Have you ever heard of the hopping procession of Echternach? Although throughout its history it has been danced in various forms, the one that has always stuck in my mind is the three-steps-forwards-two-steps-backwards version. It strikes me as being a very accurate description of many of life’s projects, including embroidery ones.
You may remember a small goldwork project I started last year, based on a design in Sampler and Antique Needlework. It’s a Jacobean-style flower and leaf, and I first used it as a sampler for trying out crewel wools from Renaissance Dyeing and Pearsall’s. But it was always intended to be a goldwork piece, and I thought it would make a nice project to get a bit of practice in with the various techniques. Although I roughly stuck to the design, from the start it was my intention to change whatever I felt like changing, and possibly to add a few things here and there. Some of the changes were planned, some weren’t.
This is where I’d got to last November. It shows both types of changes: the use of silver, two sizes of pearl purl, and check thread were definitely planned. The small beads inside the big leaf weren’t – they were a consequence of the small green silk leaves coming out too small and not filling the leaf outline satisfactorily.
6 months later I felt it was high time that this project got finished. There’s the RSN goldwork boot to complete as well (my stitching friend who came to the workshop too has already finished hers!) but as this one was all framed up, and pretty close to completion (much closer than the boot with all its plunging still to do…) it got priority.
The main part of the remaining work was the chip work that was to part-fill the flower cone. In the original design, this is done in gold chips of bright check. My plan was to stick with the bright check, but to shade it from copper through gold to silver. I couldn’t use the thread size guide of the original as I’d chosen to enlarge the design a bit, so I’d have to work out what looked best. As it’s still a fairly small project (a little over 3½” wide) a not-too-chunky #6 seemed the best choice.
I rummaged in my project box. Copper in the bigger #4. No gold or silver. Very odd. Have a look in my big goldwork box. Gold and silver in both #4 and #6, but no #6 copper. Bother. I could have sworn I had both thicknesses in all three metals. Obviously not. And as I definitely wanted to use copper, I started the chip work in #4 bright check. I did all the copper I wanted, and started filling in the gold. And I really, really disliked how it looked.
There was no help for it, it just had to come out. I’d have to do something in gold and silver only, or choose some other wire. Another rummage through my project box for inspiration… what was that bag of copper #6 doing there? Ah. At one point I had considered doing the chip work in coarse and fine copper, and so I’d put both thicknesses (but no gold or silver) in my project box, and somehow the #6 had hidden itself right at the bottom.
So I could do the chip work as planned – yay! And it did look so much more like I’d envisaged it.
Finish the gold chips, scatter some silver chips around, and then there were just a few more spangles to add for my Jacobean goldwork flower to be done.
The last stage, the finishing finishing, will be to lace it very tightly as the fabric wrinkles rather when taken off the frame, and then possibly frame it; unless I can lace it around the insert of one of my satin boxes. I’ll keep you posted!
In a folder with some old sketches (the same one in which I found the Beginner’s Butterfly, in fact) I came across a quarter of an old letter, on the back of which was an intriguing doodle and the words “shuttle stitch?”. It was obviously an idea for a stitch, but I had absolutely no recollection of drawing it and couldn’t make head or tail of it. Was it meant to be a needle book? It vaguely looked like two square pages with the shuttle stitch (whatever that was) as the hinge/spine. Then I thought the rectangles surrounding each of the squares on three sides looked like they might be Kloster blocks – but they were marked “g” or possible “9”, not “K”.
I still can’t remember when or why I drew it, but after some more observation and interpretation I think it represents two cut areas surrounded by Kloster blocks consisting of 9 stitches each, with a woven bar in the middle and a buttonhole arch on either side, with letters to indicate starting points and how to get from one bit of the stitch combination to the next. It is still a mystery to me why I would want to call it shuttle stitch. If anything it looks rather more like a belt buckle. Or is shuttle stitch an existing stitch and did I copy it from somewhere? If you recognise it from a book or a project, I’d be delighted to know!
While I was on a roll with the tulip-and-some-other-flower designs last month I took the opportunity to tidy up a drawing I did some time ago; it’s not dated but from the surrounding scribbles it seems to have been intended as a freestyle project for beginners.
But not just for beginners – there are stitch suggestions for what might be called an intermediate version as well. So when I edited the sketch on the computer I created two versions, one with basic stitches as a project for people with little embroidery experience, and one with slightly more advanced stitches for those who are familiar with the basics and would like to branch out.
Having tidied up the two butterflies I was looking forward to trying them both, especially the second version which promised to be quite interesting texturally. But I decided to take them in order and begin with the basic butterfly. I’d printed both butterflies at a little under 9cm high, transferred them to Rowandean’s embroidery cotton and picked some lovely Splendor silk threads (the same ones I used for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday present). True, if this ever makes it into a workshop I won’t of course be using silk threads, but why not give myself a treat while model stitching? Well, the threads were indeed a treat but as I was stitching I soon found that even a basic butterfly may need to go through quite a few changes during the design process!
The first thing to become obvious was that the butterfly’s size meant I’d have to work with four strands to make the stitches stand out and fill the space sufficiently. This worked all right in most cases but combined with the very soft nature of Splendor silks it didn’t look very good in the chain stitch part; the stitches just blended into each other, the loops didn’t show their open centres, and the whole thing lacked definition. So my next version will smaller, worked in standard cottons, and use a maximum of three strands.
The buttonhole wheel I had planned for its head turned out lumpy and awkward. That will have to be changed in the new model, probably to backstitch with straight stitch “spokes” for the Beginner version, and whipped backstitch for the Intermediate one.
For the wings I’d chosen whipped running stitch, and I will keep that, but I will definitely have to make the stitches smaller – my rather hasty ¼ version doesn’t make for a nice smooth outline…
And finally there was the butterfly’s body. It was charted in both versions as buttonhole stitch with a line of backstitch to close the teeth end, and each of the sections adorned with a French knot. But then I though it would be nicer to have two different types of body for the two different butterflies, and I also decided to leave French knots for the Intermediate version. So the Beginner body got changed to two opposing lines of buttonhole stitch, with the teeth interlocking. I like the effect of it and will keep that in the final design, but I must remember that for the teeth on the second line to be centred between the teeth of the first line, it is important not to bring the needle up centrally – because of the way buttonhole stitch works, this actually pushes the teeth off-centre.
It sounds like not a lot is left of the original idea, doesn’t it? But I do like this butterfly, and most of it will actually be as originally planned. When I’ve stitched the revised version you’ll see it hasn’t changed that much from the first try – well, except for the difference between soft shiny silks and thinner, sharper cotton threads, of course!
And talking of threads, as the butterfly is meant to be usable for a beginners’ workshop I felt it might better not to use a stranded thread at all, but something indivisible. Perle #8 is one option, and I’ve got quite a collection of it, so I will probably try it on one of the smaller butterflies. It can be quite twisty. however, which might be a problem. The other I will work in coton à broder #16 – a little thinner, but easy to work with. Unfortunately I only had two of those in my stash, so I treated myself to a small collection of useful colours. Don’t they look inviting?