Category: General Posts
This rather fabulous coat was a collaboration. My mother made it for herself to wear at a friend’s wedding in the early nineteen-sixties, and when she began to run out of time, Grandmama stepped in and stitched like a whirlwind to get it finished!
The original outfit was a silk dress and coat combination, a very simple sheath dress, and this edge-to-edge, three-quarter sleeve coat. The front is completely unadorned, because, after all, at a Church wedding people will mostly see each other from the back!
The design of Tiger Lilies is from a transfer. Actually, we think it was three of the same transfer, cut and put together to create a design that fit the coat back. After the darts had been put in…
I’ve seen a few cream running stitches which suggest to me that, rather than using the transfers as transfers, the design was stitched through the paper. Given the sensitivities of silk, that was probably very sensible!
The embroidery is worked in stranded cotton. It’s all very simple stitchery, long and short stitch, stem stitch, French Knots, and a few buttonhole wheels.
It relies for its effect not on complexity of stitching, but on the colour and pattern combination.
If I’m going to be picky, the silk was a bit light for the stitching – although the puckers may be a result of years and cleaning, as I can’t imagine Grandmama, after Miss Hunter’s training, would have stitched with such tension, and no more would my mother, after Grandmama’s training!
Grandmama also contributed assistance in making a pillbox hat, ornamented with swirls of gauze to match the colours, and then they painted a pair of shoes (Rayne, no less!) and a handbag (Marks and Spencer, alas) to match the green gloves which were bought new. A three-strand green stone bead necklace completed the outfit, and my mother remembers receiving a lot of compliments, at that occasion, and several others later.
Many years later still, when I was in the Upper Sixth, with a pale orange sheath dress underneath, I wore this for the Founders Day Service at school. We went into town afterwards, and my goodness, how people jumped to serve us!
Regrettably the coat fits neither my mother nor myself these days, and we’re wondering what to do with it…
Recently we had a visit from some Portuguese friends, who we last saw when we were in the Azores. They had obviously remembered my delight when I found the embroidery shop in the main square at Punta Delgarda, because for their hostess gift, as well as bringing some coffee and olive oil, they brought a set of vintage Portuguese sewing and embroidery patterns!
Although they look like magazines, each one is in fact a large sheet that unfolds to provide drawn-out patterns for a multitude of types of embroidery, including surface embroidery, appliqué, cutwork and drawn thread work, some of it crisp and simple, some of it bright, colourful and really quite ornate. Suggested applications for the designs appear as well, so next time my inspiration flags (er, and I’ve finished the Azorean Cutwork!), I will be able to leaf through these to refresh it!
The coffee was presented in this paper bag, which is printed with a design that our friends told us is inspired by a traditional embroidery pattern from northern Portugal. They said they were disappointed not to have found some embroidery for me, but in some ways, I think this is even better.
One of these days I will be able to play with this design, and maybe reinterpret this traditional style in my own way.
I’m looking forward to that!
My mother and I are planning a panel for next year’s Christmas Cards, and I went in the loft recently in search of an embroidery frame of a suitable size.
I brought down every bit of wood that looked vaguely embroidery-frame-like, and spent a puzzled hour or so putting them together.
And got a very nasty shock. I’m quite sure I didn’t buy all of these.
Do they breed?
Actually, in my own defence – some years ago a local embroideress died, and her daughter wanted to give away all of her stash and equipment. Preferably all at once, to one person.
So I toddled off, burdened with I-didn’t-know-quite-what, and – not needing any of it at the time – put it in the loft. Then life got very busy and I didn’t get around to doing the stocktake I’d intended.
And the most galling thing of all is that not one of those frames is big enough for the project we have in mind!
There were so many intrigued comments about my Marudai and the braids it made, that I thought I would show you some more of the braids I’ve made.
Kumihimo is a traditional Japanese technique. The braids have a lot of traditional uses in Japan – in fact, an opera singer friend of mine tells me his Samurai costume for his part in a brand-new opera about a crucial part of Japanese history was correct down to properly made kumihimo braids in all the right places!
If you search for Kumihimo on eBay, what you will find, by and large, are bracelets. Now, I’m really not a bracelet sort of girl. I have a few chunky, “statement” bangles, which are worn specifically, explicitly and only when I’m planning nothing more strenuous than lifting a knife and fork. Cord bracelets – no.
However, I do have a lot of heavy, dramatic pendants, and the idea of making cords to point up the colours in the pendants – yes, definitely. I’ve found that sewing machine thread makes a wonderful material for these purposes – it comes in a huge range of colours, and it’s fine, supple and strong. It also lends itself well to heathering – combining several colours in a single strand – and best of all, it’s relatively inexpensive.
The fine green and gold cord is silk, made using some of the thread from the Tudor Rose kit – I used it to trim the Tudor Rose panel.
The next three, and the top, chunky pinky-maroon, are all necklace cords made using sewing machine cotton, although the maroon mookaite pendant I made the two maroon ones for has spurned both of them with scorn. I’ll try again, because I enjoy kumihimo.
The white one is silk, to go with a pearl-mounted enamelled cross pendant given to me by an old family friend, and which I wore on my wedding day. The cord I used then has become grubby over the years, so this one will see me through a few more. The cream and peach usually carries a glass pendant. It’s one of two I’ve tried for that pendant, in fact – but this “making things match” is never quite as easy as we hope, is it!
The round apricot rope is huge – about for or five times the size of the other round cords I’ve done. I might mount it with cord ends and turn it into a choker one of these days..
The stripy one is a fairly fine flat braid in filament silk. I worked this one as an experiment, changing the tension (more or less weight on the end) to see what effect it would have. In the end I came to the conclusion I wasn’t being dramatic enough with my experiments!
These flat braids were given extra texture with saree silk knitting yarns. Again, they tell me that some of my experimentation needs to be a bit more dramatic. I was hoping to emphasize the different textures, but used too many strands of the cotton yarn, so there wasn’t enough difference between the strands.
There’s scope for endless experimentation here – and I haven’t shown you the miles of gold braid I’ve made…
I’ve been tagged in a round the world blog hop by Penny of ArtJourney, and while this post is a lot more “abstract” than my usual posts, it is always interesting to think about your own work in a different way. So thank you Penny, for giving me the opportunity!
1. What am I working on?
Er.. How long have you got? My long term project is the Dreams of Amarna, but at the moment I’m also following the Opus Anglicanum Stitch A Long, and now the weather is closing in, I will soon be back to the Crazy Canvaswork Cushion. That doesn’t include, of course, random little projects that I pick up and put down occasionally, or new techniques I try, but don’t find an immediate use for..
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I tend not to stick to a single type of embroidery, so there is a lot of cross-fertilisation between the styles of embroidery I use, and the way in which I use them. However, unlike a lot of similarly eclectic embroiderers, I rarely work anything truly abstract: there’s usually a story somewhere at the back of any piece I work. Two more long term projects I have plans for when Dreams of Amarna is done are panels relating to The Golden Fleece and The Conversion of Placidus. In fact, the Conversion of Placidus is bubbling at the back of my mind at the moment; I had a tour of Flag Fan with Francis Pryor a couple of weeks ago (fabulous, by the way, for anyone with any interest in prehistory!), and I’m desperate to include the kingfisher I saw there…
3. Why do I write/create what I do?
Because I love it. Embroidery is the medium in which I choose to respond to stories, ideas – or domestic opportunities. Many of my “non-literary” projects are worked with our house in mind – like the Firescreen, the chair seats, or the Finnish table runner.
4. How does my writing/creating process work?
It varies very much with the project in question. For the Dreams of Amarna, I have read and re-read the book “Nefertiti Lived Here” by Mary Chubb, I have visited the Egypt Exploration Society and the Petrie Museum, the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition and Discovering Tutankhamun at the Ashmolean and I have taken a course in working with metal threads. In fact, the idea was bubbling in the back of my mind for ten years before I even set a stitch!
- Janice, who blogs at Dancing With Sunflowers, was one of the first people to encourage me to start to a blog, and to welcome me to the world of blogging. She crafts thoughtfully using a range of techniques, many of which I know I wouldn’t be good at, so I have the greatest admiration for her.
- Jules has recently started a new blog, Needle and Pen, since she felt that her earlier blog no longer allowed space for her changing interests in craft and art. I’m going to be very interested to follow the development of her new adventure.
The Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate is always great fun, if totally shattering – imagine what it’s like for the stallholders, who get four days of it! – but since I have no local needlework shop, it’s my one chance to stock up.
I admit that sometimes I don’t get around to all the projects I stock up for as quickly as I might like – I bought the threads for the Hittite Amulet at Harrogate in 2010! – but as we all know, sometimes a project undergoes considerable modification in the period from first concept to finished piece.
When I visited Elmsley Rose in the summer, she gave me some silk wrapped purl – three shades of purple. I’ve decided I want to work a thistle – more or less heraldic in style – so I’ve bought some wool felt, some coloured purl, and some lovely wool thread. Thank you to Lizzy Lansbury and to The Golden Hinde for comment, advice, and encouragement. The chance to talk to people with knowledge and experience is the real advantage of the Knitting and Stitching Show, after all. Even when I had a local embroidery shop, no-one who worked there had ever worked with metal threads, for instance!
I usually wear my Autumn Leaves Skirt for the Show – what better time to wear it than among people who will enjoy it as much as I do! – but next year I may have another possibility. I’ve bought some lovely swatches of Donegal tweed to appliqué to a different skirt. The scatters of thread – wool, stranded cotton, and exotics – all come from my (extensive!) stash. My current thought is that the appliqué will be circles of different sizes. I only hope I bought enough tweed to do the job!
And finally… I’ve known Ted and Katrina of Rowandean Embroidery, on and off, for about twenty years, since the days when I was making counted cross stitch kits. I’ve always admired the verve and invention of Katrina’s designs, and I love talking to them. But this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down with Katrina – I joined in on a Make and Take, playing with layers of sheers and a few bits of stranded cotton. It was a lovely break in all the trotting around of the show, to be able to sit down and stitch, instead of simply taking about it.
And on top of all that, I had lunch with Elizabeth of Sew-In-Love, who is the fourth blogger I’ve met in real life this year. We had a lovely time, although, in what seems to be a pattern, I don’t think we spoke very much about embroidery!
I’ve been rummaging in the archives of late, in particular in a pile of papers left by my Grandmama. I don’t know which newpaper this was cut out of, but it describes Mrs Peggy Jones’ passion for drawn thread work. I’ve done a little googling, and I’ve not found any reference to either the journalist or Mrs Jones in relation to drawn thread work. She mentions unpicking it to work out the stitches, and taking a year to work a tablecloth – all of which I think we can all relate to!
Grandmama didn’t do any drawn thread work that I’m aware of, so I don’t know why she cut it out, unless it was surprise and delight to find any form of needlework in a newspaper.
I’ve scanned the article so that you should be able to read it – maybe if we all keep asking, we can find out what happened to Mrs Jones and her stitchery?
Once she was fully reassembled, with a neat patch across her tummy to hide the joins of the sides and ends, I was very keen to put back Cécile’s glorious turquoise velvet saddlecloth. I started sewing it on in the centre of each long edge – roughly where her spine would be – and worked outwards, to make sure that the saddlecloth didn’t end up squiffy. I’ve also not stitched too closely, because I want the fabrics to be able to move a little when I put my feet on the finished footstool and the padding “gives” a little.
I should note in passing that while Cécile is unquestionably a darling, she’s been the most preposterously obstreperous pachyderm I’ve ever encountered. Getting her legs re-covered was hair-raising, getting the body attached suitably was a challenge and tidying up the undercarriage so that Cécile stayed in one piece involved the sort of contortions that make me wish I’d been doing yoga all my life!
Grandmama gave Cécile a browband of upholstery fringe – probably left over from one of the many lampshades she made – and that was the only real casualty of her years in the loft. Even a run through the washing machine didn’t revive it, so it was abandoned and replaced with a similar piece left over from a lampshade recovered by either my mother or myself. The tradition of keeping and reusing scraps is very strong in our family!
So here she is, refurbished and back to her former glory. I was very fond of Cécile when I was a child, and I’ve enjoyed bringing her back to life.
Even it she was occasionally obstreperous!
Allow me to introduce Cécile.
Grandmama made her for me when I was about two or three, we think, and I remember her as a constant and beloved part of my childhood. We rediscovered her recently in my parents’ loft, and I thought it would be nice to have her in my own living room, as a footstool and a seat for visiting children. Unfortunately, when I sat back and put my feet up, the stuffing collapsed, and Cécile began to look very sad indeed. So we skinned her (as it were!), washed the skin, and started looking for a suitable replacement for the padding.
In the end, we used a spare cushion pad, and rearranged the stuffing slightly to leave the cover free to be stapled through. I think my grandfather must have made the basic internals – four sections of square wood for legs, screwed firmly into some equally solid half-centimetre thick hardboard.
I have all of Grandmama’s books about needlework and crafts, and there’s nothing like Cécile in any of them, so I think Grandmama must have made her up as she went along. I can’t imagine how she managed to assemble the whole thing unaided, because it took the combined efforts of my mother and myself to put the stockings on, and covering the assembly with the body was even more of an adventure.
But we got there in the end!
I added more stuffing while I was doing the assembly, to make sure that the finished piece would be nicely padded, and swapped the ears around – there was a hole in one side of one of them, which is now the underside.
I’ve also replaced the feet. Grandmama had glued small sections of carpet to the bottom and then stitched around the edge with wool. The carpet was looking distinctly sad and tatty, so I removed it – not without considerable effort! – and replaced it with two layers of grey felt.
Cécile is now reassembled, and just needs some of her finery re-instated. I’ll write about that when I have returned her to her former glory.
Regular readers will know that I like large projects for myself; it won’t have been so obvious that I am interested in community or group projects as well. Not just the stitching, but the inspiration, organisation, management and quality control necessary to bring such projects to a successful conclusion.
And make no mistake – quality control can be a serious issue. Often you will hear it suggested that volunteers can’t be expected to do good work, or that, because they are volunteers, anything they produce, however sloppy, should be accepted with enthusiasm and gratitude.
Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. Volunteers should be expected to want to do well, and to practise to make sure that they do.
The volunteers who stitched the Jersey Occupation Tapestry were asked to stitch sample pieces before starting on the real thing. The twelve panels of the Tapestry are worked entirely in Basketweave Tent stitch, which is an easy stitch – but that very simplicity means that there are no textural variations available to hide variations in technique. So all the stitching had to be right. And it was.
The panels were designed by a curator at Jersey Heritage, who then drew out the designs on canvas and marked the thread colours for each element. In the case of seas, skies and such sections, he suggested a range of colours and allowed the stitchers to use their own artistic skills to bring those elements to life. If you look at the photos, I think you’ll agree that his faith in them has been triumphantly justified.
The Jersey Occupation Tapestry Gallery is part of the Maritime Museum in St Helier, and was worked to commemorate the Liberation of the Channel Islands in 1945. Unlike some textile galleries, they don’t mind photographs being taken, although as the panels are displayed behind glass, flashes would be counterproductive as well as unpopular! The display includes some details about Albert Bedane, and a video about the making of the tapestry. Some of the stitchers were children on the island during the Occupation, and some of their memories are included in the designs.
Altogether I had a fascinating time, and can recommend it highly!