When I first started looking at this canvas, I was reminded of the episode of “A Stitch in Time” in which Ninya Mikhaila did a reconstruction of the garment in a portrait of a hedgecutter on a country estate. The garment in question was made of leather or buckskin and very plainly at least 50 years behind the fashion at the point at which it appeared in the photo. So it had been made for the Squire, and then gradually been passed from hand to hand, appearing to be almost indestructible, if not as good looking as before. So my first thought was to use soft cotton. However, I don’t have much soft cotton in my stash, and it turned out too heavy for the canvas anyway, so I used pearl cottons and Caron Collection “Watercolours” thread, one strand of the three. Linen stitch is what basketweave tent stitch looks like on the back, and although it can be a bit tricky to do, and it’s more time-consuming than basketweave tent, it’s worth the effort!
As with the lady at the cottage door, I blended several different shades of stranded cotton to create the approximate shades for the face, and used petit point to bring in a little more detail.
The hat was a bit more of a challenge, but in the end I decided it was a woven straw hat rather than a felt one, and created a criss-crossing effect, with something like herringbone stitch, but worked in a rather freestyle fashion.
The pouch hanging at his waist is stranded cotton, tiny cross stitches using the single crossing points of the canvas, and I decided to make his breeches in Kelim stitch, hoping it would make a sort of corduroy effect.
Not really, as it turns out, but it was worth a try!
The saddle is soft cotton, and I’ve used condensed mosaic stitch. I want the level of shine to contrast with the horse, which is probably going to be in Paterna.
One of the nice things about the double thread canvases commonly used for painted canvas designs is that you can decide to go right off-piste with them, separate the threads, and use stitches at a different scale.
I’m going to do that with the characters – the woman, the horse and his rider, and the dog – on this piece, because in that way I will be able to use stash threads, and enjoy exploring the highways and byways of ornamental canvaswork stitchery. It may well unbalance the finished piece, so I may not regard it as a success when complete, but I will have had fun along the way!
This, however, was a false start. The stitch is Kelim stitch, or something like that, and the threads are pearl cottons. I was aiming for something that would look a little like a sturdy linen twill, but this didn’t seem to me to be the right choice after all.
One of the disadvantages of going down to petit point scale is that unpicking is a real nightmare. Not fun at all. <shudders dramatically>
I’m much happier with this. I’ve used trammed Gobelins stitch for the apron, and found a use for the dreadful lifeless slubby linen thread that DMC brought out – 20 years ago now? – which I bought because it looked interesting and have found a heartbreaking material to use every time I’ve tried. In this context, it worked very much better than I expected. There’s no shine, so it looks like a heavy, sturdy fabric, and the colour variations, much subtler than if I’d used the designated wool colours, recall the appearance of a crumpled linen fabric, its crisp white knocked back by dust and grime.
The skirt is a combination of a rather gorgeous rayon filament for the lighter sections with a pearl cotton for the darker ones, and I’ve turned Parisian Stitch from vertical to horizontal to help me to create contrasts with the shawl the woman has around her shoulders.
The shawl is in Parisian Stripe Stitch (there’s an extra row of small vertical stitches, which keeps the long stitches in alignment).
I may have ended up with not quite the right shade of green for the vessel the woman is holding. Something about it reminded me of the bright green glazed fragments that used to come out of trenches on Time Team, of happy memory, so I decided to go with the colour, and maybe adjust later when I have everything else in place. I’ve done my best to add a little shape and shading, but in due course I may stitch over this in curving long-&-short stitches. It’s straightforward Madeira stranded cotton, and I know I’ve not finished the skein!
And in other news, Episode 75 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live. In which we discuss the felt “coloured sketch” of the Dig House, John Pendlebury, the obstreperousness of William Marshall, and look ahead to finishing the Amarna Family Group.
Remember this? It was an exploration of canvaswork, a very long time ago, and when I’d finished it, I hadn’t the vaguest idea what to do with it. Then my cousin said she knew exactly what to do with it, and could she have it, please?
She and her local soft furnishing people turned it into a rather fabulous cushion, and it has been sitting happily kicking welly-booted heels in the air on a chair in her conservatory ever since.
Fast forward to some recent reorganising in her house, and she has a another chair that might be interested in a companion piece. Not the same shape, and not the same canvas, fortunately, and not necessarily the same colours either, just similar. I have to find the canvas before I can get excited about this one, so it will be a while, but I do have something to think about.
My cousin found a gorgeous drone shot of a knot garden in a National Trust property, and said “Start from this!”. The central tree might even end up as a sculpted piece of one of the pile stitches – that would be fun, wouldn’t it!
I’m thinking I might choose to use a brown canvas this time, and use as many variegated greens as I can lay my hands on. But as I’m not sure where I’ll find the canvas, my ideas have plenty of time in which to change….
So in due course I had finished the coral canvaswork panel, and took it off the frame. Then I had a slight anxiety about the size, and whether there would be space to go all around the sunglasses, and went around three sides with herringbone stitch.
The herringbone stitch rather emphasised the unevenness of one of the sides, but I’m choosing not to mind that, especially as the herringbone stitch had a secondary task; that of attaching some padding fabric to the the back of the canvaswork.
The fourth side was also herringbone stitch, but in that case, it’s the herringbone edging I often use on canvaswork pieces to cover and strengthen edges.
The finished piece was just folded in half and satin stitched to join the edges together. I didn’t herringbone it in this case because it was becoming so very difficult to stitch!
Finally, I took one of those flimsy black fabric cases that you sometimes get with a pair of sunglasses, and stitched it in around the top edge. Lovely though it is to have a bright, strong case for sunglasses, it’s not remotely protective if they keep falling out, and the drawstring will ensure that they stay put.
Now all I need is sunglasses weather!
The next panel, I decided, needed a little more variation in colour. The thread is a 12-strand overdyed stranded cotton from Stef Francis, and I’ve had it for so long (like the canvas) that I don’t know when I got it or what I had in mind for it at the time!
The stitch is Moorish Stitch, and again it is voided, leaving unstitched the row of tent stitches that alternate with the larger stitches under normal stitches.
I went back to Jo Ippolito Christensen for the next stitch, Medieval Mosaic Stitch, and with the alterations I made it looks most unexpected. As diagrammed, it is almost a variation on Florentine stitch, with a thick-and-thin ribbon of stitches running across the piece. In choosing the section to void, I picked the two small stitches that form the “thin” part, and as a result, that element has been completely obscured, and it looks like a classical woven pattern. That effect is enhanced by the fact that I picked two shades of coral to use up, hoping that they’d last to the end if they shared the burden. They did!
At this point, I think I have nearly enough stitched to make the sunglasses case I hope for, so I have mirrored the first section with another that leaves only one crossing-point voided. This is Staggered Crosses, and under normal circumstances there would be two different sizes of cross stitch contrasting with one another. I rather like this version, though!
Now I need to work out what form the glasses case will take, and what colour I’m going to back the canvas with, since it’s going to show…
Being known as a stitcher leaves one heir to everything stitch related that someone, far or near, may be at a loss to deal with. Sometimes this is a thrill, sometimes it’s a chore, sometimes a bewilderment.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this, passed on to me by a friend of a friend. Almost all you can see below is already finished, and I’m certainly not going to undo it.
But what follows isn’t finished, and I don’t have the threads that came with the canvas.
First thoughts are to unpick anything of the people and animals that’s been stitched, and restitch it with stranded cottons, maybe slightly more highly coloured. Then perhaps do the ground in a mixture of soft cottons and tapestry wool, although those muted, sludgy colours may be a little hard to find in my stash.
I’ve had this piece of forest green canvas for so long, I can’t remember where it came from, and since my instinct with canvas is always to cover it completely, I’ve been at rather a loss as to what to do with it. Then I realised that a rather nice pair of sunglasses lack a case, and decided to Explore.
The recent ebay purchase of the much-recommended “The Needlepoint Book” by Jo Ipplolito Christensen (which gave me the river below Tynemouth Priory) has given me a starting point. This is Criss Cross Hungarian Stitch, and the single crossing thread is intentionally left unstitched, which has given me my next theme: each section will involve leaving void some portion of the pattern. After all, that dark green makes a lovely foil for all the coral, doesn’t it!
The second block is named “Wild Goose Chase”, and there are a variety of ways I could have chosen to alternate stitching and voiding on this one. I think the one I chose in the end allows for a slightly smaller pattern block, and that, in turn, should protect the canvas. I am assuming that the stitch is named for, and inspired by, a quilting pattern.
I’m using a variety of elderly stranded cotton which came from a great aunt, so although I am going to try to keep to one shade per section, I’m not going to lose sleep over it if it becomes a bit of a hotchpotch!
Which is just as well, because the very next row ended up in a slightly darker shade of coral than the previous one!
I’m also separating each band of stitching with a row of satin stitch, but an effort to even out the different coverage of the various threads, it is satin stitch padded with an unseparated stranded cotton.
There’s something very pleasing about the coral against the green. I’m enjoying this!
I’m a little behind with posting this, but there were a few details to finish off-video…
I didn’t want to overdo the water, but I wanted to break up the pattern a little, to create the sense of foam on the surface. I’ve used French Knots, in white silk and very very pale blue single strands of cotton. There were more, but having put them in, I took them straight out again!
Finally, I got to add in the two needlelace slips. I hope you can see that I’ve added a few green French knots to help one section to bed in nicely.
The other one, I’ve twisted and pulled a little, and I’ve tried not to stitch it down too firmly or in too many places. I want the shadow of the slip to help create the sense of distance and disintegration, and I think it’s turned out rather well. I did jam it up hard against the rows of raised satin stitch, and again, I had to be a bit careful, to make sure I didn’t pull those stitches through to the back.
Finally, the first attempt at Tynemouth Priory for “Leaving the Tyme 1915”, finished in its own right. I suspect that when I frame it, I will crop at least some of the water out, but for sure, as I said in the video, adding it in if you didn’t do enough the first time becomes really, really trying.
As you know, I don’t feel comfortable planning to the last detail before I stitch. I like to have space to explore and experiment. That in turn means I have to be comfortable tweaking how I work and how I display what I’ve done, and it is often the case that embroidery responds to close mounting in a way that watercolours, for instance, do not. I would far rather do more stitching than I really needed to – even with an exasperating stitch like this! – than have to go back to it when I thought I was finished and my mind has moved on to something else!
So here we are. All the gold canvaswork completed, the Angel outlined in different weights of thread, given tightly curled hair in French Knots, and now ready for however I work out how to mount her and turn her into something pleasing, and useful to decorate the house next Christmas.
I haven’t given the Angel a face, and I don’t think I will. It’s distressingly easy for “sweet” or “joyful” to become “disturbingly weird” with faces, especially when there is so little space, and relatively few stitches to manoevre with. If I experience an inspiration, I’ll reconsider, at least until I’ve mounted her. At the moment I’m looking for a sufficiently tall and wide cardboard tube that I can cut in half. Alternatively, I need to be very clever indeed about my card engineering…
It really only took as long as it did – it was begun in 2015 – largely because there was a lot of background, and it was remarkably tricky to find a rhythm to the pattern. Once I did so, it became much easier, and fairly romped away. Before that time, it spent a considerable period hidden away because – not having found the rhythm – it just made me grumpy to look at it!
There was something of a pause once I’d finished the cavaswork and we had removed the old cover from the little footstool. We reinstated all the padding (leaving my Grandad’s old pyjamas just where Grandmama had left them!) and stapled the cavaswork over the top.
However, that left a border of bare canvas, which was definitely not what I wanted on show, so there was some thought expended. There wasn’t enough of the assorted tapestry wools left over to make a border, and this was in progress during one of our lockdowns, so I couldn’t go frolicking off to a haberdashery to hunt for a braid. Very well, we would have to find a way of ensuring that our border matched, while trusting someone else to pick the material.
Fortunately, the threads I used were most of them current colours, and in particular the grey is a familiar Anchor colour. So it occurred to me that if I could find a shop that sold both embroidery supplies and knitting supplies, we could ask for a knitting wool to match the grey thread, and crochet a border.
That would have the advantage that we could be sure it would be wide enough to do the job, and in any case it could be slightly stretched to fit. I do like it when absolute millimetre precision isn’t necessary. This was a stash-busting, domestic area-improving project, not a major epic (although, you know, subject to my usual feature-creep!).
In the end, we picked a Tunisian Crochet stitch, and my Mam solemnly crocheted the necessary metre and a half of border, ten stitches wide, and then attached it.
No canvas showing now, and the knitting wool is such a perfect match you could be forgiven for thinking that we’d been intending this from the start!