Alien fibres

Preparing for my second RSN Certificate class tomorrow I had another look through the Assessment form. It states the various criteria by which your work will be judged, and makes for interesting reading.

Especially the very first item on the list.

Assessment criterion #1

This could be tricky…

Lexi loves helping me with all sorts of embroidery; curled up on my lap she encourages me with loud purrs (fortunately she fits under pretty much all my stands – the Lowery, the Aristo lap stand, the Sonata seat stand, the table clamp, and even the lap tray I sometimes use when designing or winding threads), and she closely scrutinises materials, doodle cloths, progress and finished projects.

Lexi helps with goldwork... ...and with crewelwork... ...assesses the progress of projects
Lexi fits well underneath the Lowery... ...and the lap tray... ...and the Aristo lap stand
Lexi judges colour choices... ...works hard to encourage her mistress... ...and scrutinises doodles

Still, I was confident this would all be manageable with a good pair of tweezers and some strong glasses.

And then this happened.

Like her mistress, Lexi finds embroidery very relaxing

I’m doomed.

All around the houses

Some time ago one of our nieces and her husband moved house, and as she is the sort of person who appreciates handmade things (she used to make cute cuddly elephants under the name Nelly Button) I decided to stitch a card rather than buy one. Going through my stash I picked a blue chambray fabric (chambray is woven with white in the warp and a colour in the weft – or possibly the other way round) and my collection of Madeira Lana threads; the fabric because it didn’t work for the design I originally bought it for and now I had quite a quantity of fabric-without-a-purpose, and the threads because I only recently got into them and I love them smiley. A quick sketch, use whatever stitch comes to mind, et voilà, a little house with two people, their hair and clothing based on a picture of niece and husband in the garden of their new home.

The original New Home design

Mount it in an aperture card with a bit of wadding behind it, send it off, and that’s that. Next project. But wait a bit…

Several people commented on pictures I posted of the little house, so I put it in my Freebie section with a materials list and stitch suggestions. And that was that. Next project. But wait a bit…

Round about that time I was putting together my workshop proposals for the Kintting & Stitching Show at Ally Pally in October. One of the most popular of my workshops has long been the Little Wildflower Garden, a freestyle design. This is also a freestyle design, but with some different stitches and using a slightly unusual thread. Why not turn it into a workshop/kit? For there is another thing about this design which makes it really good workshop material: it has potential for personalisation. My original design has two people, and they look like my niece and her husband (well, roughly; after all they are only about a centimetre high). But there’s nothing to stop you from having one person, or three, or one with two little people, or a dog or a cat; and if I supply a selection of colours, every person can stitch the clothing of their choice, and change the flowers, or add some where they aren’t charted. This is a great project for teaching people how to play with a design!

Well, K&S picked No Place Like Home (plus the Wildflower Garden and two others), so I needed some stitched models. I try to have three per class, so that with a maximum of twelve people there’s one to every four. It can be really helpful to be able to see and touch a stitched version of what you are trying to create! And in order to encourage variation and play, I decided to make each of them slightly different. As I was starting from scratch (I didn’t think it would be good manners to ask our niece for their card back…) the first one was pretty much like the original. I only changed the clothing a bit, used a variegated thread for the thatched roof instead of the original solid, and two greens instead of one for the grass. I also remembered to make a note of how much of each colour was needed.

The first No Place Like Home version - much like the original

The second one used a lighter blue for the window frames, and added a dog. Well, a four-legged creature. The grass was back to variegated light green only.

The second No Place Like Home version - a dog, and lighter window frames

In the third version one of the people is a child, and there is wisteria growing up the side of the house. The grass is variegated dark green, and the flowers dotting the turf are different colours from the other two versions.

The third No Place Like Home version - a child and wisteria

Finally I mounted them in three differently coloured cards.

No Place Like Home cards

So now all that remains is to print the instructions and put together twelve kits; after the Knitting & Stitching Show I will make the kits available on the website, but don’t worry, the design will still be available as a freebie if you prefer to stitch from stash.

PS One slight snag with this design emerged today: Barnyarns cancelled my back order for a spool of variegated Madeira Lana and on enquiry told me that Madeira has discontinued that particular shade. I’m now trying to find a shop that’s got a spool left so I can stock up – but not much luck so far! (There is a seller on eBay who appears to have plenty left, but he sells it in sets of five spools, and I honestly don’t think I’ll need a kilometre and a half of variegated red Lana…)

A question of copyright (I)

Do you know those sturdy, reusable bags supermarkets sell, the ones that will stand up, with a wide gusset and canvas handles? I have one from a Dutch shop which I picked up on one of our visits a few years ago. For reasons which will become clear further on I won’t show a picture of it, but it’s covered in stylised birds and butterflies. The peacocks are recognisably peacocks, but all the other creatures are just generic birds and butterflies, done in a style reminiscent of a child’s drawing made with one of those hard plastic stencil sheets: simple outlines filled with blocks of solid colour.

Plastic stencils

As I was getting my collection of reusable bags out in preparation for the weekly shop, for some reason I looked at this particular bag more closely and it dawned on me that a few of those birds would make rather nice embroidery designs. Having considered and discarded several as not being quite what I wanted, I picked one and sketched it, adding details to the wing and tail feathers and the feet and changing the twig it sat on. Because of where the shop is located, in a busy shopping centre but right by a public garden, I was going to call it “City Song”. I was making notes on possible stitches and sketching in stitch directions when I suddenly stopped in my tracks and thought, “Hold on – most of my designs become chart packs or kits or workshops. Someone has the copyright to the design of this bag; I need to contact the shop to ask if I can use it!”

Now often when you approach a person or company about using a logo or other publicity image to turn it into an embroidery they’ll be happy for you to do so (assuming we’re not talking Disney or top fashion brands or the like). Sometimes they’ll put some conditions on it (Paco Ciao, the little pop-up café in Leiden I wrote about last month, gave me permission to use their logo as long as the embroidery “didn’t look identical”) but generally they’ll say go ahead and have fun, especially if (like the illustrations on the carrier bag) it is not an image that is immediately identifiable as theirs, or from which they are directly making money themselves.

Unfortunately my original message to the company was sent via their online contact form, and like so many companies they failed to include that message in any of their subsequent replies (I hate it when they do that), and as I forgot to copy and paste the message into a document somewhere for my own files I can’t be sure of the exact wording of my request. But their reply was that they would allow me the use of the bird for one workshop only, as long as neither I nor the students put it to commercial use.

As workshops are generally taught to make money for the teacher (however enjoyable the teaching itself is, doing it for the love of it doesn’t pay the rent) I wasn’t quite sure what they meant by “no commercial use”. Also, as I pointed out in my reply, what with charting the design, stitching one or more models (and the cost of the materials), writing the instructions and drawing the stitch diagrams, it would not be economically viable for me to then use it for one workshop only. Would they consider licensing the particular bird I had in mind so I could turn it into a chart pack or teach it more than once? No they would not. The single workshop use was already a concession they didn’t normally make. End of story.

In a final reply I wrote that it was disappointing as I felt it would have made a good embroidery design, but that in view of their decision I would not use the bird. I may feel it’s a rotten decision; I may even wonder why on earth they would mind my using this bird as a) it’s not their logo or part of their logo, b) it’s one small element within a large, busy design, c) though undeniably charming (which is why it caught my eye in the first place) at no point did it strike me as a groundbreaking piece of graphic design, and d) I’d offered to negotiate a licence – but what it comes down to is this: their copyright, their decision.

So that is that. I can stitch the bird for my own enjoyment – you can always do that – but nothing more. Part of me wished I hadn’t thought of contacting them; how would they ever find out I had used their bird, and would they even recognise it in stitch if they did see it? But either you play by the copyright rules or you don’t; it’s no good saying you will respect copyright until it’s inconvenient to do so.

And yet… it may not be quite the end of the road for this project, or at least some form of it. A bird on a flowering twig is a general enough concept for it to be uncopyrightable in its own right – it can be interpreted in far too many ways. I had already changed the twig on which it sat quite a bit (below on the left is the original shape, on the right what I turned it into) so I may play around with the bird to see if I can keep the idea but turn it into a bird of my own. I will sing my own City Song smiley.

The twig with its flower and leaves The redesigned twig with larger flower and single leaf

Owlish inspiration

A church friend of mine paints owl pebbles. Pebble owls. Well, whatever you call them, they’re adorable, whether on their own or attached to bits of tree.

Some of Trina's owls

She showed me one which was her favourite, painted in brown and turquoise with an orange beak. Does that remind you of anything…?

Yes, me too smiley. Using my RSN project wools, surely I could do a quick little embroidery based on this owl to surprise her?

When I got home I did a quick sketch from memory, then managed to get her to send me a few pictures (the ones above) without letting on what I wanted them for (I can be devious when I have to!) so I could do a more accurate line drawing.

A line drawing based on my sketch and her photos

Now Trina’s owls, being pebbles, do not have toes. But the memory of Yin’s lovely crewel owl which I saw at the RSN class a week ago proved irresistible – bullion toes he had to have.

Yin's owl's toes Trina's owl gets some toes, too

Unfortunately he looked a bit silly with toes that don’t hold on to anything. So a branch was called for.

...and a branch to sit on

Then I realised that although the little pebble owl was painted in brown, turquoise and orange, he wasn’t painted in brown, turquoise and orange only. There is white and yellow around the eyes, and in some of the owls there is some yellow in the chest feathers as well. My stash of Appletons isn’t very large, but a rummage in the depths of the storage tin unearthed white, off-white, a couple of yellows and a dark chestnutty orange from the same range.

Extra Appletons colours

My quick little project was beginning to take rather longer than I thought it would! I’m afraid I do have a tendency to overthink and complicate things. Still, I got everything together and could start plying my needle.

Ready to begin

There were a few unpickings and restitchings, one bit where I couldn’t quite face unpicking and restitching (the eyes – I left gaps for the pupils, and should just have worked solid yellow satin stitch with the pupils worked over the top), an element where I chose to leave something out which I’d originally planned (short lines of whipping or detached buttonhole accents on the wings), a part that took some research (how many toes do owls have? Yin’s had two showing per foot but I’d drawn three without thinking about it), some stitches and parts which have room for improvement (the buttonhole scallops; the rather differently shaped yellow ovals of the eyes) and one bit that I am particularly pleased with: the circles of feathers around his eyes, and especially the ridge that is formed between his eyes by the abutting buttonhole stitches, rather like a barn owl’s.

The finished owl

This owl will, I’m sure, acquire several friends over time. I want to try some in different colours, using different threads (a smaller one in Madeira Lana perhaps?), and also different stitches here and there; the wings in encroaching satin stitch with dark markings in coral or palestrina stitch, for example. And with a bit of luck they’ll be quicker, most of the decisions and choices having been made. But even though this little owl took a lot longer than I expected, it’s been a really good exercise. What with creating a colour plan (albeit tiny), deciding on stitches, working out the best order in which to stitch the various elements and working with crewel wool, it’s great practice for the Big One – as well as making a smile-inducing card!

Stitch plans, colour plans, notes... A smile-inducing owl card

Colourful post

Well, not as colourful as some of the post I receive (like my Silk Mill silks), but quite exciting nonetheless – yes, the Appletons crewel wools for my Certificate piece have arrived!

The Appleton crewel wools needed for my Certificate piece

Although Angela, the tutor, had said that one skein of each colour would probably be enough, after some consideration I decided to go for the half-hank option offered by Cleopatra’s Needle; after all, I intend to do a lot of trial stitching, not only to determine which stitches work best where but also to see what different colour combinations look like in the various elements of the design, so being able to use the same wools I’ll be using for the final piece is obviously a good idea.

Incidentally, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that there are three shades of orange in the collection, rather than the two that I’m allowed as my accent colours. This is because Angela was concerned that the two shades I chose initially might be too similar – but the alternative shade is rather darker and also a bit brighter than what I had in mind. On the other hand, I will need some contrast between the two; otherwise they may not create distinctive stripes on the ginger cat.

Talking of which… I’m not sure Lexi likes the idea of being turned into a ginger cat. Having studied the threads she was giving me a look that definitely translated into something like “you’d better use some of those darker browns to represent me, it’s not ideal but at least it’s closer than orange!

Lexi inspects the colours and gives her opinion

I had originally intended to order skeins rather than half hanks of the three oranges; after all, they are my accent colours only, so I’m unlikely to need as much of them as of the others, even with trial stitching. Also, once I’ve decided which of the two darker shades I’ll use, the other one is automatically superfluous. Unfortunately, however, they don’t sell single skeins, and buying those three somewhere else would mean paying a second lot of postage. Anyway, whichever two I choose and however much I have left even of those two, I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with all the surplus orange. I’m Dutch, after all smiley.

So now it’s time to hoop up the doodle cloth, and get trialling!

Doodle cloth at the ready!

Is this a bad time to start thinking about a purple-and-green colour scheme…?