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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.

William Marshall – beginning to stitch

I have a small lightbox now, so I used that to transfer the design. It was a bit of a battle, because the lines showed through so clearly I couldn’t be sure I’d got them all.

And I hadn’t – spot the non-deliberate mistake!

However, one horse’s belly can be added freehand. I haven’t put in the lines for the reins, either, because I’m anticipating putting them over the top of the stitching below, and that layer of stitching would cover the design lines anyway.

When I began the outline, I used the darkest thread I have, “Ebony”, and it looked a bit monolithic. After a couple of comments from Tanya Bentham, I unpicked it all, took the opportunity to restretch the fabric, which had sagged, and reinstated the outlines with some variation – navy blue for the building, brown for the horse, and dark grey for the armour. They are all very dark colours, so there’s only a slight difference, but there is a difference, and already the design looks livelier.

So, once I had the outlining in, I started with the conical slate roofs on the gatehouse turrets.

At this point, I should admit that those conical roofs are not remotely historical. The seventeenth century engraving that gave me the view of the gatehouse I liked the most didn’t have conical roofs, and I think I can be pretty certain that in William’s time those turrets probably had a man-at-arms on patrol, and no roof.

All that said, I’m not doing an entirely historical piece. I’m telling different stories here, and I want a slightly fairytale/mythological quality to the image. I think the conical roofs help with that.

Ready to Start on William Marshall…

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Having spent some time in my stash, deciding that mixing even filament silks might be a bit unpredictable, I finally pulled myself together and placed an order with Devere Yarns. While I waited for them to arrive (it didn’t take long), I went back to Tanya’s book and read the early technique sections again. Homework is always more fun when you’re interested.

I do have some darks left over from the Amarna Family Group, so the outlining is sorted. I’ve got three stone colours, three shades for William’s armour, three greens for grass, three shades for the horse, the three heraldic colours for the shield, and a blue for the slate roofs on the turrets.

The blue is probably also going to be the colour I use for the border.

The Victorians remodelled Temple Church, where William is buried, found a strapping six-footer that they believed – based on what we’ve been told of him – to be William, and in due course, reburied him, and everyone else they’d moved, in the garden. So I’m planning a silk border, of blue laid-&-couched work, embellished with roses (for the garden) and common broom (for the Plantagenet kings he served so faithfully).

The grave slab is shown in a leaflet I got when we visited, which is no longer in existence, but is shown in an engraving from the 17th Century, and was thought to be associated with William. The lion looks right, anyway! I’m wondering whether to include that in my design for the border in some way, and if so, in what orientation..

Signing and preparing to finish the Amarna Family Group

I decided, when it came to it, that I would sign the Amarna Family Group on the gold, rather than on the support. I’ve been regarding the whole process of assembling the stele with something akin to terror, and signing on the velvet just seemed like bridge too far, especially since it would already be stretched on the frame at the time.

It looks a bit squiffy, I admit, but then it always does!

I’ve also painted the background calico with inktense. I’m going to try very hard to ensure that all edges are properly turned, and either concealed by the pile of the velvet or by other means, but knocking back the gleaming cream should help with the camouflage.

Both of these tasks were done while the fabric was still mounted on the frame, but I want that frame for William Marshall, so I’m going to have to get going…

Finally, I screwed my courage to the sticking point, and cut the threads holding the fabric stretched at the sides, at least half expecting some sort of terrible crinkled effect. But no, everything stayed nice and flat. Sighs of relief all round!

I want to pad the goldwork before I apply it to the stele, so the next stage was to use a photocopy of the goldwork to make patterns for the buckram and wadding I intended to wrap it around.

I could see what I was doing much better than the photograph suggests, I promise – although it wasn’t an entirely straightforward process, and I ran out of oomph at that point.

More in another post…

Getting going on that canvaswork picture

One of the nice things about the double thread canvases commonly used for painted canvas designs is that you can decide to go right off-piste with them, separate the threads, and use stitches at a different scale.

I’m going to do that with the characters – the woman, the horse and his rider, and the dog – on this piece, because in that way I will be able to use stash threads, and enjoy exploring the highways and byways of ornamental canvaswork stitchery. It may well unbalance the finished piece, so I may not regard it as a success when complete, but I will have had fun along the way!

This, however, was a false start. The stitch is Kelim stitch, or something like that, and the threads are pearl cottons. I was aiming for something that would look a little like a sturdy linen twill, but this didn’t seem to me to be the right choice after all.

One of the disadvantages of going down to petit point scale is that unpicking is a real nightmare. Not fun at all. <shudders dramatically>

I’m much happier with this. I’ve used trammed Gobelins stitch for the apron, and found a use for the dreadful lifeless slubby linen thread that DMC brought out – 20 years ago now? – which I bought because it looked interesting and have found a heartbreaking material to use every time I’ve tried. In this context, it worked very much better than I expected. There’s no shine, so it looks like a heavy, sturdy fabric, and the colour variations, much subtler than if I’d used the designated wool colours, recall the appearance of a crumpled linen fabric, its crisp white knocked back by dust and grime.

The skirt is a combination of a rather gorgeous rayon filament for the lighter sections with a pearl cotton for the darker ones, and I’ve turned Parisian Stitch from vertical to horizontal to help me to create contrasts with the shawl the woman has around her shoulders.

The shawl is in Parisian Stripe Stitch (there’s an extra row of small vertical stitches, which keeps the long stitches in alignment).

I may have ended up with not quite the right shade of green for the vessel the woman is holding. Something about it reminded me of the bright green glazed fragments that used to come out of trenches on Time Team, of happy memory, so I decided to go with the colour, and maybe adjust later when I have everything else in place. I’ve done my best to add a little shape and shading, but in due course I may stitch over this in curving long-&-short stitches. It’s straightforward Madeira stranded cotton, and I know I’ve not finished the skein!

And in other news, Episode 75 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live. In which we discuss the felt “coloured sketch” of the Dig House, John Pendlebury, the obstreperousness of William Marshall, and look ahead to finishing the Amarna Family Group.

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