The home straight

Last week I had my sixth class for the Jacobean module of the RSN Certificate, which means that we’re on the home straight. In fact, my homework is to finish the Tree before coming to my seventh class!

As usual, not an awful lot of stitching got done at the class, but there was plenty of learning and information-gathering going on. One student doing her Silk Shading module was trying out colours by cutting a print of the flower petal she was stitching in half, attaching it to her doodle cloth, and stitching the other half to match the photograph – a great idea, which I promptly appropriated (with her permission, I hasten to add) even though it’ll be a couple of years before I need it. Two others were working on silk shading and I picked up some good tips from listening to tutor Helen McCook’s advice to them. It’s never too early to start learning.

A way to match thread colours to reality

I did manage to finish the last row of the block shading on the right-hand hillock (had to start a new thread for the last five stitches or so – annoying!) and Helen said the lines are nice and crisp, so happy with that.

Running out of thread at an annoying moment The finished rows

Going through my notes with her I decided I won’t outline the gap in the tree trunk (it’s neat enough as it is and doesn’t really need it), and that I will add extra padding to ball of wool – Helen suggested using full satin padding instead of the usual surface satin, as the bulk at the back would help create more lift at the front when mounted. I’m all for a more ball-like ball of wool so I’ll give that a go.

Helen also asked me to sample the cat with broader stripes, as the narrow stripes didn’t look very smooth. I said that Lexi’s stripes were narrow and I didn’t want to lose the tabby look (for one thing Lexi would never forgive me); I’ve shown I can do smooth long & short shading in the sepals on the tulip so surely this can just be a bit more, well, furry? She said it wasn’t so much about the shading as the smoothness of the stitching. I agreed to sample some broad stripes. When I showed them to Helen she said, “That’s much smoother. And it looks all wrong, like she’s wearing a striped jumper.” Lexi is back to narrow stripes smiley.

Broad stripes on Lexi

Next was the left-hand floral thingy (not sure what it is, really). I’d intended to start on the Bayeux part but fortunately Helen reminded me that you work back to front so first came the seeding in the back petal. Officially this should be followed by the Palestrina outline, but time was getting on and I wanted to start the laid work on the scalloped part of the front petal. As I was working on this Helen said, “Are you shading from light to dark?” To my mind I was shading from dark to light because I looked at it top to bottom, but she meant looking at it from the base. Apparently (although no-one had thought to tell me this before) traditionally the darker shade is at the base of the flower/plant/petal/leaf, as indeed it is in the tulip sepals. I explained I’d never heard of this and I’d just chosen what looked pleasing to me, and she said that was fine.

Shading on plant parts

I got on with trying to fill very curved scallops with very straight laid stitches, making sure that the edges were crisp and no outline was visible. A challenge. So challenging, in fact, that I unpicked my first five stitches or so three times. It was then that I had a light-bulb moment. One of the reasons why it was extremely difficult to get the edge to look neat and crisp and so on was that my dark thread contrasted very strongly with the fabric. What if I used Helen’s traditional shade order and started with the lightest of my shades? The scalloped edge would probably be no neater, but it would look neater, and the dark shades would be used at the bottom of the shape where there were no nasty curves to navigate. I’m afraid I didn’t take pictures of the top-dark version, but take it from me, the top-light version does indeed look a lot better!

Seeding on the back petal, and the start of Bayeux stitch

That’s where I got to at the end of the class. With my next class not until late April I now needed to put this away for a while and concentrate on the Tree of Life SAL, but I did just want to finish the left-hand flower and the little diamond that connects it to the branch. First, the Palestrina stitch outline of the back petal; on my various colour plans this was sometimes dark orange, sometimes light orange, and on the last one two oranges and a light brown, which was never a good idea. In the end I went with the light direction as shown by the trunk, so the right-facing parts are done in light orange and the others in dark.

Palestrina stitch outline in two colours

On to my Bayeux petal, and time for some shading. I’m very pleased with how that’s come out, and the outline isn’t too shabby either – no need to cover it up. (I’d intially included a decorative outline stitch in the design, but both Helen and Angela said that an extra border stitch around laid work immediately makes the assessors think there is something messy to hide.)

Shading and outline on the laid work

Next was the long couching lines, and an interesting challenge – where to fasten on and off? There is no outline to sneak stitches under, no area that will be covered later… In the end I very gently pushed aside the laid stitches and hid the anchoring stitches underneath.

Where to fasten on?

It was only when I’d completed the two stages of couching (long dark brown lines across the laid foundation held down themselves with tiny beige stitches) that I noticed not all the long lines were the same thickness (Appleton’s – grrrr). Well, I’m not going to take them out; I’m happy with their placement and I don’t want to do it again (pictures in a future FoF will explain why)!

Uneven lines will have to do

Finally, the little orange diamond at the base of the flower, consisting of alternating light and dark bullion knots. It’s not a perfect diamond but it is a little less elongated than the doodle version I did some time ago, and the design lines don’t show on the real project, so I call that progress.

The bullion knot diamond The doodled bullion knot diamond

By the way, what a difference lighting makes – here’s the Tree as it is lit when I’m working on it (light coming from the top and the work nearly horizontal), and photographed with my husband holding it up (facing the window with the work nearly vertical, and at a 45-degree angle towards the window but still vertical).

The Tree, photographed horizontally The Tree, photographed vertically, facing the window The Tree, photographed vertically, angled towards the window

Now on to mounting (a challenge in itself) and then canvaswork – and to encourage the creative process I’ve treated myself to some inspirational threads!

Rainbow Gallery threads from eBay Rainbow Gallery threads plus one other from West End Embroidery

Inspiration from the British Isles

Some time ago I mentioned that I’d like to do a “Welsh” design to complement Tudor, Scotland the Brave and Luck of the Irish, and make a set called British Isles. As the three existing designs all have a floral theme I decided against dragons or leeks in favour of daffodils, the result to be called St David’s Day.

One of the stitches that immediately springs to mind (well, my mind anyway) when thinking of daffodils is the woven picot (used in an eight-petal arrangement in Frozen Flower). Two sets of three, in two shades of yellow, one set slightly overlapping the other. And for the trumpet something equally 3D in orange detached chain stitch; perhaps cup stitch, which I first tried (a little raggedly, see picture…) a couple of years ago.

Woven Picot Flower Cup Stitch

But the design that was vaguely beginning to take shape in my mind would have several daffodils, probably a central one surrounded by four smaller ones. What to do with them? More woven picot flowers? They are quite labour-intensive, and moreover, they stand out and clamour for attention – having five of them in a relatively small design might be a bit too much of a good thing!

Beads then? Stylised daffodils made out of bugle beads for the petals and an ordinary bead for the trumpet? Off to Sew & So to see what’s available only to find that there are no bugle beads in yellow and orange, at least not from Mill Hill. So much for that brainwave. And of course I couldn’t possibly recycle the cross stitch daffodils from Floral Lace; that would be cheating. And anyway, they wouldn’t fit smiley. For a moment I toyed with the idea of silk or organza ribbon, but it would be difficult to get the flowers small enough and again they might overwhelm a design this size.

When a design gets stuck I just leave it at the back of my mind to find its own way for a bit; something usually comes up. And so it did this time. Possibly triggered by the lazy daisy motifs in Extravorganza the idea suddenly presented itself with beautiful inevitability: six lazy daisies, three each in two shades of yellow, echoing the large central flower. And for the trumpet… well, there was a question. A chunky French knot in orange perle #5? But it’s a bit much to expect stitchers to buy a whole skein of orange perle #5 just for four French knots. A bead? Same objection, and I’d rather gone off the idea of beads as none of the other three designs use them. How about a cross between a French knot and a bullion knot to create a sort of thick loop? With a bit of luck it’ll stand proud of the fabric and so make a good stab at representing the centre of a daffodil; and it would use the same perle #8 as the central flower, so no need for yet another thread.

This needed a bit of experimenting, as I wasn’t sure whether to simply work it as a very long French knot – lots of wraps but go down the very next hole – or as a bullion knot with a very short coverage. A minute or so with some spare fabric and thread and it became clear that multi-wrapped French knots just turn into blobs, but that bullion knots worked over one diagonal form rather nice little hoops. Now all I need to do is finish charting and amend the instructions for bullion knots and Wales will be ready to take its place in the British Isles set!

A blobby French knot A hooped bullion knot