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The road in to the castle

It took a certain amount of puzzling to come up with a choice of colour for the path. I wanted it to help to anchor the scene, but at the same time, I didn’t want it dark enough to challenge the horse, and it seemed logical that it would share some tones with the stonework of the castle. I wanted some wheel ruts as well, although of course they run togther into a single line quite soon.

And then there was stitch direction to think about. A stitcher’s thinking is never done!

Well, a bit of thought, and the stitch direction was obvious – horizontal. The stonework is angular and archway is vertical/follows the curve, so horizontal seemed a good contrast.

Similarly, I settled on using both the pink and the grey from the stonework in the needle. I thought the yellow might brighten the road a bit too much for comfort!

Once the path was done, I could move on to the grass. I thought of doing some rather mad tussocks, going up and over the castle walls, but in the end it seemed to me that the area close to the castle wouldn’t be neglected to that extent. Whichever fairy tale I want my viewers riffing off, I don’t think the briar-overgrown castle of Sleeping Beauty is the one!

Manawatu Gorge – finishing the first experiment

This is such a wild and not-my-comfort-zone sort of experiment that posting the original sketch each time seems sensible. There’s a lot of interesting texture hinted at in the sketch, and I don’t think layered gauze is going to reveal it, so another version is definitely on the horizon at some point!

In the meantime, and bearing mind my original thought that the cross hatching indicates some combination of rocky outcrops from, and shadows on, snow, this version layered a blue, slightly sparkly gauze repeatedly over itself and some fragments of the black and purple to create the look of the cross hatching.

Looking at it as I write this, with the sketch on view in the top corner, I realise that even with that simple sketch to work from, I’ve not accurately observed all the details. This is why drawing and sketching are hard: it’s not the control of the pen that’s difficult, it’s the accurate observation of the subject that requires time and practice.

My memory of a rusty-red girder bridge with some sort of lifting engine on one end is really what has kept this sketch in my mind off and on for years, so having noted it needed some land to stand on, of course I wanted to add it in. Since I’m also working on William Marshall, silk was what I had to hand, so iron girders are all in silk!

At this point, I intend to pause. I feel as though some additional stitchery on the rocky bits might help, but equally, maybe I’ve learnt all I can from this sketch, and the thing to do is undo it all and think more about the canvaswork!

Hashtags..

The Georgette Heyer ReadAlong on Twitter was one of the few truly delightful offspring of lockdown. Through it, I met a host of funny, feisty, warm, and loving women, intelligent and well-read, but not inclined to take that as a sole criterion for worth. Their take on almost everything is worth reading, they combine charity of heart with a refusal to take any nonsense, and they have improved everything about my experience of Twitter ever since.

We ended up with an entire sub-language of hashtags and references, and when the readalong came to an end, we embroidered some of them and one of us collaged them together as a gift for the lady who started it all. These are my contribution.

“Hatboxes” appear frequently in adventures, being small and portable containers that someone too young to have luggage might be able to pack with a few necessities. Mine turned into a positive sampler of stitches. The lid of the pink one is Hungarian Braided Chain, there is Trellis Couching, Herringbone Stitch, Burden Stitch, Blanket Stitch, Stem Stitch and Back Stitch.

“Fainting In The Pavillion” refers to an incident in one of the books when the heroine, overcome with heat and repugnance, faints in one of the rooms of Brighton Pavilion, greatly embarrassing her host, the Prince Regent (he had it coming, waste no sympathy!). This one includes Cretan Stitch, Open Chain (looking neat and delicate for once), Fly Stitches, Stem, Chain, and Blanket Stitch.

“Dashed Havey-Cavey” refers to suspicious and underhand circumstances, so rather than trying to illustrate it with a picture, I simply chose a dark and moody thread and put on my most pernickety mode of Reverse Chain Stitch.

The whole thing was enormous fun, both to take part in, and to stitch about afterwards!

After which delight, it seems rather unfortunate that the latest video in SlowTV Stitchery, Episode 77, should be a sad one, full of struggle, and as yet not crowned by success..

The fence by the cottage

I intended to work the horse using Paterna, in something a little like long and short stitch, but having done his head, I looked at it and decided it needed a little more thought. It looks like some sort of unholy hybrid of horse and highland cow, and I wasn’t at all sure that it would look better when I’d done all of it. So I decided to divert my attention elsewhere and think about it for a little longer.

The most obvious element to tackle next was the fence, which is so far the only piece to be done in horizontal stitches. I’ve used soft cotton, which has nearly enough body to stand up to the tapestry wool, and slightly more sheen, which also helps. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t extended my diversion to the broom, which looks a lot more like the birch besom my grandmama used to use in the garden. That’s likely to be last of all, as I want to raise it over the rest of the stitching.

Since I was working at this size of the canvas I was reminded that I’d been leaving gaps for some of the flowers. Diagonal Double Cross Stitch makes for some huge flowers, which might very nearly be the size of dinner plates if scaled up and aren’t at all cottagey – more Professor Branestawmy, in fact! – but they do stand out nicely against all the tent stitch, and they’ve enough personality to live with the fence, too..

William’s Castle

I’m trying to work this systematically (I may also be slightly anxious about tackling William!), so the first thing was to finish the castle.

And there’s a lot of castle…

The yellow blocks appear only on every other row, and I’ve tried to make sure that they never line up. Once I’d worked the gatehouse itself I carried on to work the wall behind it, and then paused for thought.

The interesting question at this point was to decide how to work the wall inside the gatehouse, the “tunnel”, if you like. I wanted some evident difference in relation to the blocks of stone in the walls, and in the end, settled on alternating rows of grey (stone) and pink (mortar), turning them vertically, following the curve of the arch as best as I could. As I went deeper into the tunnel there were more lines of grey between the pink, although to say the difference is subtle is to rather understate the case!

It is a constant delight to look at the way the silk changes in appearance as the stitches change direction, and even more so to change the angle of view, so I suspect you will see a good few shots like this over the course of the piece.

Doesn’t it look lovely – and don’t these quiet, pearly tones help to create the fairytale atmosphere I’m looking for!

Exhibition – For Worship and Glory II

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!

Continuing to experiment with Manawatu Gorge..

One should always try to think a project through at least a little bit. I didn’t. I thought that once I got started this would be easier than it turned out to be.

The black net was fairly easy to cut and catch down, and I wanted that to stand in for the shaded areas on the sketch, but the purple net was an unrelieved menace – it caught on the threads I used, and tied itself in knots, and even failed to have a bit of itself under some of the stitches I made, so it didn’t stay in place. All in all, rather exasperating, and even worse when I decided that it wasn’t, in fact, doing what I wanted it to do, and had to remove it again!

I’m still meditating on the possibility of a canvaswork version of this, possibly made even more abstract, but I still want to finish this one some way, so, onward!

I had another look at the sketch and realised that the engine house for the bridge needed something to stand on – that explains that extra bit of gauze in the bottom right-hand corner. Then I decided that I would roll back from the complicated bits of layering I’d been planning, and simply try to create recession with tone. So far, I think it is working…

The Rider

When I first started looking at this canvas, I was reminded of the episode of “A Stitch in Time” in which Ninya Mikhaila did a reconstruction of the garment in a portrait of a hedgecutter on a country estate. The garment in question was made of leather or buckskin and very plainly at least 50 years behind the fashion at the point at which it appeared in the photo. So it had been made for the Squire, and then gradually been passed from hand to hand, appearing to be almost indestructible, if not as good looking as before. So my first thought was to use soft cotton. However, I don’t have much soft cotton in my stash, and it turned out too heavy for the canvas anyway, so I used pearl cottons and Caron Collection “Watercolours” thread, one strand of the three. Linen stitch is what basketweave tent stitch looks like on the back, and although it can be a bit tricky to do, and it’s more time-consuming than basketweave tent, it’s worth the effort!

As with the lady at the cottage door, I blended several different shades of stranded cotton to create the approximate shades for the face, and used petit point to bring in a little more detail.

The hat was a bit more of a challenge, but in the end I decided it was a woven straw hat rather than a felt one, and created a criss-crossing effect, with something like herringbone stitch, but worked in a rather freestyle fashion.

The pouch hanging at his waist is stranded cotton, tiny cross stitches using the single crossing points of the canvas, and I decided to make his breeches in Kelim stitch, hoping it would make a sort of corduroy effect.

Not really, as it turns out, but it was worth a try!

The saddle is soft cotton, and I’ve used condensed mosaic stitch. I want the level of shine to contrast with the horse, which is probably going to be in Paterna.

William Marshall – first Turret

I had three colours for the stone – a grey, a cream, and a pale rose. The idea is to echo the colour variation you often see in stone when you start looking, but also, at least some medieval masonry made ornamental use of colour variations. Again, remember that I am looking for a faintly mythological feeling to this, not a historically accurate one, so I don’t mind that I’m tweaking my representation of the Chateau de Tancarville until William’s kinsman wouldn’t recognise his own home. He might, after all, rather like what I’ve done!

I put some thought into whether I would use all three colours in the walls, and if so how, but in the end I decided that since the “sky” will be underside couched in gold, it would be better to put the rose or the grey on the topmost course. Grey felt a bit too lowering, like a stormy sky, and William had quite enough squalls to face in his life, so I chose the rose, and used it also for the mortar.

The narrow course at the base seemed to need a different treatment, still in the the same vein. I used six strands instead of the four I’m using elsewhere, and made a little narrow chequerboard, without any suggestion of mortar.

And here it is, the first turret of the gatehouse complete. I was a little anxious lest the sameness of everlasting split stitch prove exasperating or otherwise offputting, but as it turns out, that’s not the case. I’m finding the different effects of stitch length and direction endlessly intriguing, and while I don’t expect to spend the rest of my stitching days entirely on split stitch, I’m certainly expecting to enjoy William.

Manawatu Gorge Experiments

As you see, this sketch is from a long time ago. It was probably done in about ten minutes, in a pause on the road out of Palmerston North.

I found it a little while ago, and thought it would be interesting to see whether I could produce something pleasing in stitched form, using this as the basis. In particular, since it’s so long ago, and I couldn’t for the life of me find any other source material, this is all I have.

My first idea was to play with layered laces and gauzes, purples and blues because we were there in winter, and there was a lot of snow, bright blue skies and wonderful coloured shadows. There were some limitations in the laces and gauzes I could get hold of, so some of the adventure will be in making this work!

I haven’t drawn anything on the fabric, and I am cutting my laces and gauzes more or less freehand against the sketch. Compared with the painstaking stitching on William Marshall, the pieces are almost tacked into place, and there isn’t at all the same sense of quiet productivity.

I’m also contemplating a canvaswork, and more abstract, version of Manawatu Gorge, but just while I was writing this post, I came up with an idea for another layered gauze version. So I have more experiments to make!

In other news, Episode 76 of Slow TV Stitchery is now live: In which the Hunting Cat piece is mounted, and we discuss feature creep, tapestries as woven wallpaper with acoustic properties, and the depiction of layers of recollection.

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