Christmas presents, scribbles and inspirations

Did you get any stitchy presents? I did! (I also got an OS Map Quiz Book – my husband knows me well.) Eldest and daughter-in-law (and, according to the gift tag, baby grandson, although I’m not sure how much he was involved in the whole process) gave me three of the RSN Essential Stitch Guides: Crewel Work, Silk Shading and Canvaswork. With the Goldwork book that was already on my craft room bookshelves I now have expert information about all four modules of the Certificate at my fingertips. (You will note that I picked canvaswork instead of blackwork, which is the other option for the fourth module; I greatly admire some of the blackwork that talented stitchers create but for now I have no particular desire to create any myself.)

My Christmas present: three RSN Stitch Guides All four Stitch Guides together

Incidentally, I do know that the RSN have brough out this absolutely amazing book containing all their Essential Stitch Guides. It’s a great idea as some of the information occurring in every guide (for example about dressing a slate frame) can be given just once instead of being repeated in every section, and it is also a cheaper option than buying all the individual Guides; but I really like the fact that the individual guides aren’t very large, and especially that they come with a spiral binding which means I can open the appropriate volume at the relevant page for whatever I’m working on, put it down flat beside me, and it will stay there, ready for me to consult while I’m stitching. For me, these will be working books.

Anyway, of course I had to have a good browse through them all on Boxing Day, and as I was looking at the various stitches in the canvaswork book I just had to scribble down a few ideas for a sea shore design.

Scribbles for a sea shore canvas project

By the way, anyone who watched “The Snail and the Whale” on Christmas Day will see where at least one bit of inspiration came from smiley.

Inspiration from the Snail and the Whale

This sea shore idea isn’t entirely new; when I was sketching and collecting images for the Jacobean module I also noted down any ideas that didn’t quite fit the technique or the brief but might be usable for other modules. Bearing in mind that at that point I fully intended to stop after Jacobean and goldwork (and I’m still not 100% decided on this matter) I’m not sure why on earth I kept thinking of things that would look good in canvaswork, especially as that was definitely the least interesting module as far as I was concerned, considered an option only because blackwork so definitely wasn’t. But there you have it – an idea for some sort of sea/beach combination with “bits” on the beach (both animate and inanimate) was born.

Earlier scribbles for a sea shore idea

That is still the most likely type of design for me to use if ever I do get round to the canvaswork module, but there is another contender. It would need quite a bit of work – simplifying, deciding on textures etc. – but wouldn’t these oystercatchers make a striking design? I photographed them at Buckler’s Hard a couple of years ago, and they are just such distinctive birds.

Oystercatchers at Buckler's Hard may be a good topic

Or perhaps an oystercatcher could invade that beach scene…?

Class notes, a hillock and a brick

It’s been a few weeks since my last RSN Certificate class so high time for an update. And the update doesn’t go beyond the class, I’m afraid, as I haven’t touched the project since – at the moment, the SAL is taking up most of my Mabel time!

We were a select few on 30th November at the Rugby branch of the RSN – only four of us, three of whom were on the Jacobean module. As always it was extremely interesting to see the other students’ projects, what design choices they had made, how they were handling certain stitches. I also found out that I was on the positive side (to my mind) of a change the RSN had made to the Jacobean brief. The other two crewel students both started a little after I did, and they were told that they could have only one animal in their design (I assume people had been going rather overboard on the animal front; the same thing happened some years back with the number of colours you are allowed to use). I heaved a sigh of relief that I’d started earlier, for how could I possibly have sacrificed either James the snail or Lexi the cat! Phew.

Talking of the cat, you may remember I had sampled the ball of wool that she is entangled in. Angela (the tutor) thought it looked very effective but warned me that the assessors (who, by the way, do not look at your work through a magnifying glass – the person telling me that was fibbing!) might have something to say about the long, unsecured satin stitches on the top. I prodded at them to show her that they were really quite firmly placed but she said normally they would expect satin stitches that long to have a little couching stitch in the middle. This, of course, would ruin the effect I was after, so she advised me to put a note in my log to explain that it was a conscious design decision to have the top stitches long and unsecured, and not just me being ignorant of best practice smiley.

Second, incomplete layer of satin stitch

In preparation for my fifth class I had worked on the gap in the tree trunk and the left hillock. I was going to ask the tutor about my idea of whipping the existing chain stitches bordering the gap, but completely forgot! However, if I do decide to add that whipping it can be done right up to when I finish the project, so I’ve made a note to ask next time. For the Pekinese stitches making up the hillock my pretty little stiletto came in handy once again, especially by the tree trunk where the stitches were threatening to get far too intimately acquainted with each other.

Using the stiletto on the left hillock Two areas of stitches coming together

I’d hoped to complete the hillock before going to class but that was clearly not going to happen unless I got up very early on the Saturday, and I felt I’d probably be doing quite enough stitching that day! So this is where I was at the start of my fifth class:

Before the fifth class

Incidentally, although your are expected to attend eight classes (or contact days) per module, don’t let that give you the idea that you put in your last stitch at the end of class #8. Part of the module is mounting your work, and that generally takes all of your eighth class as well as probably half (or more) of your seventh. Angela advised me to have most of my stitching done by the start of the seventh class, so that a bit of tidying and tweaking is all that’s left, stitching-wise, and then concentrate on the mounting. This includes cutting your own mount board and covering it with calico before you get to what I would usually think of as mounting.

But for now it was mostly checking with Angela that she was happy with the bits I’d done at home, like the lattice work and the long & short leaves; to show her the various samplings and ask her opinion; and to get on with stitching. Now you’d think, wouldn’t you, that working on these various aspects of my project from 10am to 4pm (minus about 45 minutes for lunch and stretching my legs, and the odd cup of tea in the classroom) I’d get lots done. I certainly thought that, although previous experience should have taught me otherwise. Let’s face it, if you’re into instant gratification an RSN Certificate is not the way to get it. Stitching this precise is slow, not only because accuracy takes time but also because you stop and consider what you’ve done, judge previous decisions and decide whether to change or re-stitch, and so on. This meant that I finished the class with one completed hillock and a little over half a brick.

After the fifth class

Of course that’s a slightly misleading way of putting it, as I came away from the class with lots of feedback, advice, encouragement and ideas as well – and the pleasure of having seen the start of what is set to become an amazing piece of blackwork (creepy, but amazing) by a Diploma student, and of meeting a lady who to my mind is a stitching hero. Having done nothing more than a few needlepoint kits, she decided she wanted to get some solid embroidery schooling and is now working on the Jacobean module for her Certificate. My husband, when I told him about her, said it sounded like someone who’d got a provisional driving licence and a few lessons and then entered a Formula 1 race. Fortunately the risk of serious injury is not nearly so great in embroidery smiley and that Saturday she was having a lot of fun designing a worm as the animal in her crewel project.

Telling my husband all about the classes afterwards is part of my enjoyment of them, and I also like discussing bits of the design or stitch decisions with him as he knows enough about it to understand what I’m talking about, but because he is not an embroiderer himself he has a different way of looking at these things which can help me see them from a fresh perspective. He also helps me not to get too obsessive about the whole thing. When I confessed to him that I liked the doodle cloth hillock much better than the one on the proper project, and wondered aloud whether I should re-do it, his straightforward engineer’s solution was to threaten to take my doodle cloth away until I came to my senses. I have since come to realise that although they look different, and the shape of the doodle cloth hillock is still, to my mind, more pleasing, the final version is absolutely fine.

Now when I said that this FoF would not look beyond the class I was not entirely accurate. It is true that on Sunday afternoon I packed away the trestles and slate frame to sit idle until the new year, but before that I did do a little bit of work on it – I just couldn’t leave it with the brick only half done. There was a practical consideration to this: it is generally best to work a shape like that in one sitting, if possible, because your stitch tension changes from one day to the next. Imagine how it might change from one month to the next! So before bundling the whole set-up into the craft room I finished James’s brick, and I am really pleased with the smooth outline I managed to get on the satin stitch.

A satin stitch brick

And here is the whole thing as it’s gone into hibernation:

The RSN Jacobean project before hibernation

Roll on 2020!

An interesting find and a WINP

Last week I spent a few days back in my native Holland, and of course I took a little travel project, in spite of travelling with hand luggage only. I packed a pair of squissors – my favourite little pointy scissors do fall into the category of “Small scissors (with blades no longer than 6cm)” that are allowed in hand luggage according to the Government’s website, but I didn’t want to take the risk. Once when flying some years ago (admittedly not very long after 9/11) the teeny-weeny nail file was wrenched off my nail clippers, presumably because I might stab the pilot with it and force the plane to land in the Outer Hebrides or Inner Mongolia.

The project I picked was the Ottoman Tulip; having finished the blues in the tulip itself it needed only two colours to complete, black and a mid-blue, and not too much of either of those so I could just cut a few lengths and leave the bobbins at home. The design itself is definitely handbag-sized, even in its hoop. Perfect.

When I left home it looked like this:

Progress on the Ottoman tulip

And, erm, when I returned it looked like this…

Lack of progress on the Ottoman tulip

Yes, my tulip is officially a WINP, a work-in-no-progress. Still, something embroidery-related happened while I was in the Netherlands! I generally go and have a browse around my favourite second-hand shop; being large and well-stocked it used to provide the majority of my wardrobe when I still lived in the Old Country, and although it has changed premises since then to me it will always be known as the Pelgrimshoeve (“Pilgrims’ Farmhouse”), the building they started out in. It’s a big place, and they sell everything from clothes to books and from electrical equipment to furniture – and they have a haberdashery department. Among the beads, knitting needles, zips and bobbins I found some wooden buttons and a box of linen embroidery threads at 50 cents a skein. In hindsight I should have bought the whole box, but for some reason I contented myself with two pinks and six blues.

Linen threads bought at the Pelgrimshoeve

All the threads are a no. 16 weight, but the pinks are by a UK company called Knox (apparently Knox’s of Kilbirnie were big in linen threads) whereas the blues are Anchor and were, according to the label, produced in Belgium. It was only when I got them home and looked at them in natural light that I realised one of the light blues is actually different from the other two; never mind, the combination of the three blues is pleasing enough for me to be able to use them all together. Perhaps in another Ottoman Tulip?

By the way, is it just me or do the buttons remind anyone else of a caterpillar smiley?

A button caterpillar

An entangled cat and a ruffled tummy

I’ve been rather quickly and haphazardly adding to doodle-Lexi’s fur because I wanted to sample the couched thread of wool which winds around her tum. This worked well, and will be connected up with the satin stitch ball of wool when it gets to stitching her on the Big Project.

Cat with couched wool around her

When I showed the sample to my husband, he remarked that there was a very clear line between the light stitching on her tummy and the dark stitching on the rest of her. Drawing my attention to real-life Lexi, who was at that moment lying on her back on my lap, looking adorable and showing off her real-life tummy, he pointed out that on her the line was much more blurred. I pointed out that Jacobean embroidery is not exactly renowned for its accurate and naturalistic way of depicting the animals and vegetation in its realm. Even so, his words remained in the back of my mind. What if I added some angled medium and dark brown stitches to the edge of the dark fur so that they overlapped with and blended into the beige?

I tried quite spiky stitches first, sticking out noticeably from the dark top half and overlapping onto the light belly, but that just looked wrong – the angles were simply too different from the generally horizontal direction of the fur and they were too short. Some long stitches, only slightly more angled than the main ones were called for. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the spiky version, but here is the “milder” one (getting these stitches in was a bit challenging where I had to sneak them underneath the couching – obviously on the real thing they would be done before adding the turquoise – which is why they are not quite as neat as I’d like, but they’ll do as an illustration/sample).

Cat with slightly ruffled fur

And here are the stark-lined original and the slightly blurred new version side by side. It’s a subtle difference, but on the whole I do like the second version a little better. So when I get round to stitching her on the real project, wool Lexi will have her fur ruffled!

Two feline tummies