Category: General Embroidery
A journey through London gave me the opportunity to visit the Church of St Bartholomew The Great in Smithfield, which is indeed very close to the Hospital Rahere founded, known today as St Barts.
It, and Rahere himself, have had varying fortunes and visibility over the years, and, for example, Rahere’s tomb was built in the fifteenth century, nearly four centuries after his death.
I haven’t yet discovered whose shields are displayed there, but it seems likely I will. The Rector was involved in a wedding rehearsal when I arrived, but I carried on quietly sketching and walking around the Church, staying out of the way as best I could while still continuing to work.
And I had my reward in due course, when, on the principle that Bairns As Don’t Ask, Don’t Get, I tracked him down afterwards and asked what, if any, information they had on Rahere and the early days of his foundation.
I may have bewildered him slightly – I have the impression that’s not the first thing people usually say! – but he took it well, and informed me that as this year is the anniversary of the foundation, a substantial History has been produced. So when that arrives, I shall have more to say on the subject, I’m sure!
You may recall that I said last time I mentioned the design I am trying to work out here, that it was proving very difficult to balance three birds not looking the same way, and that making them look the same way didn’t work at all.
Then it occurred to me that – obviously! – the two earlier birds would be facing towards the one that’s singing. Partly because we always turn to look where the noise is coming from, and partly because that is their aspiration.
You will notice that all of the rough designs I’m playing with here are in colour, which is not at all in keeping with my idea of using Mountmellick work. That’s because at present I want to find it easy to distinguish parts of the design. When I’m a little clearer about the shapes and their flow, I’ll start moving towards a more tonal patterning that will help me to think about stitch choice.
In the meantime, I am playing with shapes and layout in very vague terms.
Eventually, I want the birds to be quite medieval and slightly mad in appearance, and I’m thinking of trying to find some suitable thread – a round, matte cotton in two or three thicknesses – in a variegated colour that will help me to create the look of carved wood. The challenge is in finding it. This is not something easily bought online with any confidence, and so many of the thread companies don’t go to the shows anymore.
Since I did, in fact, manage to finish the traycloth I found half-begun, which I believe was designed for the late Queen’s Coronation in 1953, within her reign (if only by a few weeks), I thought I should do something in stitchery to commemorate the Coronation of King Charles III.
Nothing of the quality of those beautiful screens, or any of the other stitching (I can’t have been the only person muttering, “I want to hear more about the embroidery!”), but something simple, embroidery in the hand, like this traycloth, a return to my stitching roots.
I’ve not really had the time, or the ideas, frankly (too much else cluttering up the “designs” part of my head!) to develop anything of my own, but since the Palace had gone to the trouble of creating a rather charming Coronation logo, making use of the heraldic flowers of the United Kingdom to bring together the nations, and the King’s well-known love for the natural world, I decided to take elements from that, and put them together into a traycloth or runner.
The crown is in the centre of one short side, and I’ll put His Majesty’s cipher at the other end.
The long sides are going to be decorated with more elements from the Coronation logo. It’s all very simple stitchery, but it has been an excellent companion to the Coronation itself, and to Patrick Grant’s wonderful documentary about Kashket’s, Hainsworth’s, and the other companies involved in making elements for the Coronation.
That documentary made me positively homesick for my postgraduate days, visiting spinning mills in Lancashire and Yorkshire, surrounded by the smell of wool, and the passion and dedication of the people working in the mills. It’s an odd thing, but I’ve never met a cynic in the textile industry. People who are anxious about the future, yes, concerned about loss of skills, yes. But none of them pretend not to care, and if you show any interest, their eyes light up, and soon you are engulfed in a great flood of enthusiasm, knowledge and ideas.
Yes, I know what people say about dour Yorkshiremen. That wasn’t my experience of them, not at all!
As a family, we have always made and remade, mended and upcycled, garments, furnishing and furniture. There is a tale of five year old me, accompanying my mother to buy fabric for a dress in the now long-gone and much-lamented fabric shop in town, and piping up, as she was paying, to ask “What will it be _next_?”, so you can tell this is deeply ingrained!
Usually this is something I let pass without comment, but two episodes lately seemed worth mentioning, in case they give someone else an idea..
The Japanese mending technique for pottery, “kintsugi”, involves highlighting the mends with gold, so as not to obliterate the history of a piece. I can’t say I’m very good at it, but I had an entertaining afternoon with a kit that enabled me to play with the idea, at least.
And then my cousin mentioned a footstool she had with an entirely unsuitable cover for the surroundings, and a few oddments of furnishing fabric from earlier work on the room. Cue a Kintsugi-inspired crazy patchwork footstool cover, with all the seams emphasized with gold piping! This took some work and collaboration, as my sewing machine isn’t up to the task, but Mam’s was.
And on an entirely different scale – one of the problems with older knitwear is the way the ribbed cuffs seem to lose all their elasticity, and what was once a trim and neat shape, will often become shapeless and saggy with age. I’ve tried in the past adding elastic, but I couldn’t make that work (if anyone has – what’s your trick?), so it rather nags at me.
Then this winter we made a dress with rather extravagantly tucked sleeves, and I thought I had an idea that might work. I’ve created an inverted box pleat in the cuff here – it’s just held with stranded cotton at present, something that will show up so I can play with it until it works, and then do it properly (or not!) – and held it together, starting at the sleeve end, with crossing stitches. Then I caught down the side of the box pleat.
You can see in this picture how the cuff is now neat and close, and the sleeve has a bit more shape, and rather less “flop”. I’m very pleased with that, and I may extend this to other, similar garments.
The crosses in place, and the whole border looking very much like a Book of Hours, or at least, a rather tame Book of Hours, I sat back and drew breath.
Having got William and his border done, and being really very pleased with how he’s turned out, I now need to tackle the sky. And from the first, I have intended the sky to be in basketweave pattern underside couching, which is an entirely new technique to me.
Regular readers may have spotted that I only rarely practice beforehand, regardless of the technique, preferring to throw myself headlong into the novelty, mind concentrated by terror. The exception tends to be in goldwork, when an exception occurs, and indeed, I had some of the fabric stretched in a frame, ready to practice, well before I had got William to that stage of finishing. Mindful of the advice from Tanya Bentham’s Opus Anglicanum book, however, I decided not to try practicing while I was still working the silk. In winter it is hard enough to keep the hands from catching on silk without making it worse by using metal threads!
I’m using silver for my practice pieces. One could practice with silk, or pearl cotton, but they would both spread and cover any failure to keep the lines close. I think this silver is the same size as the gold I intend to use, so it will make a better practice material.
It’s easy enough to understand the principle underlying underside couching, but there are all sorts of hazards, As always, I suspect that once the management of the thread becomes second nature, all the difficulties will fall away, but packing the thread closely without cramming, making sure the stitches lie happily on the surface, and stopping the couching thread (a sturdy linen, beeswaxed before use) from showing, are all proving challenging at present.
I am determined to practice this properly, so I’m going to do this inch-wide strip before even considering practicing the basketweave pattern.
I have been looking further at Ko-fi, and how it might be used as a shop front, at least for digital items, and as an experiment, I’ve uploaded the Hug For A Handbag instructions to my Ko-fi Shop as a free/pay what you feel download. If anyone would like to go through the process and tell me what it’s like, and give me the opportunity to see what happens from this side, I’d be very grateful!
I realised when I came to write about beginning to practice underside couching, that you’ve not seen William for a while, so here is a a quick update on progress.
I got all the broom and dog roses done on the border, and then sat back to look at it. You may recall that I said last time that I thought that I would be filling the crosses, but I wanted to sit back and stare again, just to be sure.
That staring didn’t take long. The crosses, as outlines, don’t really have the authority they need, so it soon became clear I needed to fill them all in. I doubled the outline, as a single line, and then filled in each triangle separately in split stitch. I did consider using satin stitch, or some sort of couching stitch, but I felt that with the dog roses bracketing the crosses, a different texture was required, and I am content with the result, I think.
One of the delights of working with floss silk is to see how it responds to the light, so here are some more pictures to enjoy.
While I was working on William, my Mam passed to me her copy of Current Archaelogy, which included an article about the church founded by Rahere, jester to Henry I, then pilgrim and monk, founder of of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Now, Rahere is a major character in one of the tales in Kipling’s “Rewards and Fairies”, which as a child I loved, and suddenly I found myself with an idea for some companions for William Marshall.
William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke, jouster, statesman, guardian of kings, re-issuer of Magna Carta, subject of the first biography in English not concerning royalty or sainthood.
Athelflaed, daugther of Wessex, Lady of the Mercians, war leader and peaceweaver, guardian of Athelstan, she refortified Chester, and refounded the Minster which became, in due course, Chester Cathedral.
Rahere, jester, minstrel, courtier, pilgrim and monk, founder of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which exists to this day.
Dame Julian Of Norwich, anchoress, mystic, author of the the first book in English known to be written by a woman.
In all these cases, some vestige of their activities still echoes down the ages, and between them they cover both the political and religious life of medieval period. Their activities are scattered across the country, providing some excuse for some visits and much reading.
I wonder what images I could put in their borders?
I think this could be interesting!
January’s Book of the Month for the Elizabeth Goudge Bookclub on Instagram was “Gentian Hill”, and that reminded me of an episode in that book that I’ve long wanted to depict in some way. In the book, the heroine, Stella, and the Abbé visit a local church where Stella has been entranced by some carved panels and asks the Abbé to explain their significance. The carving show birds, one eating a grape, one killing a caterpiller, one with beak open in song. The Abbé explains:
The bird with the grape in its beak is the penitent soul of man feeding on the true vine. The bird attacking the caterpillar is the strengthened soul of man fighting evil. The singing bird is the soul that has overcome praising God. You take them in that order, Stella.Elizabeth Goudge, Gentian Hill
(And, for those twitching at the non-inclusive language, Gentian Hill was written in the 1940s and set during the Napoleonic War. One of the themes of many of Elizabeth Goudge’s books is that there are many forms of struggle and many forms of service, none less than another, even if some may be less spectacular!)
Now, as I’ve been adding final details to the Excavation, I’ve been reminded of how much I enjoy working in the hand, and I would like to devise a way to depict the images, singly or as one panel, in a way that is strongly textured, surface embroidery, that I can work in the hand as a rest from underside couching or attaching spots to border panels with invisible stitches.
So I’ve been thinking of basing the ideas and stitch choices on Mountmellick work, which is not entirely unsuitable when you consider that one of the other main characters, Zachary, is of Irish parentage, and the shapes of the birds on medieval images, because the church, of course, is a very old one.
Alas, thus far my playing with pens, paints and ideas hasn’t got me very far. It’s hard to balance three creatures that aren’t all looking the same way, and it doesn’t feel right to me to make them face the same way!
Long time readers of my blog know that I use it, not just to talk about the embroidery I’m doing at the moment, but also as a place to put some of my ideas, in the hope that the Search facility will help me find them again, rather than having to paw (I use the word advisedly!) through stacks of paper and notebooks. This is one of those posts!
Some of you may recall that the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists used to send out, not just cards, but little sheets that had angels printed on them. You could press them out and curve them into a cone shape, making a charming little Christmas decoration. I was reminded of them when we got the decorations out of the loft, and found a whole boxful!
It occurred to me that I could use a variation on that little pattern to create a needlelace Nativity scene.
That idea became a bit clearer when I looked at a few of them. If you look at this one, the angel’s wings have clearly been made to represent fabric with a bobbin lace edging laid over it, and if that necklace isn’t based on a piece of tatting, I have never seen tatting before!
Clearly, I would want to tweak the shape a little. Only the angel, of the characters in the Nativity, needs wings, and besides, I think a bit of variation in height would be advisable!
The basic shape can be seen when you open one of them out. The wings wouldn’t be hard to remove, for those that don’t need them. But the shape is fairly simple, and it would mean that I could use really gorgeous thread and stitch, allowing the thread and the stitch to do all the work.
I doubt I will be tackling the idea any time soon – I still have to work out how to create the Baby Jesus in the manger in much the same style! – but I think it would be fun to do.
When I had the idea about using a parlour dome for the Violets and for the necklace, I realised that I would need to play with how I displayed them, trialled the Tudor Nightcap in the dome and realised that I could now put it on display.
So what about all the other Thistle Threads pieces?
Well, it turns out you can get parlour domes that aren’t round, so I got the largest I could bring myself to buy and then stopped to think…
I started by playing around with propping the various pieces I’ve been planning for that Winter Decoration Corner against one another within the dome. It’s a flattened oval, and quite high, but anything I could improvise seemed not to have the height I wanted without taking up all the display space.
I think this shows the idea will work, but it doesn’t really have the presence that the pieces deserve.
This is better. I’ve used offcuts of the foamcore that I bought to help me with Nefertiti and Akhenaten to create the base that will sit inside the glass, sandwiching the beginnings of the wires forming the tree between two layers. I’ve built up a support for the green and orange cushion at the back using smaller bits of foamcore, and wrapped pipe cleaners around the wires.
It’s not perfect, but I’ve set it up in the hall where I will pass it every day, to work out whether I like it. Then the idea is that I will have a lovely messy hour or so covering the wire with papier mache, allow it to dry, and paint the whole thing gold.
The Tudors were as fond of bling as the ancient Egyptians, after all!