Seeking fictional needleworkers

One of the joys of this past year has been the “Georgette Heyer ReadAlong” on Twitter, founded by @MissElvey. In fact, do read her account of why and how she started it. It spun off quizzes via Zoom on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve (I think I’m right), and so far two Zoom sessions of book recommendations, which have both added substantially to my list of Authors I Enjoy.

“The Rose of Sebastopol” was recommended during one of those, and quite apart from the fact that it’s the quiet, conventional cousin that goes off and adventures, the striking thing about the book is the very prominent part that needlework plays in it. The main protagonist is a highly skilled needlewoman, and needlework becomes both her refuge and her superpower as she uses it to transform herself and those around her to meet challenges she never expected to face.

Reading it, I realised that in over forty years of voracious reading, I’d encountered very few books in which needlework of any description played a prominent role. I thought a bit harder, and came up with Tracy Chevalier’s “A Single Thread”, in which the main character joins the Winchester Broderers, learning needlework almost from scratch.

So I have started asking for suggestions on various social media, and on SlowTV Stitchery and putting together a list. There have been more suggestions than I expected to find. In a few days, I will put the list on a separate page you’ll be able to find across the top of the page, and I’ll add to it any that are suggested to me, but bear in mind that I won’t have read them all yet, so I can’t offer personal recommendations!

Finished Faience Necklace
Finished Faience Necklace

The eagle eyed will have noted that my Ko-fi button has a specific aim now.

With the exception of one last piece to finish (and you will be seeing that, I promise) I believe “Dreams of Amarna” is now finished and just (just!, she says, whimpering quietly) needs to be assembled for display.

I’ve put so much effort into it that I would like other people to see the various pieces, but in order to hold an exhibition, as well as the excitement of preparing things for display, there will be supporting materials required. I don’t even know what those are yet, and I would be grateful for any support in arriving at the start of that adventure..

Advice also welcome!

In the meantime, please enjoy Episode 53 of SlowTV Stitchery, in which we continue to search for needlework in fiction, accompanied by the string quartets of Maddelena Lombardini Sirmen.

Finishing the Stash Busting Cushion

Remember this? Remember how suprised I was at just how much I was enjoying canvaswork?

I found the last pattern in “Victorian Needlepoint” by Freda Parker, another one inherited in a bundle. I keep meaning to have a good rummage in that bookshelf, and work out what I want to keep, but as it is, it makes a good resouce when I’m looking for “something, I don’t know what, but I will know it when I see it”.

Since I’m stash busting, I used several different skein remnants for each colour on the chart, so the pattern has more variety than drawn. There are three shades in the very darkest sections, and I was surprised by how little difference two of them showed once they were stitched. You learn things at the oddest times.

That panel is the last, by the way, because at this point I ran out of canvas!

It does, however, make a squarish, ornamental panel. If I can find some suitable fabric, I can give it a backing and turn it into a cushion.

Episode 52 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which I challenge you all to name some works of fiction in which needlework has a prominent and positive role…

An experiment for Placidus

Plain Canvas with a flowing line running diagonally across it

Bear with me, please!

At the moment, the idea for The Vision of Placidus is that the main picture – the encounter between Placidus and the Christ/Stag – will be framed with a depiction of denizens of the natural world – underwater creatures in the lower section, bulrushes and dragonflies in the upright sections, and birds in the upper section. I’ve been thinking of putting the symbols of the Evangelists in the corners, to obviate the necessity of dealing with getting the design around those corners.

The same piece of canvas as before, now with a fish outlined over the curve.

However, what I’ve not yet sorted out is the technique I might choose to use. This is going to be an experiment to see whether using canvaswork – a sort of freeform Bargello with embellishments – will create a pleasing effect.

I was really very pleased with how quickly this came together when I began thinking about it. The red line is a guide for the freeform Bargello, representing the current in a stream, and the fish is simply there to help me test how to deal with the boarders between the flowing background and the motifs.

The same canvas as before, now with four rows of stitching in place

That might be easiest to achieve if I worked the fish, and then added in the background, but if I do that, I think it will be nearly impossible to place the background correctly on the far side of the fish. So this time, I’m doing the background first, putting in the stitches across the fish in sewing cotton, as a sort of “draft”.

I’m using stranded cotton, separated and combined to create blended shades. As it turns out, six strands are not quite enough for full coverage, so here I am using nine.

Episode 51 of Slow TV Stitcery is now live, including a comparision of bone and steel laying tools, consideration of two possibilities to experiment with for Placidus, and thoughts about taking sagas seriously.

Adding details to the Amarna Family Group

Close up of a section of the embroidered piece, showing gold threads couched with silk, showing a had holding a bunch of grapes, and part of a pleated kilt.

It has been some time since I reported on the Amarna Family Group, and that is partly because, when I had finished the basic design, I was more than a litttle uncertain how much detail I wanted to add, and quite frankly, I was a little unnerved by the mere idea of adding any detail at all!

However, eventually, I gathered my courage in both hands, and started to make an attempt. First, a few lighter and darker purple stitches on the grapes – I may decide to add more, but I don’t want the details to overwhelm the design.

Another close up, showing gold couched with silk to represent a backless chair, and the kilt and legs of the figure. The colour of the chair isn't sufficiently distinct from the gold.

And this is the point at which I went astray. Whitening the kilt with dark lines for the creases and additional white stitches was rather difficult and stressful, so I moved on to tackle the seat. I tried to add enough details to bring the seat to life and pull it away from the background, but instead found it too detailed, too fussy, drawing the eye away from the warmth of the family group and emphasizing the furniture. Not at all what I wanted.

Close up of the back, with a patch bare of stitching where it has been painstakingly removed.

I left it alone overnight, hoping that it would settle together and I would see it with a clearer eye.

It didn’t settle together, and I did see it with a clearer eye. I was so frustrated and upset, I didn’t stop to take a picture, but sat down, picked up scissors, stitch ripper, tweezers, and a blunt tapestry needle, and unpicked it.

It took all day.

That was some time ago, so Episode 50 of SlowTV Stitchery is about Something Else Entirely. A fishy experiment is introduced and there are some musings on the blending of threads.

Finishing Silkie

The next stage with Silkie were the main details on the head. The eyes, the beak, and the beard were all long and short stitch, which is not a favourite of mine, as long term readers are very well aware.

However, I have now grown reconciled to long and short stitch to the extent that, if I believe it to be the right choice, I will settle to it without too much grousing. Just a token mutter or two!

In truth, satin stitch isn’t a huge favourite, either, but the jewel-like golden shapes were what attracted me to Silkie when I saw the kit in the shop, and besides, silk thread is such a joy to use, and so rewarding in both satin stitch and long and short stitch.

So Silkie’s decorations, eyelashes, and bushy eyebrows all came together in something of a rush, and brought the goofy expression properly to life.

The final detail was to seed stitch the neck and the forehead. As it happened, I couldn’t find anywhere in the instructions the detail of which colours to choose, so the final detail may not be as intended.

But I like it – lighter on the forehead where the eyes, eyebrows and beak all concentrate the darker colours, and darker on the neck to bring out the flower with its un-outlined petals.

Now I need to work out where to put Silkie so I can continue to enjoy him!

Episode 49 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live. In which we tackle the Angel’s hair, remember the Great Ladys Magazine StitchOff, and consider music while we work.


Continuing the stash busting cushion

The second, simpler version of the stripes works better – much better. I like the deepening colours, and the change of spacing creates a changing rhythm.

The next band uses three different yellows to make little diamond shapes, alternating darks and lights – although as the darks and lights looked closer togther when stitched than on the hank, the alternations don’t show as much as I thought they would!

I became a little ambitious after that, and found a celtic knotwork pattern in a book (Celtic Needlepoint, by Alice Starmore) I inherited with a bundle of other things from a local lady who seems to have been as adventurous with her needle as I am, but with a greater emphasis on counted work.

I went astray a couple of times. Knotwork patterns are a little taxing!

I hadn’t quite recovered from tyeing myself in knots when I did the next narrow band. This was intended to be a chain link pattern, but I ended up with something else – what, I’m not quite sure!

The next Episode of #SlowTVStitchery is now live – remembering the agony of unpicking Akhenaten’s seat, while considering the question of the right style of detail to add to a design, with particular reference to the Christmas Angel.

Reporting on the Christmas Angel

If you have been watching the videos, you will know how the Angel has been going, but it’s sometimes helpful to see things straight-on, which my videoing set up doesn’t achieve.

I got to the bottom edge and felt very pleased with myself – only to discover that not only was the top edge not done, but working the pattern in the other direction is slightly trickier than you might expect! It only slowed me down by a week or so, so not too serious… The next decision was about how to edge the angel, which edges, and with what. I’ve gone for a mixture of threads and cords so far, making different choices depending upon the sort of edge and how emphatic I want it to be.

Yes, I know I haven’t done the hair yet! I’m still not sure how, and I want all the gold done first, so I know what the hair has to deal with.

At the moment I have tacking stitches in place for the wing patterns, while I stare and try to decide which I want to do.

Any suggestions?

And while we all consider that, I can report that Episode 47 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which we return to the Amarna Family Group to add some details, recollect the working of the Colossus of Akhenaten, and discuss needle choice and other technical aspects of the additional details.

A Finish To Celebrate (not mine!)

You may recall that my mother was embroidering details and edgings on an appliqu bedcover for herself.

It’s finished!

The slightly more marked colours and edgings make sense of it as a response to the curtains, rather than a random slice of curtain material, and the crisp green ribbon frame confines and sets it off rather nicely.

She occasionally asked for my advice, but I can’t say she needed it. This is the only point, I think, at which I made a material contribution to the finished piece. The fabric was lamentably keen to fray, so all raw edges needed covering, and this large flower would have looked very clunky with dark blanket stitch.

White blanket stitch, whipped along the outside edge, however – that worked!

The stitching for the birds was inspired by something Grandmama did, and does look quite feathery, somehow.

It’s always satisfying when a plan comes together, even when it isn’t one of mine!

Returning to my projects, however, Episode 46 of Slow TV Stitchery is now live, in which are discussed the Delights of Stash and the Perils of OverEngineering.

More on Silkie The Ostrich

Green Flexihoop showing Silkie the Ostrich with outlines in place and some of the white padded satin stitch around his beak complete.

I got started on the design by doing the split stitch, partly to cover the design lines, and partly because I find it easier to maintain interest if the design advances all over, rather than in spots. That’s why I did all the stems first when I did the Coat of Many Flowers!

The next element, with the white silk from outlining still in the needle, was to tackle the padded satin stitch around the beak and beneath the eyes.

Oblique angle of the flower on Silkie's neck, showing the padding stitches in place.

After that I moved on to the decorations on the neck. The patterns are picked out in padded satin stitch. Of course, I decided to complicate matters for myself, and I have decided to vary the levels of padding, and the placement of the padding. For example, I hope you can see here that the padding on the white petals of the flower is shifted to the outside of the petals, and has been done in a couple of layers.

When it came to the two golden leaf shapes, I combined two layers of chain stitch padding with a layer of satin stitch at right angles to the final layer.

The light grey elements are all unpadded.

I’m not sure that it shows at all well, but it does make more of a difference in person than in reproduction!

Meanwhile, Episode 45 is now live – in which I continue planning Placidus, while considering the challenges of image searches, and the occasional opacity of musical jokes.

More Stash Busting

In the clearest demonstration yet – at least in embroidery terms – that we are in the End Times, I have embarked on some stash busting counted tent stitch.

I rather enjoyed working on the Stash Busting Footstool, and there was a bit of canvas left on the frame when I’d made it, so I reattached the cut end, rifled through what was left of the tapestry wool, and started to play.

Since I don’t know how far my wools will stretch, my sole “design” is to take the idea of making a fabric from ornamental ribbons, alternating broad and narrow.

This vine pattern is based on one in “Needlepoint” from Ebury Press.

The next two “ribbons” I made up as I went along – one narrow, light pattern in two shades of yellow, and another broad one, this one distinctly made-up-as-I-went-along. It was very vaguely inspired by another in “Needlepoint”, which in turn claimed to be inspired by a Persian pattern. I have my doubts, but in any case, even when I tried to have a sensible pattern of spacing, I ended up with something of a mishmash.

You may have noticed that the “neutral” in the two broad stripes is not the same colour. I’m going to try to alternate these as backgrounds, unless and until I start to need to blend them together to fill the space.

Third band and false start
Third band and false start

The next, narrow, band, is a chequerboard.

I like the stripe part of this next pattern, but after working the baubles, I looked again and decided that they weren’t quite working. I was trying for a mix of shapes, a bit of variety, and something to change the spacing of the stripes, but not this!

And while you assimilate the shock of me happily doing counted work – Episode 44 of Slow TV Stitchery is now live. In which we discuss the EES as an early crowd-funded organisation, my ambitions to hold a Dreams of Amarna exhibition, and whether “medieval muddle” is an idea purely from 19th Century northern Europe.