Two weeks ago, before getting into the whirl of teaching four workshops in two days at the Knitting & Stitching Show, I had treated myself to a three-hour one-on-one goldwork tutorial at the Royal School of Needlework. My tutor Heather Lewis and I were at a table by a window in a cubby-hole leading to a storage room. But then you don’t need much room to embroider, and anyway this was not just any cubby-hole – this was a cubby-hole with A View!
I’d asked specifically for the tutorial to concentrate on attaching fabric to fabric in such a way that it doesn’t wrinkle or pucker, and on soft string padding. The former because I simply cannot seem to get smallish bits of beautiful fabric attached to large bits of useful calico backing and have the same tension on both, and the latter because it is a technique I’d never tried and I liked the 3D look of it. Heather gave me some good advice about attaching fabrics (the main one: don’t have too much tension on your ground fabric when applying the top fabric) but as you will see from the pictures, I need a bit more practice – the green silk for the leaf is definitely not completely flat!
You can see a bit of the other technique in there as well – soft string padding uses, unsurprisingly, soft string (in yellow as padding for gold, and white or grey for silver) which is couched down in a bundle and cut gradually from below to fill the desired shape, in this case the leaf stem. You start with the full bundle at the widest part of the shape, then cut one or two threads at a time from the bottom of the bundle (hence flipping it over as in the picture above) depending on how quickly the shape becomes thinner. Below you can see the stem all cut and couched into shape; this will be covered in cutwork, but first the leaf was outlined in double couched Jap. I chose to couch in visible green rather than invisible gold, a choice I regretted just a little bit as any irregularities in your couching are so much more noticeable in colour.
You’ll have noticed that the stitches attaching the silk leaf to the background are not quite covered by the double line of Jap. Another line is needed, but as I’ve done a fair bit of couching before Heather and I decided I could do that at home, even though strictly speaking it should have been finished before starting the next bit. There was enough Jap in the kit to do another line, bricking the stitches as is traditional, but I’ve decided I’d like a different, wavy effect so I will do the inner line using either rococo, check thread or milliary wire (which I described to my husband as “the goldwork equivalent of Toblerone”). I’ll probably add some spangles of different sizes as well. A bit of extra bling never hurt anyone!
So on to the cutwork. This uses small lengths of purl (in this case smooth purl, but rough, wire check or bright check can also be used) which are attached much as you would beads, by taking the needle through them. The trick is to cut them to exactly the right length to cover the soft padding, and to handle them as little as possible. It is fiddly and time-consuming, and I didn’t manage to finish it all, but on the whole I am not dissatisfied with my first attempt.
So here is the leaf as it was at the end of the tutorial; and now to finish it. The bits nearer the ends of the stem are going to be more tricky and no doubt some re-cutting will occur. I’ll probably do the wavy inside line of the leaf before completing the top end of the stem so that I’m doing it as much as possible in the “proper” order, and then spangles to round the whole thing off. With some spare time this weekend and next it shouldn’t be too long before I can show you the finished article!
Experimenting is great – if a project is an experiment, it means that it doesn’t matter if anything goes wrong . My second embroidered appliqué piece, a turquoise bauble, uses rather more stitches and materials than the original, unadorned tree, and so there was much more to go wrong: couching some silver ribbon, for example, or the placement of the floral gems and sequins in the unappliquéd central band. In the end what went wrong was much more basic – the attaching stitches. If you look closely, you can see them peeping from under the covering heavy chain stitch.
There are two ways of solving that problem, or perhaps even three. The easiest is to work the attaching stitches in the colour of the patterned fabric, so that even if they protrude they won’t be so noticeable. Another option is to make the attaching stitches smaller; that would probably be more difficult, as they’d have to be placed very carefully to attach the fabric without fraying the edge – in the worst case you end up with small stitches on the ground fabric, and the patterned fabric fraying itself loose. One of the things I like about these projects is that they are relatively informal, and not needing too much concentration. I want to be able to attach the top fabric without having to think about every stitch. The final option is to make the covering embroidery stitch wider. On the tree I used chunky raised chain, here I used slightly less chunky heavy chain, and I worked it in perle #8 rather than #5. Fortunately Anchor’s lovely variegated perles come in both weights, so all I have to do is stitch another bauble using perle #5!
I do like the effect of the band embellished with gems & sequins and bordered by couched metallic ribbon, so I will keep that in the design. Some of the ladies at my stitching group suggested this technique would make an excellent Christmas workshop, and although I wasn’t actually planning any, I can see their point. It would definitely be the bauble – the corners on the tree are a bit tricky, and there is more scope for embellishment on the bauble because of the empty band. It also uses an extra technique, couching. And I happen to have lots of floral gems in lots of pretty colours!
In fact, this was the perfect excuse to play with stash and look at the various colour combinations I could use for the baubles. With apologies for the sometimes inaccurate colours (shiny bits are apparently difficult for a camera to get right) here is my collection of Anchor Multicolor perle #5 with the eight different floral gem colours I’ve got (not including the clear one).
Not all of the perle shades are usable with the gems, but even so they yield a pretty good range of combinations – ten to be precise, including the perle I used for the bauble (although I paired it with the light blue gems only, not the yellow).
Well, it’s more a tree of learning, really, but that didn’t make such a good title . Having decided to try a bit of Christmas-themed embroidered appliqué I couldn’t, of course, just kit up one project. Before I knew it there was enough material cut and thread chosen for four embroideries. Oh well, you can never have too many Christmas cards…
First up was the Christmas tree. Step one is to attach the patterned fabric to the ground fabric with small stitches; I used a single strand of off-white for that, coming up in the ground fabric and going down into the patterned fabric. For the raised chain stitch edge I picked golden yellow perle #12 (for the foundation ladder stitches) and bright red perle #8 (for the chain stitches). As I worked the ladder stitches I realised that I was in effect doubling up stitches, with some of the ladder stitches actually covering the attaching stitches. So with an edging stitch like this, it may be possible to cut out the first step and use the ladder foundation to attach the fabric.
I started the raised chain using perle #8 as planned, but found it looked a little thin – I’d been looking for a denser coverage. Fortunately perle #5 was an easy solution to that problem!
Raised chain takes corners remarkably well for such a chunky stitch; for the sharpest corners I made sure there were three stitches meeting at the point (forming a small fan, or bird’s foot) so the chain stitches were worked more closely together there. It’s a bit fiddly, but worth the effort. There are quicker stitches that would work (I’ll be trying some of them in future projects) but using a very textural stitch like raised chain does give a nice 3D effect when seen at an angle.
I was quite happy with my little holly-patterned tree, but then my husband remarked, “it hasn’t got any baubles or tinsel!” I explained that it didn’t need them, being made from patterned fabric and having a decorative edge, but then I thought I might as well see what the effect of embellishments would be – the whole thing is an experiment, after all. And I do like the way the sequins and beads add a bit of bling and extra colour, although I still feel it doesn’t absolutely need them.
Next step: a bauble. Here’s the fabric set-up with various blingy bits to decorate; because of that inviting open band in the middle, this one was actually planned with bling from the start. The other hoop shows two Christmassy squares overlapping. They’re too big for this ground fabric & hoop combination, so I’ll use this with a single square and set up a larger hoop and fabric for the overlapping version.
Because they’re small and don’t need a chart or any counting, these make nice little quick-stitch projects; with a bit of luck I might manage a fair stack of Christmas cards in between larger embroideries!
Talk of Christmas stitching on the Cross Stitch Forum; Kelly Fletcher’s newsletter with one of her embroidered appliqué designs; the lovely holly fabric I have in my stash, which I’ve been keeping for the Suffolk Puff tree but surely I could pinch a little bit to experiment with; lots of lovely line stitches I’ve been looking at lately; horrible rainy weather – never mind the spring flowers I’m stitching, it’s clearly time for an in-between Christmassy project!
A thread about when to start stitching for Christmas, combined with the rather un-June-like weather we’re having, had already put me in a Decemberish mood, and as I was reading about embroidered appliqué it struck me that stylised Christmas trees and baubles would be ideal shapes for that sort of thing. I scribbled some notes to self: a short description of the process (place patterned fabric shape on ground fabric; attach with small stitches; cover edges with decorative embroidery stitches) and some suitable line stitches.
The next day I typed these up, adding a few more stitch ideas as well as possible threads. In a burst of enthusiasm I even added a really luxury, sparkly version where the edges would be covered by couched goldwork threads (not feasible when doing several dozen Christmas cards, but lovely to try!) I also drew a simple Christmas tree and a bauble-in-three-parts. Then I went through my bag of patterned fabrics. Unlike my extensive stash of embroidery fabrics, this is not a very large collection; they are mainly smallish pieces of fabric I’ve bought over the years for finishing ornaments. But among them was the holly fabric that had fired my imagination, as well as a pretty variegated blue fabric.
The blue fabric would work well for the bauble, I felt, especially if combined with some pretty silver threads. The holly would make a lovely Christmas tree, except… would it stand out enough against a neutral background? For the ground fabric I’d been thinking of heavy calico or possible a plain cotton, but apart from the pale blue I use for the shisha and Wildflower Garden kits they are all white or off-white or cream or beige. Not much contrast with the pale background of the holly leaves. Perhaps with a strong green perle cotton border? Or I could try and find a darker Christmassy fabric – like the cotton I got for the Suffolk Puff tree to complement the holly fabric. The squares are rather large, and I don’t know whether they will show up well when cut into a smallish shape, but they might just work as individual squares.
Anyway, plenty of ideas and possibilities – time to stop writing and start stitching!
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!
Well, whether or not I finish the 90th birthday tulip in time, it has certainly re-ignited my stitching bug! I know, I know – mixed metaphor; only very nasty people ignite bugs . But last night I definitely picked up my stitching with more enthusiasm than I have for some time.
I’m tackling this project in rather an ad hoc manner; mostly stem stitch, some straight stitch and seed stitch filling, probably something knotty for the mouth of the daffodil’s trumpet (is it called a trumpet in English or am I translating literally from Dutch?) – pretty much what feels right for whichever bit I’m doing at the time.
The “90” takes a bit more consideration, however. The numbers need to stand out, but I don’t want to fill them in completely (for example with satin stitch); that would be too solid. Stem stitch wouldn’t stand out enough what with all the other stem stitch used; even with twice the number of strands it would look too samey for my taste. I was tempted to use raised chain stitch, but that would work better for a number that consists of a single line. Simple chain stitch won’t make a solid enough line. Perhaps a chain stitch variation? So for now the choice is between heavy chain stitch (easy and solid but not very textural) or Hungarian braided chain stitch (lovely texture but more complicated to work, and slower – a definite drawback in this case!)
Incidentally, even as I was sketching the daffodil design I had a nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right about it, and as I tidied it up I realised what it was – the petal behind the stem is bisected in a way which makes it extremely fiddly to work in metal thread. The bit indicated by the pink arrow would have to be cut and couched separately; not absolutely impossible, but not something I would like to include in a design for other people to stitch. Fortunately it’s not a problem in the project I’m working on at the moment as it’s easy enough to do in stem stitch, but the goldwork version will need a little bit more work.
We had a lovely weekend planned, my husband and I. Separately, it is true; he was to go on a vintage car trial in Scotland with a friend, I was to attend my RSN goldwork day class, a belated birthday present to myself. It didn’t quite go to plan. Stomach flu intervened, and if you’ve ever had it you will know that it is not an intervention you can easily ignore. Scotland had to be given a miss altogether, and although I did go to the class I had to hoist the white flag after a couple of hours. Oh well, it can’t be helped; at least I got a little bit done, and had the kit to take away with me to finish at home.
As this was another beginners’ class (like the watering can I did some years back) there weren’t any techniques in the design which I hadn’t come across before, so I’m reasonably confident I’ll be able to produce a creditable Victorian ankle boot! I may add a few extra flourishes just to use some of my goldwork stash though…
The tutor for this workshop was Angela Bishop, who funnily enough recognised me from the previous day class when she assisted Sarah Homfray. The kit was very nicely presented in a neat little box, which held general notes on goldwork, instructions for this design, and of course all the threads and wires and bits and bobs. (The cat was not part of the kit. She’s just being nosy.) The third picture shows you most of the materials in close up: a pretty little heart-shaped bit of beeswax, a sparkly snaky length of bright check purl (sometimes known simply as bright check) to be used for chipwork, wavy Rococco thread, a piece of stiff-but-pliant pearl purl (great name), and three spangles (which can be told from sequins by the little indentations, caused by being made from a flattened coil). I’d already used most of the Jap thread, so that’s not shown, and you can see the remnant of a piece of yellow felt (used to pad the toe of the boot) in the box.
I still haven’t finished the Jacobean flower, but I may try to complete the boot first, just so it doesn’t get put away in a drawer and forgotten for several years (it’s not been unknown…). Updates to follow, hopefully soon!
Some more stitching deadlines have been met so there’s time for a bit of crochet again! I haven’t tried out the poppy yet in more appropriate colours although I do have them (Patons’s 4-ply in red & green & black, but also a lighter green & coral & dark brown for a more muted version) but those colours are also just right for some interesting Christmas wreath patterns I found online.
For some reason, however, I decided to first try out one of the patterns in peach and blue. I’m not absolutely sure why; it may have something to do with not wasting the “proper” colours on a trial piece. Whatever my reason, it gave me an idea of how the pattern worked, and also showed very clearly that peach and blue are not very good colours for a Christmas wreath.
Incidentally, there are also two other patterns which I would like to try but they require some plastic rings which I don’t have in my stash; they are now on their way here so you should see samples of those larger wreaths soon.
Back to the small wreath. The original pattern started the decorative running stitch from the front, then tied the ends in a bow. I tried this and it looked horrible, possibly because I was working with a double thread. I did find some patterns for small crocheted bows as well, but neither of them looked particularly good on the wreath, so I settled for plain running stitch and beads.
Now every December our Embroidery Circle goes out for a Christmas lunch, and we usually exchange Christmas cards on that occasion. Wouldn’t it be nice for a change, I thought, to take a little ornament for everyone instead? And wouldn’t this little wreath be just the thing? After all, I’d only need eleven.
That was yesterday late afternoon. The Christmas lunch was today.
So last night after dinner (8pm) I set out to crochet eleven wreath bases, using the two greens I had recently obtained. Both colours looked good, and they actually stitched up (crocheted up?) very quickly – by 11pm they were all finished, in spite of some assistance from Lexi the Helpful Lap Cat.
This morning I set out to decorate them. Because I’m not tying the running stitch into a bow, the ends need to be finished off in some other way; some instruction I’d seen with another pattern suggested knotting them together, then working them into the back of the crochet. This looked fine from the front, but left the back rather untidy, especially with the thread used for attaching the beads showing as well. So on the second wreath I didn’t knot but just worked the ends into the back, and also took the beading thread through the stitches when travelling from bead to bead, which led to a much more presentable backside – very important for an ornament!
I then had another go at the bow, and found that if I used a single thread and kept the loops relatively small, it did work *yay*. In fact, it worked with a double thread as well as long as I tied the bow using only one of them, and fed the ends of the other one to the back to be worked in. Not only that, but the bow ones turned out to have the tidiest backs of all. Progress indeed.
Trying to find ever better ways of finishing off, as well as the lunatic idea that it would be much nicer if they were all different, meant that this part of the process took rather longer than it need have if I’d picked one simple decoration and stuck with that for the entire batch. Even so, my production line was quite efficient on the whole (even though I did add two more types of beads after the picture below was taken).
And so I did make the deadline, and had eleven different ornaments to take with me to the Christmas lunch.
Which turned out to be one too few, as I’d forgotten to count a lady who no longer comes to our meetings but does still come to the Christmas lunch. Oops. But as a couple of members had had to cancel because of health issues, I could give her an ornament anyway, and now I just need to crochet an extra one to send to one of the absent members. Oh, and another one to give to a friend who is a keen needlewoman and whom we’re meeting for Christmas dinner tomorrow night. Then it’s back to a bit of embroidery, and if I survive two Christmas meals within 48 hours *groan* I hope to post a thread comparison report some time soon!
It is! And to trot out another cliché, life is full of surprises, not to mention coincidences. Let me tell you the story.
Last week I received an email from a lady who wishes to start a cut flower business. Good luck to her, I say – being Dutch I thoroughly approve of anyone providing more flowers for the adornment of our homes – but you may wonder why she contacted me about this. Well, in her online search for images to use as a logo she came across an embroidery featuring a single flower and leaf (which would go well with the name she has chosen for her new business) in colours similar to the ones she was planning to use. It was this embroidery:
That’s right, it’s the little Jacobean goldwork design that I first used for two crewel wool experiments; this is the one using Pearsall’s wool. I was flattered, of course, and wrote to the lady saying so, but also noted that although the stitching and the interpretation were mine, the design was not; it doesn’t really look the way the designer originally intended, but even so I was of the opinion that the copyright of it probably still lay with him or her. Nevertheless, I promised I’d ask the opinion of the Cross Stitch Forum, whose members feel very strongly about copyright and some of whom have looked into the matter in some detail.
One person there sensibly suggested contacting the designer. An excellent suggestion, but I didn’t feel very hopeful about its success; I contacted the magazine last year when I was hoping to acquire this particular design (which I’d seen on a picture of the magazine’s cover on Mary Corbet’s blog), and apart from a fairly standard reply saying they’d forwarded my question to the editorial department (and pointing me to a book they had for sale on goldwork) I didn’t get any further replies, neither from their main email address nor the editorial department.
Then another member suggested looking at the original pattern to say if it said anything about “free use”. Now I hadn’t actually looked at either the pattern or the instructions since I printed off an enlarged version of it; I use that print to transfer the design whenever I want it, and I’m not actually following the instructions but going loosely (very loosely…) by the photograph of the finished pincushion. Moreover I only have the pages with this design on them, not the whole magazine, so any copyright rules covering the magazine generally would probably not be there anyway. Still, I unearthed the original pages and had a look. That’s when the coincidence/small world thing came in.
The designer turned out to be Barbara Jackson of Tristan Brooks Designs ; that sounded very familiar, but it took me a while to remember why. And then it came back to me – Barbara Jackson was the very helpful lady who sent me some twill samples all the way from America last year so I could try them before deciding which one to buy! We had quite an email conversation at the time and we spoke on the telephone as well. As the time difference meant that she was probably at work when I realised this, I rang and explained the situation to her.
It took her a while to remember the design, actually, and when she’d worked out which one it was and I told her my fairly convoluted reason for ringing her she said “I was afraid you were going to ask me for the instructions!” Anyway, she was perfectly happy for me to pass on her permission to use the design, or rather the picture of my rather different version of the design, and so I did. Don’t you just love happy endings ? If the flower lady does indeed decide to use the embroidered flower as her logo I’ll post a screen shot when the website goes live!
Remember the Craft Fair last Saturday? The organisers had asked people with stands if they could give demonstrations at various points throughout the day, and several did, among them a lady spinning wool, and a woodturner. I offered to demonstrate goldwork embroidery, which proved a good opportunity to finally get some work done on my SANQ/Jacobean flower project! I’d already been playing fast and loose with the design so I decided to leave the picture of the model, which is usually magneted to my frame, behind and just do whatever I liked. Ah, liberty! The two petals, originally intended to be done in paired gold Jap, I did in silver, and I intend to have some tiny silver spangles in there with the charted green silk. The cone, or whatever that other bit of the flower is called, was likewise charted in paired gold Jap with fairly chunky pearl purl on the outside; I swapped this for very fine pearl purl and some of the check thread I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show. I really like the effect of the wavy line bordering the delicate purl, and will definitely use it again.
To show the progress, here are some Before and After pics.
Some years ago I designed a series called Floral Lace; as my husband won’t let me forget, it started out as a small collection of three designs but kept growing until in the end there were 18. Some of these came out in late autumn and it gave me the idea of doing a Remembrance pair as well. I decided on Poppy and Rosemary, made some sketches none of which quite satisfied me, and so they disappeared into my When I Get Fresh Inspiration folder. Then one night last week I woke up with the design worked out in my head; the next morning I quickly got it charted up in my design program and so after well over two years “Floral Lace: Remembrance” is finally finished. I’ve even started stitching it, at my Embroidery Group yesterday afternoon with a bit more work done in the evening.
It seemed oddly appropriate to be stitching a remembrance-themed project at the group meeting yesterday, as we recently lost one of our long-standing members, and a number of us will be attending her funeral today. It’s a nice thought that this piece, as well as symbolising a more public remembrance, will also remind me of Jean.