Category: General Embroidery


Happy Christmas, one and all!

Christus Natus Est, a semi-abstract Nativity in Goldwork
Christus Natus Est

Another Mathematical Patch

A grey marbled fabric, with design lines in green chalk, and the beginning of the stitching in place.

We discovered another thin patch on The Australian’s trousers..

This time I found a slightly darker grey marbled fabric, and got The Australian to write one of the equations I remember from maths lessons at school in chalk.

I’ve done the letters in Hungarian Braided Chain, the plus and equals signs in Coral Stitch, and the “2” in Cable Chain – so that’s several of my favourites all at once! – and then had a thought..

I’ve done the patch as a speech bubble, attached using varied length blanket stitches, and put a few little lines of stem stitch in the same green thread to suggest the speech bubble is moving.

A stitck figure in three shades of grey and three different types of chain stitch.

Then I did a little stick figure, sitting on a yellow lounger, declaiming. I found three shades of grey, so make the figure a bit more broken up but still looking “drawn”, and did the head in ordinary chain stitches, the body and arms in Alternating Twisted Chain Stitch (so it looks like a woolly jumper) and the legs in Heavy Chain (a nice pair of jeans). The feet are ordinary chain again.

Finished patch of "V+F=E+2" in green on dark grey, with a grey stick figure speaking it.

I hope The Australian’s trousers will survive without further patching for a while!

Borders in the Knot Garden

A corner of the Parterre design showing the early stitching of a pattern callled "squared daisies"

There’s still a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing on the Knot Garden/ Parterre. There’s a lot of border elements to do, and I’m quite certain that I’m going to have to find a way of making sense of a middle section on the short sides: the “Princess Stitch” border I’ve chosen for the outside border is symmetrical around a stitch, and the circular border in the centre is centred around a thread, so something may well look a bit too “off” to be fudged, if I’m not careful!

This pattern is called “Squared Daisies” in my copy of Jo Ippolito Christensen’s book on needlepoint. It looked like a very big pattern in the book, full of interest and personality, but while it has personality , it looks a bit small here, and I’m having Doubts about it.

The same Squared Daisies pattern, twice the size

So, in the spirit of exploration and investigation that I usually apply to needlecrafts, I found another corner and tried again, twice the size.

Yikes, that’s big. And Yikes, again, for the number of threads going through the central hole.

But I think I might rather like it.

Squared Daisies Stitch worked in two shades of burgundy

In fact, I’ve carried on, and decided I do rather like it. I’m varying the colours to maintain the variation shown in the original inspiration, and now I’m thinking that – again in the spirit of variation – I will also finish the smaller stitch size version.

The other two corners can be the same stitches but in the other order, so that the similar corners are set diagonally to one another. And the only trouble with that is that these stitches are remarkably trying to do, and after a day wrestling with goldwork or Amarna, all I want to do is curl up with a good book!

Final Mathstodon Details

The bit of wall behind the Mathstodon, worked in cream trellis couching.

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 floor beneath the Mathstodon, in Bokhara Couching.
A Counting frame in stitchery, with beads of yellow, red, blue, and green. The mathstodon's trunk cank be seen manipulating the red row

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!

The Knitting And Stitching Show 2023

Close up of a pattern for a mobile of felt shoes.

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!

Close up on the Mystery, the pattern, and the fabric

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.

Two bundles of a vintage embroidery thread

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.

A scarf called Anthea

A book is open on the floor, showing an embroidery patttern and part of the finished article. On top of the book is a tumble of golden yellow fabric.

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.

The fabric is open over a lap, and you can see rough chalk lines and a few rows of chain stitch.

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.

The fabric is laid out on the floor, showing the design in progress.

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!

More Mending with a Mathstodon

The bare bones of the counting frame, tacked through tracing paper.

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?)

The counting frame is outlined in chain stitches, and the Mathstodon attached with buttonhole stitches.

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!

The bit of wall behind the Mathstodon, worked in cream trellis couching.

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!

Knot Garden progressing

A small section of canvas. Part of it has been painted brown, and there are tacking stitches to divide up the square and plan a circular outline.

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.

View of one corner of the canvas. All the borders are in the same stitch, and it all looks a bit samey and dull.

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?

A corner of the Knot Garden, with a new, broader border in place, consisting f dark and light interlocking triangles.

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!

Mending with a Mathstodon

A pale beige fabric with criss-crossing darns on it

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?

A section of the Mathstodon header image is on a desk, with a small cut out mastodon on top of it

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…

Mathstodon cut out in grey quilting cotton laid over the pale beige fabric

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.

More on Mother Julian and Rahere

A pile of books on a chair, spines forward. You can see some of the titles - "Aethelflaed", "Unquiet Women", "The Warrior Queen", "Revelations of Divine Love"

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?

Very scrappy drawing of a medieval woman at a writing desk

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!

Another very scrappy drawing of a first design idea, this time Rahere, in front of the beginning of his priory being built.

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!

Watercolour of a small room attached to a church, showing the rooflines and windows.

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!

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