When we had classes…

A belated Happy New Year to you all! This post was meant to appear earlier this week, and it should have started: “As I’m now halfway between classes, it’s about time I gave you an update on the Goldwork module”. Unfortunately, because of lockdown I am no longer halfway between classes, as they have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Disappointing, of course (especially the fact that assessments are also on hold) but completely understandable, and so we just get on with things as best we can.

But first we must go back. I realise that the last thing I showed you (apart from a couple of looks at the back of the work) was the state of affairs after my November class, so today I’ll show what I did in the run-up to the December class, and next week what was done when I got there. You may remember I’d couched the cloud outline but was leaving the ends unplunged because I wasn’t altogether sure about the bricking, so ignoring that for the moment it was time to couch some pearl purl (PP). To get into it with something not too challenging I started with the outline of the sun.

The sun's outline in pearl purl

The next bits (the far legs) were more intricately shaped, and I wanted the line drawing near so I could keep referring to it. My needle minder was pressed into multitasking as a paper minder, and helped me keep an eye on the outline I was trying to create. You might think surely the paint lines would do that, and most of the time they do. But sometimes the paint lines (remember the smudged pounce debacle?) are not exactly like the line drawing, and although they have to be covered, a bit of careful placing of the wires here and there can improve the outline… I was going to say “considerably”, but in reality I’ll probably be the only one who notices smiley; still, for me that makes it worth the effort.

A way of keeping the line drawing near The far legs completed

For Haasje (worked in the thinner PP) having the drawing there was even more important – after all, it’s essential to the look of the finished piece that I get his expression right. And this was the bit where the pounce had got smudged most. In a couple of places my decision to create the outline I wanted especially for Haasje’s head may have left a teeny bit of paint visible, but I came to the conclusion that whatever the effect on the assessment, making Haasje look the way I wanted him weighed more heavily with me. And I’m happy with the way he’s turned out, even without his big spangle eye. But my goodness some of the smaller and curvier bits were fiddly!

Haasje outlined

The final bit of PP was the inner line of Bruce’s ear, and then it was on to the twist outline. As Helen had said single twist is always couched using the “invisible” method, that’s what I did, including some challenging pointy bits. I also had to work out which bits of Bruce’s outline were behind which other bits, so the overlaps looked as natural as possible. And then I plunged one bit of twist a little too short… fortunately I managed to tease the end back out and plunge it a little closer to the line. Phew.

Bruce's inner ear A pointy ear in couched twist Plunged just too short Re-plunged in the right place

The first ear was followed by back and tummy, head, other ear, front leg, and finally rear leg with haunch.

Bruce's back and tum outlined And his head And his other ear And his front leg And finally his rear leg

That’s a lot of twist, I can tell you, and at that point I’d reached homework saturation point. It was time to take Bruce and Haasje to class, show them to Becky Quine (who was taking over last minute from Helen Jones), and decide what to do next. To be, as they say, continued!

Stitching goodies under the Christmas tree

Did you get any stitchy presents this year? I was thoroughly spoilt – besides non-stitchy presents including a set of good kitchen knives from Youngest and a lovely cross pendant from my husband there was an embroidery book and box of inspiring stash (also husband) and a selection of really useful bits plus some unusual bling (from Eldest, DIL and grandson). And with only the tiniest of hints; aren’t they clever smiley?

I’d rather hoped to be able to pick up my signed copy of this book at my latest Certificate class which was meant to have Angela as the tutor, but they changed the teaching schedule so it was Becky Quine. I could have brought her Crewelwork book (which is from the same series as Angela’s, and Lizzie Pye’s for that matter) and have it signed as well, I suppose, but I thought that would be a bit forward. Anyway, as the new book had to be sent, my husband decided it would make a good Christmas present – which indeed it did! I’ve had a first read through and there are lots of interesting ideas in there; I particularly like the use of Turkey rug stitch for a girl’s plaited hair (shown on the cover).

Angela Bishop's book about embroidering people

A friend on the Cross Stitch Forum had alerted me to the lovely hand-dyed threads of Paint Box Threads; they sell them individually but also in “Inspiration Packs” containing interesting combinations with hand-dyed fabrics and speciality threads. This is the one called “Period Drama”. The sateen is lovely and soft and matches the threads beautifully. The speciality threads look interesting, there’s a sheer ribbon and a neutral & gold thread which can be couched, and something extremely hairy which I’m not sure how to use but it’ll be fun to try!

Inspiration Pack from Paint Box Threads What's in the box in detail

And finally there was this lovely selection. Well, when I say lovely in some cases I just mean “very useful”; I am the first to admit that the 10mm felt for really high padding is not the most attractive thing to look at, but I look forward to using it in future goldwork projects. I’m thinking possibly a toadstool… anyway, that’s for later. The other bits are three gorgeously shiny silks for couching metal threads, a light grey drawing pen for transferring designs, a dinky little pair of pliers which will be great for pulling needles through dense embroidery and bending wires, and some unusual goldwork materials. See the gold and silver looped wire in the pictures? On Jenny Adin-Christie’s website it is called “miniadice”, a wire I had never heard of before. A quick google yields only one other link (to a German website), so I guess it is not very commonly used. That means it’s not really suitable for any designs I intend to publish on the website, but I can still use it to interesting effect in purely personal projects.

A collection of goodies from Jenny Adin-Christie Couching silks, pliers, transfer pen and miniadice

With so many things to read and play with, it’s a shame the Christmas holiday is nearly over! But I’m sure I’ll find opportunities to use my presents even when work occasionally gets in the way smiley.

Proper padding and a little bit of gold

After all the preparations I talked about in last week’s FoF, it was time for the third class in my Goldwork module. The first thing I did there was not concerned with the prep at all, but involved a little tweak to my sampled grass. Helen Jones, the tutor, suggested gently pinching the tips of the blades of grass with tweezers to make a sharper point, and it did make a difference. I still have to sample invisibly couched tips though! I also learnt that twist is always couched using the invisible in-between-the-plies method unless it is part of mixed couching, so both the grass and the kangaroo outline will have to be done in this way.

The tweezered points look pointier

On to discuss the soft string padding. Helen hadn’t seen the design or the extra bit of tail padding before, so we talked about possibly using thicker string or more strands as a documented design decision (as discussed with Angela last time), but when I remarked that I had sampled a blunt ending and moved the tail felt because the tail had to gradually get down to the level of Bruce’s rump, she suggested I cut 20 short lengths of my slightly thicker soft string, wax them, outline the tail on my sample cloth and see whether splayed out the twenty strings might not be enough to cover the base of the tail after all. They were. Helen said the sample I’d done at home was fine so she suggested I move straight on to the real thing. Away with the sampling cloth and out comes the slate frame!

On to the actual padding!

It took several goes and a fair bit of unpicking, because I wanted to get this absolutely right. The cutwork tail is going to be quite an eyecatcher, and having the proper foundation will make it much easier to get the cutwork even. So the tapering had to be gradual, and the securing stitches not stick out. It took most of the class, but then I did have a tail to be proud of! Well, Bruce did smiley.

The tapered end done, now for the chisel end Close-up of the tapered end Working on the chisel end The finished tail

Actually, it was rather nice to be able to spend such a long time just getting an important part of the project done just right. It’s not something you can easily manage at home, but in class, well, there’s nothing else to do but concentrate on your stitching!

And finally, I did manage to get on a little bit of actual gold thread that would be seen – but not without a design change. I was going to use a pair of rococco and Jap for the outline of the cloud, but the Jap looked dwarfed by the chunky medium rococco, so I changed it to a single line of rococco with a pair of Jap couched next to it. I got the rococco on in class and later that weekend added the Jap and the pearl purl outline of the sun at home.

The first gold

So the first gold is on – yay! Although… I’m not at all sure the bricking on the Jap and the rococco is up to scratch. The irregular nature of rococco when couched in curves makes it difficult to space the couching stitches evenly, which in turn makes it difficult to know where to place the couching stitches on the Jap; bricking based on the rococco will simply make the spacing on the Jap uneven as well, while spacing the couching on the Jap evenly upsets the bricking pattern. For now I will leave plunging and fastening off on the cloud, in case I decide to take it all out after discussing it with Angela. If a thing is worth doing…

Stabbing and padding and a soft string sample

Sometimes embroidery can sound quite aggressive, or just plain weird – stabbing, waxing, plunging… Never mind, we know what we mean! Before there can be any plunging at all, however, there is the very extensive prep stage to get through. Tempting to rush through it or skip bits, as it will all be covered up, but I know from experience that it does make a difference to the look of the end product, so I’m being a good little embroiderer and completing all the steps.

So the first thing was to finish stab stitching the silk and the calico together (to avoid any puckering when the embroidery is taken off the slate frame), just inside paint lines which enclose areas that will be covered, and exactly on the paint lines of areas that will only be outlined. Encouragingly, when I had finished this it was very difficult to see where the stitches were, but the picture taken with the light at an angle will show you the general effect.

The stab stitching finished and not very visible The stab stitching close up

Then it was time to put some near-golden colour on: the felt padding. I recut the front leg as the original felt piece simply would not fit properly inside the paint lines, and I lowered the bit of padding in the tail, having just in time realised that the tail would need to flatten towards the rump in order to prevent an ugly step in height.

All the bits of felt in position, except the hind leg Most of the felt attached

By that time the light was getting bad. Should I leave hind leg with its four layers and intricately shaped top? After some consideration I decided to attach the first three layers; after all, the fourth layer is the only one that will be seen, and even that only temporarily! Now to position them correctly. My Bohin chalk pencil proved invaluable in making sure that the outlines of all layers were more or less equidistant on the part of the haunch where all four pile up.

Chalk outlines to position the felt The first layer attached Layers two and three attached on top

The next day, when the light was better, I added the last layer. And boy was it fiddly! Still, I managed to fit that sizeable and awkard foot snugly within the paint lines, so a good result.

The final piece of felt padding added

On with the string padding. My homework was to get that finished too, but I was having second thoughts. I have done string padding before, once at a one-on-one RSN class and once at Helen McCook’s goldwork racehorse class, but in both cases the padding was tapered at both ends. Here I needed to have one end (the top of the tail where it attaches to Bruce’s rump) gradually decreasing in height but increasing in width – a sort of chisel edge rather than a fine point. Out of my entire collection of goldwork books (admittedly only about five, but these include the RSN guide and Alison Cole’s excellent volume) there was only one that described this process: Lizzie Pye’s. Her pictures were very helpful and informative but even so I decided to sample this method first – I wanted to bounce it off the tutor before applying it to the real project.

Cutting and securing a blunt edge The padding seen from the side

Besides all this foundation work I also did some grass sampling (well, I wanted to do some shiny embroidery). There are two methods of couching twist: taking the needle down in between the plies and making stitches that lie in the direction of the twist, so the couching thread “disappears”, or taking the needle over the top at right angles just as all other metal threads are couched. I tried both, the disappearing version on the left and the visible version on the right. I prefer the invisible method, but it is more fiddly, and it’s very difficult to make the pointy turns work so I had to use a few auxiliary stitches. More sampling needed to learn how to couch the points invisibly too. Nothing like a bit of a challenge to keep things interesting!

Invisible couching Two types of couching and some chipping

The perils of painting a kangaroo

In preparation for my class on the 7th I did some more sampling – bricking rococco. I found that by twisting or untwisting individual rococco threads I could manipulate them so that they fitted together better, both within the pairs and the pairs side by side. There are a few gaps, especially in the strongly curved bits, but on the whole I’m not unhappy with this! I used a lighter weight of rococco here from the one I used in the mixed pairs to see the different effects, and I think I will use the heavier weight (Medium) in the couching on the cloud outline, while using the lighter, slightly easier to manipulate weight (Very Fine) in the more solid area of mixed couching.

Couching rococco and trying to brick A few gaps, but not too bad

Incidentally, I learnt something about mixed couching in class (well, that’s what I’m there for smiley) – the mixing doesn’t have to be within the pair, it can also refer to pairs made up of two the same threads, as long as other pairs in the area are made up from other types of threads. So you could alternate pairs of Jap with pairs of twist or pairs of rococco. Angela also suggested that if I did use mixed pairs which included rococco, I should reverse the pairs when couching them next to each other; in other words, if the first pair is Jap/rococco, couch the next pair as rococco/Jap, so the two wavy threads lie together. All very useful stuff.

Next was sewing on the silk dupion. Because I’m working with the smaller slate frame and we wanted to keep the silk as large as possible, this was a bit fiddly, but it worked. You have to leave the calico fairly slack while doing this, which makes it even more fiddly but which is apparently essential, then you put full tension on the fabric ready for getting the design on. Things were getting exciting!

Sewing on the silk Putting tension on the frame

I’d done the pricking, now for the pouncing. Positioning the tracing paper with the pricked design was a bit awkward as the back (which is rough because the holes are pricked from the front and so sharp bits of tracing paper stick out at the back) kept catching on the silk. When I removed the tracing paper there was in fact some fluffing up here and there, but I hope most of that will be covered up. Anyway, having rubbed in the pounce, it was time to see how the tracing had come out.

The pricking positioned Rubbing in the pounce The pounced design

Doesn’t look too bad does it? But before long most of the kangaroo’s head, all of Haasje and the left-hand side of the grass were a ghostly blur. Probably partly because of the rough texture of the silk, and partly because I had to tilt the frame while painting to be able to see the dots because of the way the silk catches the light – and so the pounce moved. (Unfortunately I didn’t take a pic of the blurry mess, but I was working Haasje in particular mostly by referring continually to the printed design.) I just had to make the best of it, and most of the lines are, I think, pretty close to the original design.

The painted design

By the way, as we were looking through the brief for something else I found that I should have used a power-woven (i.e. much smoother) silk dupion, not the rather slubby (though very attractive) hand-woven one I did pick; Angela was surprised at this as she thought it just specified silk dupion, so we’ve agreed she’ll put a note in the official paperwork to say she approved the fabric.

The next step in the process is tacking, basting or stab stitching (choose your term) the two layers of fabric together. “Where is your self-coloured thread?” asked Angela. I didn’t have any – it wasn’t mentioned in the list of materials or in any other part of the brief. She said that if I was very precise I could use the yellow sewing thread; the only reason they prefer a thread the colour of the silk is that stitches that don’t get covered don’t show up so much, so it simply means I have to be extra careful in placing my stitches! Back home I showed my husband the back of the work because he couldn’t see from the front where the tacking was (a good sign) and noticed a big loop. Bother. It has now been seen to.

An unnoticed loop in my stab stitching

Besides my homework I also did a bit of felt padding sampling; not really necessary, perhaps, but I wanted to try out something with more layers than I had used so far. This little heart has five layers on the left, but only two on the right, with a bit of stab stitching to create extra contours. When my goldwork is back from assessment (whenever that may be) I might work Jap couching all over it; I’ve done some sketches of possible patterns. Perhaps it could even be turned into a brooch or ornament.

Five layers of felt The layers all attached, and stab stitched The height difference between the two halves

So the painted design is on, and by the start of the next class I will (with a bit of luck) have completed the stabbing, the felt padding and the string padding. All of which will eventually be covered up. Sigh. Still, at the class I may actually get to attach some gold that will remain visible!

Stretcher bars, eyes and rainbows

Some days ago I found myself saying to my husband, “More threads isn’t always the answer”. Yes, I know – heresy! But I have redeemed myself by ordering a pair of longer side stretchers for my Millennium frame. As I was commenting on a fellow member’s Cross Stitch Forum post about Millennium frames and Lowery stands I wrote “with hindsight I would have chosen the slightly longer side stretchers” and then thought, well, why not actually get them! The idea is that with the larger stitching area I could use it as a sampling set-up for the RSN Certificate goldwork module, mimicking the slate frame set-up better than a hoop can.

Now Needle Needs, known for their excellent craftsmanship and their beautiful, sturdy and effective frames and stands, are unfortunately also known for slow delivery and less than ideal communication. Personally I’ve never had any problems, possibly because I just ring them instead of emailing, but I know other people have had difficulties. I’m not in a frantic hurry for these stretchers (I’ve managed very well without them so far, after all) but in view of wanting to use them for the goldwork module it would be nice to have them before I finish! So I rang them to ask for a time frame – and found that the gentleman I spoke to remembered me (and my husband’s vintage Austins) from when I visited their workshop to try out the Aristo lapstand back in 2015!

Trying out the Aristo lap stand

Anyway, he said he would be making some stretchers of the right size in the next few days, and yesterday I got an email to say they would be delivered by 9th November, exactly one week after I ordered them. There may, of course, still be glitches, but it all looks promising!

Until then I continue to do my sampling on the spare silk mounted in a hoop, which works well enough. Today I heard that next Saturday’s Certificate class will go ahead, with only two students which should make it nice and safe, so I’m glad I managed to do most of my homework to show Angela. Part of that involved “mixed couching”, where instead of using a pair of the same threads you couch a pair of dissimilar threads, for example rococco paired with twist. Because rococco is by far my least favourite goldwork thread I decided to practise mainly with that, starting with it combined with twist, and then trying to work a pair of rococco and Jap right next to it, bricking the couching stitches as much as possible.

Mixed couching

“As much as possible” turned out to be not very much – one of my questions for Angela will be how on earth you evenly brick anything that has rococco in it, with its wave that should be regular but in practice turns out not to be even when stitched in a straight line, let alone on a curve. Oh well, I’m meant to be learning so it’s just as well I have questions smiley. (The picture also shows some improvement in my stitching already: there is a definite gap between the two pairs where I start on the left, whereas they are much better abutted as I went on. Reassuring to know sampling helps to sort these things out.)

Another thing I’ve been sampling is kangaroo eyes. That rather sounds like a buffet I don’t want to try, but actually it was a very useful exercise. In the design drawing, the kangaroo’s eye is roughly triangular, and my original idea was to use chips of smooth purl to somehow fill in that triangle, either with the chips all running vertically (with the front one slightly curved) or with some used as outlines (another idea of making them all run parallel with the top sloping line never even made it to the sampling stage). As you can see both these options looked awful. So then I started playing with the idea of a spangle with two chips of smooth purl for the top and bottom outline. That effect was much more like it, and after some experimenting with spangle sizes and placement of the securing stitches I eventually decided on the one indicated by the orange arrow: a 2mm spangle with the slit facing forward and one securing stitch facing backward.

Lots of kangaroo's eyes

And finally, remember the rainbow project I called Hope? I’ve been stitching quite a lot of variations on the theme (including a personalised one for a young girl facing a lockdown birthday) and was hoping to put the chart pack on the website this month, but the design was taken up by a magazine for publication which means I can’t publicise it myself until after that issue of the magazine has come off the shelves (some time next spring). I think I can probably get away with a teeny-weeny sneak peek though…

Five rainbows

How a kangaroo ousted a seahorse…

…and was in turn endangered by a miniature gecko. The story of how a goldwork design can be influenced by fabric, bedtime stories, and a Baptist minister.

Once upon a time, in 2015 to be exact, I sketched a whole series of ideas for goldwork designs, among them a toadstool, a sort-of-daisy and a seahorse. Forward a year, and on a visit to the Viking Loom I bought some scrumptious hand-painted silk dupion in turquoise, blue and purple shades. Forward another four years, and I’m starting the goldwork module for my RSN Certificate. For which I need to stitch my goldwork design on silk dupion. Well!

Sketch for a goldwork toadstool Sketches for a goldwork daisy and seahorse Hand-painted silk dupion

No-brainer, right? Sea-coloured dupion, seahorse – done! Hmm, not quite. All these sketches were for designs without any rules other than what I liked. But the goldwork module comes with a brief; there are only certain materials you are allowed to use (no kid leather, no smooth passing, no rough purl or wire check, no silver or copper let alone any other colours) and there are certain techniques you have to use (bricked Jap, mixed couching, cutwork over soft string padding), sometimes with a specified minimum area. The seahorse couldn’t quite fit all that in, and I’d have to get rid of some of the materials I’d originally included. No worries (keep that expression in mind…), we can add to it. How about a treasure chest? I worked out that that could be made to include several of the required techniques, so I did some sketching to work out the proportions and positions of seahorse and chest to make them into a coherent design.

Adding a treasure chest to the seahorse

And then, in my pile of sketches, I came across an undated, very basic sketch of a sitting kangaroo with the scribbled note “find good pose. check eye shape” and an indication of padded cutwork along the tail, and some chipping on the haunch/hip joint. (It also had a small sketch of a hot air balloon, but I ignored that.) A kangaroo… well, it would be unusual; I’d found plenty of sea creatures when looking at previous Certificate goldwork pieces, but no kangaroo (although there was a koala). It wouldn’t work with the hand-painted silk dupion, of course – I’d need to buy some more shades to have a good range of options (oh the hardship). As I talked to Hilary at the Silk Route about this I mentioned that it was now between a seahorse and a kangaroo and she immediately plumped for the kangaroo, simply because it was so unusual; and Angela, my tutor, had also greeted my simple sketch with some enthusiasm, not surprising perhaps as she is Australian smiley.

A basic kangaroo

Anyway, I figured there was no harm in finding some more kangaroo pics and deciding on a suitable position, and what about a pouch and possibly a Joey? And then it hit me. Haasje!

Haasje (“little hare” in Dutch) is the cuddly toy my grandmother bought for me before I was born. For various reasons it was a very special welcome into the world, and Haasje became my constant companion. He was also my champion: when an older cousin told me that “earworms” (Dutch for earwigs) would creep into your ears at night and nibble your brains (I had no older brothers, but my cousins obviously did a great job as substitutes), I looked for a solution to keep me safe. One ear was protected by the pillow, but what about the other? Haasje, of course! For several years I slept with him snugly held against my ear; my mother didn’t find out why until I was a grown-up.

Haasje, my constant companion

Now when my favourite aunt lived with us for two years and told me bedtime stories every night, she chose Haasje as the protagonist, and in one particularly memorable series of tales he travelled all the way to Australia, where a passing kangaroo gave him a lift in her pouch. He wasn’t used to hopping that fast and high, so he clung on for dear life while nervously looking down at the ground. That was it. The seahorse was forgotten. I had a design!

Haasje in the kangaroo's pouch

As is always the case the design went through several changes before it was finalised – it gained some grass, and a cloud with the sun behind it – but the basis for me was a panicky Haasje travelling by kangaroo (I hope to convey his wide-eyed look of fear by means of a big round spangle). In class I did some more work on what materials to put where, where to have padding, and which bits to leave open to contrast with the solid gold parts; the cutwork for the tail remained, as did the chipwork haunch, and other techniques and materials were added in, making sure all the requirements of the brief were covered. When I got home I did a mock-up (not easy for goldwork) to give myself a better idea of the balance between open and solid, and I think I’ve got it about right. I also printed the cleaned-up design on tracing paper to make the pricking needed for the prick & pounce transfer process.

The colour mock-up The tracing for prick and pounce

Then in the middle of this whole process, after Haasje had been added but before my class, our minister shared a holiday snap during the Sunday service’s all-age talk of this teeny-weeny little chap (that giant white thing is a teaspoon), almost changing my mind a second time, but although I did find some lovely pictures of miniature geckos in beautifully sinuous positions perfect for goldwork, I decided to stick with Bruce (as I have called the kangaroo) and Haasje.

The miniature gecko shared by our minister

Remember I mentioned getting some more colours of silk dupion? Here is the selection I got, with the two at the top bought specifically for Bruce. The olive shade was not at all what I was looking for, so that became my doodle cloth, but I absolutely loved the shade called Ether. It was a bit of a surprise as the picture on the Silk Route website was rather brighter, but actually this less saturated look was just what I wanted.

A collection of dupion shades

Unfortunately, although the 28cm x 33cm cut was fine as regards size, it had the grain running the wrong way. Well, “wrong” for this particular design. In order to accommodate the design I’d have to use the fabric in portrait orientation, but in that case the grain (which is very visible in silk dupion) runs vertically, and Angela and I both agreed that that would look all wrong. So this piece of fabric will become a second doodle cloth, and I’ve bought a fat quarter of the Ether dupion which is easily big enough to cut a piece of the right size with the grain running horizontally.

This does mean I won’t be able to fully frame up until my next class, as I would much prefer to attach the silk to the calico with a tutor to hand. On the few occasions I’ve attached a piece of silk to backing fabric I’ve ended up with puckers in the silk at the end of the project, so I want to get this absolutely right. Apparently the secret is to baste the two layers together on the design lines when the whole sandwich is under tension.

However, we could get the calico framed up. Angela had never worked with a slate frame this small so it was a new experience for her as well! But apart from everything being rather smaller, the rest of the process is pretty much the same: sew the top and bottom of the fabric to the webbing, sew herringbone tape to the sides, and lace up using the lethal bracing needle (I won’t show you the wounds…)

Sewing the calico to the webbing Lacing the side tapes to the bars

By the way, do you remember the four protective flaps I made for the big slate frame? True, they overlapped quite a bit, but it will give you some idea of the size difference when you see the effect of a single flap attached to the new frame.

Four flaps covering the large slate frame One protective flap is enough

And that’s it so far! I’ve got my homework – getting the silk ironed, sampling some couching and s-ing, creating a tonal plan, pricking the transfer, cutting the layers of felt padding; Angela is definitely keeping me busy smiley. After the next class I hope I’ll be able to show you the silk all framed up and with the design painted on, and who knows even a bit of gold (although all the padding needs to go on first, so it may be a while before I get to play with the bling bits – but there’s always the doodle cloth).

Ready for my homework!

Horsey decisions

One of the exciting things about an embroidery project is the choices you have to make. One of the scary things about an embroidery project is the choices you have to make. Both statements can be equally true, but they tend to apply to either your own design or at least a chart rather than a kit. When purchasing a kit (or attending a workshop, which tends to come with a kit) most of the choices are made for you: what to stitch, which stitch to use, and what materials in which colours – it’s all been mapped out in advance.

Even the order in which you work the elements is only free to some extent; very often it is determined by either the order of teaching, the design, or what is considered the usual progression of techniques and materials. Left to my own devices with the metalwork racehorse I started at the RSN 3-day class last summer, for example, I would probably have left the padded cutwork in the tail till last, purely because it minimises the risk of damage to that very prominent domed golden curve while working on the rest of the design; but it was taught on the second day of the class and so at least half a padded gold tail has been courting danger for the past year.

Pretty much the only decision I expected to be fully my own in this particular project was whether to plunge as I go or leave it all until the end. (Plunge as I go, definitely. I dislike plunging and there is a lot of it in this design which I don’t want to be left with when all the stitching at the front of the work is done and I should be celebrating.) And that is not a decision which affects the way the finished piece looks.

The jockey's jacket with ends waiting to be plunged

Even so, the end result will never be quite like the model, for a variety of reasons. Here is Helen McCook’s original stitched model, of which we were given an enlarged photograph for reference. You will notice that the background colour is different from mine – when she first started teaching this class she offered both the olive green of the model and the darker green I’m working on, but when absolutely no-one chose the olive green she abandoned that colour. Other tutor-made changes are the change from purple to blue for the body of the jockey’s jacket, and a different metal thread used for the red sleeve. Originally this was intended to be worked in a red version of the blue of the jacket and the black of the boot, a couching thread known as 371 thread (no, I have no idea why) which is similar to a smooth passing thread but coloured and without any precious metal content. I can’t quite remember why the change was made to a six-stranded metallic thread but I’m sure there was a good reason for it.

Helen McCook's stitched model The jockey's arm in red 6-stranded metallic thread

Sometimes differences are unintentional – the one shown below occurred because, on a roll couching silver pearl purl, I failed to pay attention to the stitched model and couched the jockey’s hand with the same sort of angle as his face. That line abutting the sleeve should not have been there. I am definitely not unpicking it, though! Unless I show people the picture of the stitched model side by side with my version, no-one will know. (Yes, I realise that you know now, but I’m sure you won’t tell.)

A different hand

Other differences are, in a sense, originated by the tutor but the stitcher has some choice in interpreting them. In the instances shown below, I couldn’t work the line as shown in the stitched model because the design lines pre-drawn on the kit fabric would have been visible if I had. The horse’s jaw is a single curve in the model, followed by a gap and then the curve of the muzzle. The design line showed a shorter jaw curve, a gap closer to the front of the muzzle, and a line between them. I chose to couch that element separately in pearl purl. The jockey’s elbow is quite rounded in the stitched model (which would be a lot easier to stitch) but the design lines give him a very pointy elbow. I have tried to adjust the couching to these pointy lines, but you may just be able to see that a little of them is still visible; I had to decide whether it was worth the effort unpicking the whole sleeve and working it afresh starting from the pointy elbow (with no guarantee that it would look any neater). I decided it wasn’t – I know the lines are there, but they are fairly faint and won’t be very noticeable when viewing the finished piece from a normal distance.

A different jaw A different elbow

And finally even with a workshop kit there are some things the stitcher can decide all by herself – especially if she happens to have a reasonably abundant stash of goldwork materials… Some of these you know about already, like the horse’s eye (originally a gem in a squarish mount, now a silver cup sequin with a black bead) and some of the gold pearl purl in his head and neck. You may remember I didn’t like the bright yellow gold of the pearl purl that came with the kit and used a slightly finer one from my stash which was a rather mellower colour. This brought with it another dilemma, however. There is quite a bit of gold pearl purl in the design; did I really want to use up my nice, fine, mellow pearl purl and be left with a goodly amount of bright yellow pearl purl that I would be unlikely to want to use in future projects? No. So I used up the remains of the length I’d snipped off my stash purl in the jaw and in a small V-shape inside the rear leg, and I’ll use the kit purl for the other lines. In fact I rather like the effect of the two colours and thicknesses combined in the leg – an unintended bonus smiley.

A mixture of gold pearl purls

And that’s where the racehorse is now. There are several projects clamouring for attention at the moment but I may just get him finished first; I’ve just received an email to say RSN classes in Rugby will be starting again in the not too distant future, and after mounting my Jacobean piece the next module will be goldwork, so any practice I can get in before then is a good thing!

The racehorse at the moment

Another book and some deepish hoops

My embroidery library is growing apace (there’s another book in the post as we speak) and this week a very exciting addition arrived: Alison Cole’s Goldwork Masterclass. I’ve not had a chance to read it in great detail, but even a quick leaf-through is enough to show me this was a Good Buy!

Alison Cole's Goldwork Masterclass Alison Cole's Goldwork Masterclass Alison Cole's Goldwork Masterclass

Mind you, I was pretty sure it would be. I was seduced into buying it by the very thorough and richly-illustrated review on Mary Corbet’s blog. She has the book in her shop, so if you’re in North America that’s you sorted; stitchers in Australia and New Zealand can buy it straight from the author. However, if like me you’re in the UK I highly recommend getting it from Sarah at Golden Hinde, who is Alison Cole’s official UK distributor – it saves on postage, and it supports a local business that always gives great customer service.

Another exciting parcel contained not one but four additions to my collection of hoops. Yes, I managed to find a UK source of deep Nurge/Prym hoops! Well, sort of.

I was really hoping to try Nurge’s 24mm deep hoops, and so I emailed the company in Turkey, asking whether they sold direct to customers or preferably whether they had a UK distributor. They very promptly replied with the name and email address of their UK wholesaler. I’d found them on the internet before, but didn’t think I’d qualify for a wholesale account; still, I wrote to them and asked whether they knew of anyone selling the deep hoops retail. They did, and referred me to Katie Symonds at Crafty Imaginations. I had a very informative email conversation with her, in which she explained that she didn’t stock the 24mm hoops because postage was so expensive that no-one would buy them, but that she did have the whole range of 16mm hoops. I’m sure you’re not surprised that I bought several to try them out smiley.

16mm deep Nurge hoops A 16mm hoop and an 8mm hoop side by side

Like the shallow hoops they feel smooth and sturdy, and for these relatively small sizes (I got the four from 13cm to 22cm) 16mm is actually quite deep enough. The larger quilting hoops I have are 20mm deep, so 24mm may well be too much of a good thing; also, although the Lowery’s clamp could accommodate them, I’m not sure either of my other clamps (table and seat) could take something that deep.

Anyway, for now I have the medium-deep ones to try, and of course they will need binding. Unfortunately I only had about two-and-a-half metres of my usual 20mm herringbone tape left, so I ordered some more, and in the meantime decided to bind at least one of them. I picked up the 16cm one first, then for no reason whatsoever switched to the 19cm one. Bad move. I didn’t take a photograph, but suffice it to say that I came to the end of the tape with about 2cm of bare hoop still showing. Sigh. Still, that meant it would amply cover the 16cm hoop, which indeed it did.

16mm hoops ready for binding One hoop down, three to go

And now that it’s bound I want to use it! So I’ve hooped up a card project I need for tomorrow (yes, it’s a bit last-minute…) for the 50th anniversary of a lovely couple of friends. Excuse me if I rush off, won’t you – I need to get stitching!

Card for a golden wedding anniversary

Next day PS: Got the stitching done in time – three cheers for embroidery which allows us to create something simple yet festive in an evening!

The finished stitching Made up into a card

A horse of a different colour

My embroidery has been distinctly equine recently, and I’d like to show you some of my progress (and regress; that is to say, unpicking…) on two horsey creatures.

The first is the goldwork racehorse I started at Helen McCook’s three-day class last year. I’d been doing some couching and plunging but a week or so ago I decided that before I did anything more, something needed seeing to first – his eye. The centre of the eye is a gem, and in the stitched model it is round and makes a good iris. But the gem that was in the kit, although a round cut as well, was set in such a way that it looked quite square. It was also rather larger than in the model (at least partly because of the setting), and quite apart from the fact that it just didn’t look right, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to work the surrounding couching properly with the setting extending beyond the design line in places.

Two different eyes

Time to rummage through my stash and see if I could find an alternative. I remembered some tiny oval flat-backed gems I bought last year – might they work? But alas, even the tiniest was too large. How about a sequin? The 3mm flat ones I have would be too small, but what about a facetted cup sequin held on with a black bead? Would that look like an iris with a pupil? And it would still have some of the facetted look of the original gem.

A slightly too large oval gem A cup sequin-and-bead combination that looks promising

I unpicked the original eye, attached the sequin and bead, and gave a sigh of relief. The eye operation was a success!

A much better-looking eye

Next was a decision about the pearl purl curving around the eye and down the horse’s neck. This was a very fine pearl purl which had also been used in the tail, and I’d noticed there that the gold was very yellow. I didn’t think this would work very well against the copper that outlines the eye, and another rummage produced a much mellower-coloured pearl purl of roughly the same thickness. None of the photographs I took quite picked up on how different the colours were, but it should give you an idea.

Very yellow pearl purl

Since last time I also completed both the colour-graded couching and the plunging on the horse’s backside, and here it is as it looks at the moment (you can see the very yellow purl outlining the chipped section at the top of the tail).

The racehorse as it looks at the moment

On to a horse of a different colour, or rather of many different colours – although the bits I’ve been working on have been mostly grey smiley. For some time now I’d been itching to get back to Hengest the Medieval Unicorn; I hadn’t worked on him since June last year! To ease myself back into it I started with his nose band. Once I’d stitched it I realised that if I stitched the rest of the bridle (if that’s the correct term) in the same light golden yellow (Old Gold #4) as I had planned, it wouldn’t look quite right next to the light yellow spot high up his neck. But I didn’t want to use the darker #6 because that was going to be used in his horn (together with darkest #8) and I needed the contrast. Fortunately I remembered that I also had shade #7 in my stash, so the rest of the bridle will be done in #6, and the horn in #7 and #8. One problem sorted, although putting the solution into practice would have to wait as I wanted to get on with his mane first.

And as I stitched the first two locks, another problem emerged. They were far too dark.

Hengest's mane is too dark

I’d worked it out so carefully, too. Because Hengest is quite cartoonish in look, I didn’t want the shading in the mane to be too subtle. All the rest of him is areas of flat colour, with the only “shading” coming from the direction of the split stitch. The mane would have dark locks and light locks, and each would be done in two shades which I wanted to be visibly different, with the light and dark locks also having to be different enough from each other. The design drawing has black outlines, but the stitched version doesn’t, so the locks had to be delineated by colour difference.

I had therefore decided to have no colour overlap between light and dark locks: for the light locks I chose Silver Grey #1 and #3, and for the dark locks #5 and #6 (the difference between two consecutive shades is not always equally large). But #6 was very obviously too dark compared to the pastel tints of the rest of Hengest. And so I ended up doing something I had strenuously resisted for this project so far – I started a doodle cloth. Five combinations of two greys would be tried out, and I started with the darker one in each of the combinations, then added the lighter shade. #5 plus #3, #4 plus #3 and #4 plus #2 were all options for the darker locks, while #3 plus #1 and #2 plus #1 were possible pairs for the lighter ones. Having studied all the combinations I opted for an overlap after all: #5 with #3 and #3 with #1.

Different shades of grey A doodle cloth with five combinations Starting with the darker shades The lighter shades have been added

Hurray! As tress after tress was added the new shades turned out to work very well together, the individual locks perfectly distinct in spite of the fact that they share shade #3. I’d completely forgotten that the direction of the split stitch would set them apart even if the colour didn’t.

The old mane is unpicked Starting the first locks The new mane is growing The locks are perfectly distinct

And that’s the state of the Figworthy stable to date. I love both its occupants, but I will admit to a soft spot for Hengest. He will never be a racing champion (his inspiration on the Steeple Aston cope is decidedly duck-footed) and he will never be decked out in the Queen’s colours, but I think he holds his own against any racehorse in his polka-dotted eccentricity smiley.