I finally had a couple of inspirations for the rendered wall and the door. I used two shades of brown pearl cotton for the panels on the door, outlining them using long legged cross stitch, and filling in the panels with satin stitch. While I was doing that, it occurred to me that this was a good opportunity to demonstrate, again, just how different a stitch can look if you use different threads to stitch it with. So the render is rendered (sorry!) in Burden stitch, using two strands of light coloured stranded cotton, and already you can see how very different it looks in comparison with the soft cotton. It’s very satisfying when something works that well!
It was the golden light on the creeper that originally attracted me to this scene, so I need next to work out how to represent the creeper. I’m starting with feathered zig zag chain stitch, and I’ll use several colours of thread to create the variation of colour in the foliage.
I’ve added a few French Knots to the rough stone wall, to roughen it up a bit, and tweak the colour balance.
You can see here the start of the middle shade for the creeper, again using feathered zigzag chain stitch, and trying to zigzag the zigzags to vary how much of each colour shows.
You can also see that the facing light rendered wall is now done, and I have simply turned the Burden Stitch through ninety degrees. I think I may be beginning to be pleased with it!
Burden Stitch does a good job for the wall – you can see it starting here. I’ve used Soft Embroidery Cotton for the underlying straight stitch and a mixture of single strands of ordinary stranded cotton with one of the slightly heavier and more tightly twisted threads from Caron Collection, which has a whole series of warm red and brown colours with some greenish ones to help suggest the variation of colour in the stone wall. I’ve used darker soft cotton at the base of the wall, where there will be deep shadows on the lawn to “ground” the building.
The buildings showing above the top of the creeper-bedecked wall are all rendered rather than rough stone, and I had a bit of fun trying to pull together stitches and threads to represent the tiled roof, shadows under the eaves, the render and the woodwork. How pleased I am with how this section work changes day by day, so I shall leave well alone, until I’m either Definitely Dissatisfied or Supremely Satisfied!
In the bottom right hand corner, you can see the first attempt I made to depict the render on the facing wall, and the rough-cast feel of the turn of the wall. I’m not happy with the roughly-done, diagonal encroaching satin stitch, but I’m very pleased with the multicoloured mixture of French Knots, diagonal cross stitch, and Danish Knotted Cross stitch.
While I was rethinking the render, I worked on the door, which again, was not without missteps. The door surround, I am happy with – it’s Squared Chevron Stitch (found in one of my Edith John books), worked as a counted stitch. I then tried alternating two versions of Herringbone Stitch, hated it, and unpicked it promptly.
Oh, well, second mouse gets the cheese!
Very wisely, Bill and Lois, who run The Watermill At Posara, organise a variety of places to visit and paint, and in particular, the peace and quiet of the Convento del Carmine came the day after Excursion Day, which has people everywhere!!
I painted this watercolour when I was there, and in fact it shows something other than what I remember when I don’t look at it. What I mostly remember is dark foliage setting off the building in front, so for the embroidered version, that is what I intend to emphasize..
Now, remember, each of my Watermill Stitcheries is a sampler of experiments and ideas. I may or may not like all of them, but they should give my students points to ponder and places to start.
With that in mind, each of the trees is going to be in a different stitch. In each case I have worked vertical rows of the stitch, overlapping and interlocking them as best as I can to evoke the texture of the leaves.
I started, on the left, with Feathered Zigzag Chain Stitch. I’m quite pleased with this – you entirely lose the pattern of the stitch, but it evokes the movement of leaves in a breeze rather successfully.
I can’t say the same of Kerman Stitch, on the right. The breeze has stopped here, even if the impression of texture remains!
Working inward from the left, the first of these is Rabbit Eared Chain Stitch, found in Edith John’s “Creative Stitches”. This stitch is based on twisted chain stitches, which encouraged me to hope for a sense of movement again. I don’t think I quite hit the mark with it – maybe I never got quite comfortable enough with it – but I think it has possibilities.
The next one is Zigzag Crested Chain, again from Edith John. Crested chain is a stitch I enjoy but always find it moves under my needle. This time it ended up longer and thinner than I intended it to be – but maybe that was right for the purpose…
The final one is the slightly less peculiar Twisted Feather Stitch, and here, perhaps because it felt a little more familiar, more akin to the feathered zigzag chain I started with, I have my sense of movement and breeze back again.
I’ve begun the building in Burden Stitch, and now need to finish that, add more of the roof, and finally the creeper falling over the top of the wall. So watch this space!
You may recall that I was planning to use this design as a way to explore stonework in various forms, and to demonstrate stitches that might be chosen in each case.
So here we have padded satin stitch for the cut and dressed stone of the arch, and seed stitch for the boulder beside it. The seat and the blocks of the wall around the arch are both in Cretan Stitch, the one spaced out and turned into a filling stitch of sorts, and the other compressed and set at a slight angle to represent the slightly dished stone seat.
This view shows the height of the padding on the keystone and the line of dark stitching under the tiles, which is a line of chain stitch feathered on one side only to get one crisp edge and one which suggests the darkness of the arch. You can also see from the shadows just how strongly raised the blanket stitched herringbone stitch appears.
The Cretan Stitch rows are carefully varied in length and depth to show how the rows of cut stone are not all the same height or length. This was a stitch much more easily worked in a hoop, where you can see the layout, than in the hand – even though I prefer working in the hand where I can.
And here is the finished “Stones of Verrucola”.
There are some elements which work much better than others. The outlines through the arch and the chain stitch edges of the flagstones may not be necessary, and the shadow under the seat is a little too small.
The seed stitches could have been bigger, maybe even grouped, and maybe emphasizing one of the lighter colours more, but I am very happy that all of the different textures are truly differentiated.
Besides, all that I am seeking to do is to demonstrate ideas that the students can take on or not as they choose. If at the end of the week I have a classful of mini-mes, I will have failed. What I want is a group who’ve tried, experimented, and each of them produced, maybe even only a fragment, but still something that makes me think, “Goodness, I wish I’d thought of that!”
I’m continuing to explore ideas for the course at The Watermill in Posara, and this one is inspired by the first outing of the painting course I went on. Verrucola is a medieval village and fortress not far from Fivizzano, with a deep stream valley, some very impressive buildings – and a delightful trattoria just inside the walls.
I want to explore the different ways an embroiderer might choose to explore the textures of stone that a site like this afford – the living rock of the hillside, cut stone used for building, and the shaped and smoothed stone used for architectural features.
You can see in the first picture that I have just “drawn in” the street beyond the gate with back stitch and used darning stitch to suggest the shadow beneath the arch.
I’m using padded satin stitch for the cut and smoothed stone of the arch, but since I find that an exasperating stitch, I’ve alternated working on the arch with the tiles which cap the wall which is pierced by the arch.
I found buttonholed herringbone stitch in one of Sharon Boggan’s books, but as you can see, my first attempt didn’t really produce the effect of the curved roof tiles that are so much part of the scenery in Tuscany. The linen herringbone stitch is too stretched out, and the two strands of stranded cotton just look straggly.
I am going to have to emphasise experimentation in the course, aren’t I!
This version is much better – the shorter, higher herringbone stitch, just peering through at the base of the arches, three or even four strands of stranded cotton for the buttonhole stitch, and the stacked stitches create a good recollection of the tiled roofs I saw. I’m pleased with the way the variegation suggests the weathering on the tiles.
You will see that I have added a Page to the site which will make it easier to find and download details of the course if you are interested.
And also, Episode 71 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which I experiment with the shore, and talk of plans for overland travel for Times To Come..
So now, having finished my two fishie experiments (there may have been a third in the pipeline, but I’ve forgotten what it was!), what can I say I’ve learnt?
First, canvaswork stitches against the freeform bargello. There’s a sort of stillness, almost a static quality to this fish, in spite of the flowing bargello.
The bargello works well, although now I look at it, I’ve not managed to keep it flowing from top to bottom. And it was remarkably difficult to keep track of the pattern across the fish.
The second fish was an attempt to suggest the broken outline of an object seen through the interface between air and water. So this time, the pattern of the bargello ran through the fish, and I had to decide at each edge whether to stitch in the fish colour or the water colour. The pattern runs more successfully from top to bottom of the piece, but the whole thing looks a lot more active, maybe too active.
I think the colours are a bit too bright and swimming pool-like, but as these are experiments, using stash, I’m not too concerned about that. What does concern me is that even after these two, fairly substantial pieces, the appearance of a particular blend of threads as it was stitched was sometimes a surprise. It will be hard to pick the right colours to use if I can’t rely on my imagination of how the thread will stitch up.
So, I don’t know whether I will use this idea for the borders of Placidus, but I’ve got plenty to think about, haven’t I!
Episode 69 of Slow TV Stitchery is now live, on talking projects, the development of musical taste, and the challenges of suggesting wind over the water.
I mentioned that I had more experiments to perform on the leaves, and several people hastened to tell me that I should be sure to Test To Destruction. They are right, of course, and having plenty of samples in the pack that Caroline Hack sent me to play with, I was able to do just that.
One of them, I pulled and twisted, trying to snap the plastic. That turned out to be much harder than I had expected it to be, considering how flimsy it felt when I was nervously working needlelace over the leaf shapes.
Then I fished out the heat gun that I still have left over from some experiments with paper crafting, covered a drinking glass with a bit of greaseproof paper, and tried to soften the plastic so it would match the curve of the glass. The plastic certainly moved, but not in a very controlled fashion, so I tried again, this time using one of my needlelace experiments. It was still an undercontrolled shift, but it did produce the sort of twisted look of a drying leaf. I tried hard to photograph it so that the curves really showed!
I worked a series of experimental needlelace sections in some of the other pieces. Knotted stitches in slubby linen (really don’t do this – friction becomes a real problem!), cloth stitch in silk (the yellow that in due course was melted and twisted) and a variety of others.
I think, in the end, the difficulty of covering the borders, and the slippy plastic which makes it hard to keep the threads in place, mean that this won’t be the best way to do the oak leaf wreath. I may still have thoughts about this as I begin to plan, and in particular, I need first of all to work out how big my oak leaves need to be in order to be in proportion with the mirror.
You can now watch Episode 67 of SlowTV Stitchery, which is entirely concerned with my battles with Swirl Stitch!
I wasn’t at all sure how to tackle the Oak Leaf Wreath Experiments, but as always, charging in head over heels is the most enlivening strategy!
Having toyed with the idea of these drawn plastic oak leaves as the support for fabric leaves, I thought the next thing to play with would be needlelace, using different types of thread and different stitches. I want to get some sense of how to tackle a very difficult shape, and I think that even if I choose not to use the plastic pen, I will have learnt a great deal from the different combinations I’ve experimented with.
The first one uses a fairly heavy silk thread, not quite a perlé, but definitely not stranded. The stitch is the classic Corded Brussels Stitch.
I don’t think that this combination of thread and stitch leaves space to cover the plastic easily or neatly, and I can’t think of another way to tidy up all the ends I needed to use because of the uneven shape.
Also, my goodness, the plastic is slippery. Placement of rows might prove to be a bit of a challenge.
The next one is a rather finer linen thread, and I started from the extra line of plastic down the middle, which may have slightly simplified the stitching. There is probably enough space for a buttonhole stitch covering for the edge, but it was very hard to fit the needle around the more confined areas. Maybe I could devise some way to cover the edges once the leaf was off the backing?
The linen is a hard thread to work with, because the friction of the thread against itself it quite high, and since I chose a knotted stitch for this experiment, there was a lot of friction!
The final experiment for this week used a single strand of stranded silk. Caroline added veins to this one, and I tried to fit two different stitches around the veins and over the edges. Definitely not straightforward!
I found myself wondering about finding shorter needles for this project, maybe more like my Japanese needles, but blunt (the Japanese needles are super-sharp!). I’ve found the balance of the Japanese needles a bit challenging in the past, but fitting around the edges and corners of these shapes has also been a bit challenging.
What’s that saying about picking your battles?
And in the meantime, Episode 62 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live. In which we discuss Why The British Talk About The Weather, consider discoveries in the loft, and contemplate the placement of the needlelace slips.
So, having learnt enough to be encouraged by the First Fishy Experiment, I embarked upon my Second Fishy Experiment.
Again, I drew out the borders, tacked the edges of the fish, and drafted the line of the bargello pattern using coloured sewing cotton. You can see how many times I thought and rethought what I was going to do in pencil beforehand!
I’m using the same bit of leftover canvas, so again my threads will be blended using nine strands of stranded cotton, although I’ve added a bit to the fish by using a variegated metallic machine embroidery thread as one of the strands.
This time the experiment is to see whether I can create something of the effect of looking through the surface of water at the fish. That means making the edges of the fish uneven, rather than crisp, so rather than an entirely different set of stitch choices for the fish, and compensation stitches everywhere, I will use the same stitch pattern throughout.
That in turn means that as I approach the edge of the fish on each row, I have a decision to make about whether to use the water colour or the fish colour for the stitch that straddles the edge. Fortunately, this isn’t the sort of decision I find unnerving or difficult to make, and even here, I think you can see that this idea is rather likely to work!
I realise that the post about starting the Second Fishy Experiment somehow managed to end up well behind the videos. Episode 57 of Slow TV Stitchery is now live, in which we muse on the effects of blending colours in the needle, the demise of Scottish pearling, and the final “It depends!” moment.
I have a rather nice circular wall mirror that my uncle passed on to me, which was his mother’s. That makes it close to a hundred years old, more than likely, and it occurred to me one day that it might enjoy having a stumpwork oak leaf frame.
Then one of the other embroiderers who joins in Hand Embroidery Hour on Twitter, the textile artist Caroline Hack, mentioned a new toy – a pen which allowed her to draw and create plastic outlines. Now, I know that there is perfectly ordinary cake-decorators wire to do the job, but I wondered whether this new material would add anything to the experiment. Like the star she is, Caroline drew a few oak leaf variations for me to play with, some with veins, some not, some using more passes of the pen, and some not, and posted them.
My first experiment plays with gauze. I’m thinking that the oak leaf frame might include some fabric leaves, as well as needlelace. After all, the mirror is a foot across – a wreath would involve a LOT of leaves!
So in this case, I have entrapped my leaf shape between two layers, tacking roughly around the edges to control the second piece of gauze, and very carefully down the central vein so that the leaf shape would stay where I wanted it to. Even by my standards, this is an odd proceeding…
I thought that while I was throwing experimental ideas together I would see whether the slight “spreading” qualities of floss silk help to cover the plastic outline, because gauze tends to ladder if you stitch it too closely. I don’t mind that if it’s part of the plan, but it’s better to know how to avoid it if you want to!
It was certainly an interesting experience. I didn’t quite get the floss silk to spread as much as I might have hoped, and there were some rather tense negotiations between the needle and the few points where there were two separate lines in the leaf shape.
I haven’t yet had the nerve to cut it out!
Episode 56 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live. In which I continue to make progress, almost silenced by the unnerving freedom offered by a Year of Experiments..