Category: General Embroidery
Well, now, it turns out there was more to the Mathstodon than I had first intended!
The mathstodon didn’t quite cover all the weakened fabric, so I added some trellis couching behind him to support the parts he hadn’t reached.
Then I felt he looked a bit odd with a wall but no floor, and added a floor in Bokhara Couching. Now I look at it, I feel it rather suggests the poor Mathstodon is heavier than the floor can take, which is a little unfair, as what I want to suggest is a Mathstodon happily using his counting frame for some mysterious purpose of his own!
The counting frame is two lines of chain stitch all around, with “wires” make of long stitches in the linen thread I bought for “Leaving The Tyne”. The beads are made with satin stitches. I did think of making them indicate a significant number, but there were two things in my way – first, which number to choose, and second, I was using thread from my Odds and Ends box, and wasn’t sure I’d have enough if I tried anything too exciting!
But he is now finished and has gone toddling off with The Australian for his next speaking engagement!
Last week I went to Harrogate again for the Knitting and Stitching Show – last year I didn’t, because I was recovering from Covid and in spite of the fact that it would plainly have been silly to go, I missed it dreadfully. So my day, as is now traditional for me, began and ended at Bettys, and in between I padded around the show, seeing old friends and meeting new.
One of my other traditions now is that I work from a kit, or work something absolutely away from my usual style and subject, in the period between Christmas and Twelfth Night. My version of the Fabulous Shoes is going to consist of Louboutins with red soles, but other than that, I’m not clear how they’re going to go!
I also bought some materials which must remain a mystery as they are destined for people who I know read my blog, a dress pattern which may unlock a headache I’ve been having with some silk, and a rather gorgeous print for a blouse. The fabric is polyester, but it’s a recycled polyester, from Fine Fabrics of Harrogate, who have made something of a speciality for some years already of sourcing from Europe at the furthest, Britain as far as possible. Were I not already well supplied with coats and jackets, the Boiled Wool, sourced from dyers in Bradford (if I recall correctly – I didn’t make notes!) would have come home with me too!
But the real triumph and excitement was the solution of what was, to me, a forty year old mystery.
When I first started to embroider, I used to use patterns from my Grandmama’s copies of 1930s “The Needlewoman” magazine, and one of the threads they often demanded was Anchor “Flox”. When I decided I wanted to work the dragon Kai Lung, as I called him, I wanted to use the threads demanded in the instructions.
My local needlework shop had never heard of it.
So I wrote to Coats, who owned Anchor threads, asking, did it still exist, and could I have some?
No, they said apologetically, there was a fire in our Archive twenty years ago, no-one who’s left remembers it , and we’ve no idea what it looked like.
But last week, the Embroiderers Guild stand was selling off various donated stashes, and among the threads, there was some Anchor Flox!
So a couple of bundles have come home with me, and in a few weeks, when I’ve finished Anthea Darracot, I shall leaf through those “Needlewoman” magazines for something gently frivolous to use them in.
Just recently, I have been feeling rather bereft of the sort of simple embroidery that passes the time pleasantly. I’ve been assembling the Amarna pieces, and while they certainly engender a sense of achievement, it has not been relaxing. I had a couple of periods in the offing when a bit of stitching in public was in order, so I was looking for something that could be worked in the hand, with a minimum of materials.
In one of my favourite Georgette Heyer novels, “The Unknown Ajax”, the heroine (Anthea) is seen, in one tiny incident, following instructions from “The Mirror of Fashion” to make a reticule (handbag) in the shape of an Etruscan vase, so when I was leafing through “Jane Austen Embroidery” in search of inspiration for a quick, easy to carry project, and my eye lit on a circular design inspired by an Etruscan design from The Lady’s Magazine of around 1808, it leapt out at me.
But I have a scarf, not a cushion, so the adapted pattern is going to readapted, and what’s more, this is just a little something to remind me that I really do love embroidery. I’ve been spending so much time on finishing the Dreams of Amarna pieces, that I’ve done almost no real embroidery for months, and I miss it. So this is simple, sketched on by eye, not seeking perfection, just, if anything, charm. I’m going back to what I learnt from the Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off, drafting by hand and trusting myself to make something that is as close to accurate as I need it to be.
And indeed, with just a needle and my thread (white cotton floche), I was able to travel very light, and sit quietly stitching in the places where I needed to be present but not unoccupied, stewarding an exhibition and waiting in waiting rooms. It attracted attention, of course, but that merely offers the opportunity to evangelise on the pleasures of embroidery.
Since I didn’t even take scissors, I wasn’t able to finish lines of stitching which would take less than a length of the floche, but I can come back to that. I’ve also decided that I’m going to stitch the same pattern (approximately) on the other end of the scarf. I’m fond of this sort of goldeny mustardy colour, and it will be very cheering to wear when I’ve finished it!
My apologies, Anthea – when I’ve finished her, of course!
Since I’m not doing the entire design on a single patch, I decided to do the counting frame, not as a separate piece of fabric, but directly onto the fabric of the trousers. So, just to make everything slightly easier, I’ve tacked the outlines of the frame and wires onto the fabric through a bit of tissue paper, now torn away. This is one of the design transfer techniques I’ve come to use the most for this sort of design idea, where absolute precision isn’t at issue (when is it ever, with what I do?)
So, progress – the Mathstodon buttonhole stitched into place, and the bare bones of the counting frame in place, chain stitch for the outside, single long stitches held in place with small stitches for the wires. Don’t worry about the long floats, the satin stitch beads will keep them in place!
I do feel that I may have made the buttonhole stitch a bit chunky, at the speed The Australian moves when in full flow, the outlines need to be definite, or noone will make sense of what I’ve done at all!
I was still a bit worried about the fabric immediately above the hole, so I’ve given it a bit of reinforcement with some Trellis Couching in cream. The choice of stitch doesn’t relate to school maths exercise books – it was a matter of finding a stitch pattern that I thought would support the fabric of the garment!
One of the original stars of the inspiration picture was a circular bed with something exuberant in it, at the centre of the garden. As you can see, I put some effort into planning where it would go, and how I would get something close enough to circular, using the gauge of canvas I’m using.
The intention is to create a sculpted Turkey Work boss, but now I have the outline in place, I think that should wait until the last moment, when everything else is done, and I’m not scrolling backwards and forwards across the frame all the time.
So I went back to the borders representing the outlines of the beds, trying to keep the design crisp and balanced, so that whatever I put in the borders can be suitably displayed. And therein lies a problem. When I sat back and looked at what I’d done, I thought it didn’t look nearly strong enough for what I was going to create.
Why, I wonder?
Well, I think it relates to a certain sameness. All the borders are the same stitch, and it makes it look less like something inspired by a garden, and more like something inspired by a drawing of a garden.
So I’ve changed the outer border to something chunkier and with a slightly different shape, and so far I think it may be working!
We noticed recently that there was an unexpected hole in a pair of The Australian’s trousers. Unexpected, because above the knee, nowhere near a pocket, and the surrounding fabric was in better condition than the hole would suggest.
I am sure I couldn’t achieve an invisible mend on a fine cotton twill such as this, so then it became a matter of considering Visible Mending – making the whole thing look deliberate and considered, rather than pulled together any old how. So, I asked, what sort of patch would you like?
Which is how I came to be messaging The Australian’s co-moderator on the Mastodon instance, “Mathstodon.xyz”, to ask for permission to use the header/logo image he had sketched as the basis for an embroidered patch.
I did think of using the whole thing, embroidered on a larger piece of cloth, but I felt it would make the trousers a bit uncomfortable, so I am extracting the Mathstodon himself, and his counting frame, and I can always add more diagrams and formulae if the trousers wear in other places…
I wouldn’t normally use a hoop when I’m mending a pair of trousers, but it did make it much easier to keep track of where the darned bit was.
The Mathstodon himself is cut out of grey quilting cotton with a slightly marbled print, and I’m going to attach him conventionally over the darn, first held in place with small running stitches and then with buttonhole stitch around his edge, and a few extra details on the inside.
I have a steadily extending bookshelf of reference material. Not all useful, alas, but in this stage I never know what is useful until I get there, so I just have to keep reading.
I’m trying to plan the borders for my planned pieces – these are companions for William Marshall, after all, so the basic style of the designs needs to match his. So, for example, since Julian of Norwich and Rahere are both clerical figures, at least to a degree, maybe I can take into account the information that the “lilies of the field” mentioned in the Bible are probably Lilium candidum, which is native to the Holy Land. Perhaps I could include them, and scallop shells (emblems of pilgrimage), and maybe London Pride (scabious urbanum?) for Rahere? Or maybe lavender or one of the healing herbs? And for Julian, the lilies of the field with hazel leaves and nuts?
I’ve started also to think about the designs themselves. Among the references I’ve not shown in that picture, I have a book of Psalms illustrated with a variety of artwork from the medieval and renaissance period. The illustrations weren’t chosen with my needs in mind, of course, so this rather scrappy effort for Julian is based on a combination of several. I’d like to have a better drapery effect when I get there, although I have to be careful not to be too exaggerated – I can’t imagine anchoresses dressed in the height of fashion!
For Rahere, I can use the drawing of the effigy on his tomb as the basis, but in his hands will be a model of the Priory and Hospital of St Bartholomew The Great, and at his feet the jester’s cap symbolising the life he rejected after the loss of The White Ship. I may have building work behind him, the beginning of a tower or a wall.
When I made my first research visit to St Bartholomew’s, I didn’t look at the outside, which may prove to be a mistake. Fortunately I am sure I will get another chance to visit!
By contrast, when I visited Mother Julian’s Church, I didn’t do a sketch inside her cell – that would have involved being terribly in the way for the people preparing for a Flower Festival later in the week. I sat in the churchyard and painted the outside, instead. Norwich is a bit more of an epic to get to from the west coast, where we are, so I may have to be Even More Imaginative for Mother Julian’s surroundings!
It’s going to be some while before I can start stitching on the other Medieval Movers and Shakers (I’m going to have to find a better title for that quartet, they’re going to drive me demented if I don’t!), but given I have much research to do, that’s no great difficulty.
I have been accumulating books – which is also rather a delight in any case.
The history of the church Rahere founded duly arrived a week or so after our visit, and proved very interesting indeed. It included among the illustrations this engraving of the tomb effigy on Rahere’s tomb. The tomb was not made for Rahere when he died, but about four hundred years later, so one should take the likeness of the face with a pinch of salt, but I’m sure it will have got his Dominican robes right, so it may be useful in planning how I depict him. (I’ve just double checked – white cassock and black cloak, so for the purposes of the embroidery I can go for the look of undyed wool for the cassock, and dark greys and browns for the cloak).
I also found a reference to an epic poem called The Romance of Rahere, thinking it might at least be atmospheric.
Well, no. It’s set in the Civil War, about the orphan daughter of the vicar of St Bartholomew the Great who is named after the founder (poor lass) and who dies in the church during a thunderstorm, leaving the boy who wants to marry her absolutely distraught, and becoming a soldier to seek death, but surviving and returning home to right the wrongs caused by his greedy and abusive father.
So not even remotely helpful!
In the Kipling tale in which he appears, “The Tree of Justice”, Rahere, the Kings’ Jester, is described as: “more of a priest than a fool and more of a wizard than either“, and his jester’s outfit as parti-coloured in black and red. There is so little information about the person that I’m going to be using that as the basis for my characterisation. My current idea for the embroidery design is to have Rahere in his Dominican Robes, with a model of St Bartholomew the Great in his hands, and his jester’s cap at his feet. The border – well, maybe the flower London Pride, maybe bells (for the jester) and scallop shells (for pilgrimage). We’ll just have to wait and see!
A “Site Visit” recently gave me the chance to look at my wools in the room for which the cushion is destined, and to talk to my cousin about the whole thing. It also provided a reminder of the truism that, no matter how extensive the stash, for any particular project, the stash will prove inadequate!
I had my experimental panel with me, and one of the things my cousin said was that she was not particularly taken with the effect of the tent stitches or straight stitches infilling between the pattern stitches. I agreed that it looked a bit clunky and congested, so when I got home again, I got out my acrylic paints and painted the canvas, just the area of the borders.
What I have done is to use three different shades of brown, solo and in mixtures. And I’ve painted both sides of the canvas, to make the coverage a bit more thorough. This way, I’m not trying to produce an absolutely flat colour, as though the canvas were dyed or coloured from the start.
You can also see in this picture that the “pathways” spill out into the surrounding canvas. I was intending the stitching to do so as well, but there’s an old saying in military circles, that “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. I would adapt that for stitchers – I don’t regard the canvas as my enemy, but no plan survives the first stitching session unchanged!
I started to work the Parisian Stitch border around the beds, using two different colours of crewel wool in the needle, and soon decided that although I want to have a couple of rows of tent stitch around the outside, to help with adding the back to the cushion, I also want the pattern area properly delimited. So the line between the beds will be filled with a line of Parisian stitch as well.
Underside couching, I’ve decided, is rather like satin stitch. In concept it is simple, not to say obvious. The execution, accurately and aesthetically, is very much less so!
I had intended to use the gold thread left over from the Amarna Family Group as my thread for William’s background, in the interests of economy, if nothing else, but then I had advice from Tanya Bentham and others, to at least try the Smooth Passing, which might for a multitude of reasons behave rather better.
So here you see the second practice block started, again using silver, but this time smooth passing thread.
The passing thread is, as suggested, much pleasanter to use, and creates a smoother and less shadowed surface, which in turn, I think, should help the pattern I intend to use. Which, you may note, I’ve not yet got around to practicing!
However, that brings me to my decision. I do not think that I can be certain that the spool of Gold Smooth Passing I have left over from a Thistle Threads project will finish the job, so I shall have to buy some smooth passing. And it turns out that Gold comes in more than one shade!
The decisions are never at an end, are they…
And since I’m working on pulling the Amarna pieces together properly at present, I can’t claim to be giving my whole mind to the decision-making!