Tag: General Embroidery
The Piano Shawl was only a metre and a half square (only!), so there wasn’t really space for a stave in each corner, even if Elaine had wanted four melodies included! At the same time, there was enough space in the corners that without something there, the whole thing looked half-hearted and unbalanced.
So I had to do something. I traced some of the stems and devised a very light floral motif, consisting of four stems and a few leaves. The main stems are worked in Broad Chain Stitch, using a plain stranded linen thread, which I used in the stems on the main design elements too, but the shorter, smaller stems are worked in Portuguese Knotted Stem Stitch, using a variegated silk thread. I used several different variegated silk threads for the leaves throughout the Piano Shawl. Again this is by no means a naturalistic treatment – the flowers are something like dog-roses, but the leaves (all worked in Fishbone Stitch) aren’t like any I’ve ever seen in a garden before!
My final picture is a shot to show my initials in Morse Code in one corner, pretending to be a caterpillar!
The picture also shows the centres of flowers, which were the same across the piece. The thread is a variegated, almost untwisted rayon thread, and it is used only in the centres of the flowers. It’s very like the thread I used for the headdress of the Prince’s Companion in the Persian Fantasy companion piece.
Now that I have seen the Piano Shawl in its destined place, I am happy with it. The overall effect is light-hearted without being entirely frivolous, and the time spent in Elaine’s music room pulling threads, and draping them over the furniture to make sure that they would all match nicely, wasn’t wasted.
However eccentric it might have seemed at the time!
Since I had some requests for more details about the Piano Shawl, I rummaged around in my photographs to try to come up with pictures that might explain a little more of what I did and how I approached it.
I knew that I would be using some variegated threads and some plain ones, so the first decision I made was that I would use each in particular places. In that way there would be a scheme of sorts that would guide me.
First of all, the ribbon stave was definitely going to be variegated. It would help to create a ripple of life around the design, and incidentally, since it felt like miles of stitching, I would be able to feel the progress I had made in an afternoon in the colour changes. Then I felt that the colour alone did not provide sufficient structure, so I developed the scheme further – the chainette ribbon was couched down as the middle line on the stave, and also used for bar lines and clefs. The next two lines of the stave (one on each side of the central one) were worked using pearl cotton, in Portuguese Knotted Stem Stitch, which is a favourite of mine. I used it elsewhere for some of the stems, in a very fine silk thread which produced a very different effect. The two outer lines of the stave were stitched in ordinary chain stitch using a rayon bouclé which was serious trial to stitch with, but which looks really effective.
The flowers themselves I worked in ordinary stranded cotton, using about six different shades of browny-pink, and creating an entirely un-naturalistic variety of light edges and dark edges, strong and weak colour variations. There was the risk of producing something too stately if I tried too hard, and since the Shawl was destined for a grand piano, the surroundings were going to be pretty stately already. A grand piano is a pretty dignified and imposing piece of furniture!
Although putting the fringing on brought the whole thing to life – which goes to show how important the finishing details are for big projects – I was very relieved when I delivered the Piano Shawl, and it settled into its destined home as though I’d sat there to stitch it. As I don’t have any rooms decorated in similar colours, I wasn’t confident when I finished the piece, until I saw it in place. Phew!
I created a booklet to go with the Piano Shawl, which included a short description from Elaine, describing why she wanted it, and the following, describing how I tackled the commission.
From the Embroiderer’s Frame
This was an intriguing project, growing out of several conversations, visits to the Client’s house, and an assortment of research in libraries and online for suitable images and inspirations. The ultimate inspiration was a scene in a painting in which the black polished surface of a grand piano was broken by a patterned shawl.
I was asked for a piece that would suit the room and the grand piano, and would in some way incorporate references to Music. I prefer, with this sort of piece, to find some way of allowing the client to contribute, not just with a brief, but with some element of the design, so I devised three possible ideas,
- a piano keyboard stretched into a ring, which would allow for a variety of stitches and techniques
- a series of instruments rendered in a broad, slightly “graphic” style
- a more “romantic” design of flowers
In adapting the inspiration to circumstances and ideas, we decided, rather than using a scattered all-over pattern, to develop an undulating stave design, entwined with flowering stems. The flower patterns were developed from the shapes used by my grandmother in one of her embroidered tablecloths. As she set me off on my embroidering way, I always try to include some idea or reference in big projects! We chose to pick up the floral pattern of the carpet, dusty pinks and apricots for the flowering stems, and take the blue background as the basis of colours for the stave. Then I asked Elaine to write out for me the musical elements that she wanted to have put on the staves.
In the event, this piece involved far less variety of stitch technique than the other design ideas I had thought of, but at the same time it gave scope for a much wider range of variegated threads. The blues used in the stave are brighter than those in the carpet, because darker colours would have dragged the design down, making it seem less light hearted. There is always a balance to be struck in embroidery between the naturalism that is available through needlepainting techniques and producing something that is clearly an embroidery. I almost always choose to do the latter, because the textures of fabric and thread as they are used in embroidery are what interest and inspire me.
My initials and the date are included in Morse code, on diagonally opposing corners.
Now Elaine not only has her Piano Shawl, but something for the archives as well.
I’ve finished the candlestick bookmark.
I worked the stitches on the candle vertically, and the stitches on the drips of wax diagonally, to try to create a slightly different effect. The light reflecting off the different angled stitches creates almost different colours, and certainly different shades.
The dense weave of the grosgrain ribbon has made stitching this really rather a trial. As I’ve commented already, sometimes I feared I would break the needle, and that has meant that it has required a real effort of will to complete the embroidery. Now it is finished, however, I’m pleased.
The Candlestick looks like engraved brass (with the eye of faith, anyway!), with the vertical stripes suggesting the reflection of other things around the room.
The wax doesn’t really look dribbly enough, but it is as dribbly as I am willing to make a bookmark. If this were to be a wall panel (tell me why I would do that?) I would use bullion knots to make the dribbles look more textured and dribbly. That would also make a bookmark too thick to use.
I think the flame is a real success, though. It is astonishing how such a simple shape, with simple colours and stitches, should be so evocative of the real thing.
I wanted to create the appearance of engraved brass on my candlestick, so I began by laying long stitches vertically over the whole area. It didn’t occur to me for a moment to do the surface satin stitches horizontally. When you look at a shiny or patterned metal candlestick the reflected colours tend to blur out vertically, colours of the thread create vertical, slightly blurred stripes in the first layer.
Then I worked a basic laid work pattern over the top, with the diagonal threads couched down with an upright cross at the crossing points.
The background looks a little strange because the light was poor and I had to use a flash. It has washed out the detail of the stitching, and created a strange watermarked effect on the grosgrain ribbon. The weave is so tight that with every stitch I feared I would break the needle, especially at the edges with other layers of stitching to stitch through.
Now I move on to the dripping wax. No, I’ve not forgotten the wick. I just need the candle and the flame in place to weave the thread into the back!
It’s important to stitch representational pieces in the right order to make sure that they “work” visually as representations of something real. Here I have numbered each of the elements from this point forward. The candle stub itself is the first, followed by the candlestick body, then the rim, then the wax dripping down the side. In this way it will be possible to make sure that the stitching goes over itself when it should.
So in this next picture I have finished stitching the cream candle stub, and then laid long straight stitches over the candlestick using Surface Satin Stitch. I don’t want to use real satin stitch as by the time I add the second layer of stitching, as I intend, this will be becoming too thick and heavy to use as a bookmark. I’m too fond of books to want to damage them by using thick bookmarks that break the spines.
I want to create the effect of a brass candlestick, so I have chosen a golden-brown variegated silk thread. I’m going to couch down these long threads to create something that will look like cast or engraved texture. I can’t create a barley-twist effect without redrawing the edge, which I don’t want to do. It will be intriguing to see whether I can create the effect I am aiming for.
If someone who embroiders ever tells you “I knew it would work” – beware. We only know that we think it will work!
This design came from one of those Needlewoman Magazines. It was inside the back page with the competition results, as a sort of bonus.
The most difficult thing about it was finding the fabric – navy grosgrain ribbon, four inches wide. I recall that I bought the last length in the shop, which was enough for two bookmarks, but as it was cream, I dyed it with Permanent Blue Quink.
I stitched the first one as a teenager and gave it to one of my cousins, and the second has remained in the back of one of my stitch dictionaries ever since. Now, however, I’ve decided to fish it out and use it for more Long and Short Stitch practise. The design is drawn on with quilter’s pencil, so the first thing was to backstitch around the whole thing so I didn’t need to worry about rubbing the design off.
I’m using silk threads, and as you can see from the text, some of them will be variegated. As it is such a closely-woven fabric, it’s rather a trial to stitch on, but I think the flame shows it will be worth the effort!
This was another early project. It was a DMC painted canvas, which was clearly intended to be done in tent stitch using tapestry wool. As it is eighteen inches by nearly two feet, that would have driven me wild…
I bought it almost entirely because I thought I could see a way to get the folds in the dress to appear the right shades without using as many colours of thread, and I wanted to experiment. So I used a bordered Hungarian Stitch, worked in three shades of pearl cotton and combining them to create the impression of five shades in the skirt. It worked!
The blouse is also pearl cotton, this time Linen Stitch, which is effectively the back of Basketweave Tent stitch put on the front. It produces a very solid, durable background and I’ve used it on cushion projects in the past.
The only drawback is that it takes so long to do. I’ve diagrammed it here because I can’t find it online, and I’ve found it such a useful stitch myself. It is worked diagonally, just like basketweave tent stitch.
The face and arms were worked in petit point, separating the double threads to create single thread canvas, and worked in stranded cottons (blended). The hair (she didn’t have such glorious chestnut hair on the painted canvas itself) is also blended stranded cottons, worked in a sort of long and short stitch. The hat has spider’s web stitch roses on it.
I changed the wooden, slatted backed bench of the canvas into a padded one so that I could do the upholstery in Reversed Mosaic Stitch. The lake itself took ages to do – row after row of darning stitch using all sorts of ribbons and threads, including some truly ghastly knitting acrylic which would have made a dreadfully uncomfortable jumper, but made a very good lake surface, with that slight sparkle you get when there’s just enough breeze to move the water.
The sky and clouds are all Milanese Stitch, worked in blended Persian yarns with three strands in the needle. It works, but now I’ve read Terry Pratchett I’m afraid it makes me think of the sky above “gnarly ground” in “Carpe Jugulum” – not such a peaceful thought!
Like so many of us, I have probably several shelves’ worth of books about embroidery scattered around the house. Some of them never make it back to the shelves because they are always beside me as I work (Barbara Snook’s “Embroidery Stitches” and Yvette Stanton’s “The Right Handed Embroiderer’s Companion“), some of them are put aside for study when I have leisure (when will I learn?), but the rest of them are shelved (not all in the same place) ready to be pulled out to give me entertainment and pause for thought.
One of those is Kathleen Mann’s “Embroidery Design and Stitches”, first published in 1937. Kathleen Mann trained at the Royal College of Art, but went to teach at The Glasgow School of Art, at about the time this book was published. Looking at the stitch diagrams and the design ideas she presents, they are very much of the Thirties, of a particular modern, exuberant style that occasionally is found in the designs in that stack of The Needlewoman Magazine that I inherited. So it is not surprising that in the text I find her bewailing the fact that so much of the embroidery of that time was backward-looking, expressions not of modern sensibility but of indebtedness to the past. Certainly if you look at some of the “Jacobean work” designs in The Needlewoman, some of them are rather stiff, dark and charmless. A little oppressed by scholarship, perhaps, like some of the authentic performance practitioners in the early music movement (for an antidote to that problem, if you like baroque music but don’t take it too seriously – get to a performance by Red Priest!).
When I look at “Constance Howard’s Book of Stitches“, further along the shelf, I find the stitch samplers illustrating it also speak vividly of their time – in this case the 1970s. Strong, bold, and abstract, often using heavy fabrics and threads – certainly much heavier than would have been used in the Thirties – and not quite so “careful”. Perhaps, more accurately I should say – the embroiderer clearly has a good technique, but chooses for the purposes of her sampler to vary the size and shape of some of her stitches, sometimes rather chaotically.
Then again, I have been reading one of Jill Paton Walsh’s “Imogen Quy Mysteries”, in which part of the plot turns on the dating of antique patchwork quilts from both the pattern and the fabrics used (print styles can be dated).
Suddenly I find myself thinking – what are we doing? What am I doing? If someone were to look at my embroidery in thirty, forty years’ time, how will it appear to them? Stiff, derivative and uninspired? Or will it speak of the times in which it was made? What is it that is characteristic of our time? When we look at a film made in the Eighties, we don’t need to see the end credits or look it up on IMDB.com to know that it was made in the Eighties, yet at the time, had we seen it, the clues we now use wouldn’t have registered at all.
Of course, we can learn an enormous amount about embroidery and embroiderers by studying and replicating past work. I don’t think Kathleen Mann would have disapproved of that, and I certainly don’t. I enjoy the exuberance of Jacobean work, and I am fascinated by the two online university courses I am following.
But it is an interesting question for all of us who create anything, all the same. Is my work modern, current, inspired by the past, or is it hidebound by the past, backward looking, a pale imitation of past glories?
This design is from a transfer I picked up in a hurry a few years ago so as to have something to stitch while on holiday. It went swimmingly for a while and then ran into a brick wall and I have only just finished it.
The threads are wool and cotton, with a little bit of rayon. I intended the panel as a companion for my Jacobean Firescreen, so the colours of teal, brown and gold more or less chose themselves. There aren’t as many overdyed threads as I sometimes use, but that allows me to experiment all the more with the stitches.
Since I picked it up again, I’ve used it to play with some of the stitches which are new to me that I found in my copy of Yvette Stanton‘s Right Handed Embroiderer’s Companion. The whole thing became much more fun at that point!
So here, for example, the centre of the flower is worked in Spiral Trellis Stitch. I used a single strand, round thread overdyed in rust brown and purple, and although it was hair-raising to stitch, because I felt I was twisting myself in a spiral at the same time, I think it is rather successful. It’s not perfect, but I’ll do better another time, and I do think it looks rather good!
The dark brown rather lacy stem is worked in Mountmellick thorn stitch – another new one. Here I used one strand of a three-stranded cotton yarn. I think it would look better in a slightly heavier yarn, but it was fun to do and I will use this stitch again. The calyx of the strange fruit shows two of my favourite stitches – Cable Chain and Portuguese Knotted Stem.
I’m not entirely content with either of the flowers, but as I’m not sure why I shall leave well alone. Both of them have been unpicked at least twice, and I don’t want to wear out the fabric… Still, now it’s finished, I enjoyed working this!