so ago (unlabelled, but they are so soft and lovely I wonder whether they came from Renaissance Dyeing) and some more, bought in Australia, which come from Gumnut Yarns). They have been a sheer delight to use. There’s a lovely misty blue in among them, too, so I am thinking of another design, of Lavender, to make up to have ready next time I need a Hug to send out.
But on the other hand, I rather like stitching a Hug with the recipient in mind. Maybe they’ll feel the hugs I was thinking when they receive the gift.
In the meantime, in case you would like to make a Hug yourselves, I’ve made a PDF of the pattern and some brief instructions.