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!
I keep most of my goldwork materials in small glassine envelopes – little greaseproof paper bags which are translucent so you get an inkling of what’s inside (and how pretty it looks). The envelopes are in turn kept in a storage box, where they are stacked in shallow rows: a stack of different pearl purls, a stack of spangles, a stack of milliary wires and so on.
It works very well, and I can lay my hands on whatever I want with ease. Generally. Recently, however, I could not find an envelope of gold Elizabethan twist, and one of silver smooth passing. I knew I had them (I keep a record of all my stash), I could visualise them, but although I went through every compartment of the storage box half a dozen times, they would not turn up.
This puzzled me especially because I remembered quite clearly that the Elizabethan twist was a relatively large roll of metallic thread which had only just fitted inside the envelope. Surely that couldn’t hide anywhere so successfully? The solution to the mystery turned out to be twofold: a) bad memory – my stock of Elizabethan twist wasn’t nearly as big as I though, it was the gold smooth passing (which was not missing) that rather stretched its envelope, and b) an annoying tendency for glassine envelopes to form close bonds with each other, especially when not very full. The gold twist and the silver passing were both where they were meant to be, just hiding inside the flaps of their neighbours…
So now that I had all threads and wires present and correct I could finally do what I had actually got the storage box out for: choosing the golds for the silk version of the Tree of Life. These will be used for the bird sitting on one of the leaves, for a small detail in the top leaf, and for or nué (a type of couching) on the final leaf. After some consideration I’ve chosen smooth passing, pearl purl and wire check, as well as some gold kid which isn’t shown here. I’m looking forward to showing you my golden bird and leaves!
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!
There aren’t many positive sides to gastric flu. For a moment it seemed to hold the promise of starting the Easter egg season with a few pounds to spare, but even that proved short-lived. However, it did mean that last weekend I had energy for very little more than sitting in the garden, reading a bit, absorbing the sunshine (and incidentally getting my calves sunburnt), observing the bumblebees and enjoying the colourful sight of the tulips and grape hyachinths and late daffodils, and I’m sure this was very good for my soul. It also gave me some ideas.
Having looked forward so much to my RSN day class I understandably had goldwork on my mind, and looking at the bold outlines and the variety of petal shapes of our red, yellow and pink tulips I was reminded of a vague intention some time ago to “do” something with tulips and goldwork. I exchanged my novel for a sketchbook and tried to capture the various tulip profiles, with some grape hyacinths thrown in for good measure.
After a few separate doodles I decided on a combination of a single tulip with a couple of grape hyacinths, and some random sprigs of flowering grass which no botanist could possibly put a name to. I also scribbled some notes as to possible threads and wires and techniques to be used; for the grape hyacinths I jotted down two options, one using purl chip work and one using spangles. I like both options so may try a separate grape hyacinth to see which looks best. As the design has two grape hyacinths I toyed for a moment with the idea of doing one in each style, but on second thoughts I discarded that idea – it would just look indecisive and confused. I do want spangles in there somewhere so I’ll probably use tiny ones for the flowering grass, and chips for the grape hyacinths.
The next day I tried incorporating some of my daffodil sketches into the mix, but I simply couldn’t get them all to work together; the result was a separate design of a single tulip and a single daffodil.
Over the next week I tidied them up in my photo editing program, and in the process produced a second version of each design in which the tulip had been shortened a bit. For some reason I tend to create designs which are square or nearly square (or circular), and this one looked a bit elongated. I haven’t quite decided yet which I prefer.
As I was playing with the designs it occurred to me that they would also work quite well in coloured embroidery, whether using stem stitch throughout, or a variety of stitches (like short bullion knots for the grape hyacinths – nothing like setting yourself a bit of a challenge). In fact, I felt it would be just the thing for a little celebratory embroidery in honour of my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday if I added a “90” to it. So I did. Now I just need to stitch it. By Thursday evening at the very latest. So far, I’ve chosen the silks…
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!
Over the years I’ve been to several Royal School of Needlework workshops and day classes; they are always well-taught, well-organised and very enjoyable, and the workshops especially have been a great way of finding out in a relatively economical way which types of embroidery are just not my cup of tea (I’m talking about you, stumpwork) and which are not just my cup of tea but a whole afternoon tea at the Ritz (hello goldwork!)
Whenever I’ve found something I enjoy doing (like calligraphy and various embroidery techniques), I tend to read as many books about it as I can and then just have a go (for example with the padded gold kid in Treasure Trove, and my present goldwork Work-In-Progress the Jacobean Flower).
But sometimes it’s helpful – not to mention a lot of fun – to get some formal instruction. After the first RSN goldwork taster workshop I did in 2012 (the dragonfly) there followed another one at the next Knitting & Stitching Show (the bee; which did end up looking a little different from the original design…); then I found the RSN occasionally did day classes in Rugby and treated myself to one as a St Nicholas present (the watering can). And this year they’re offering another one! I’d hoped they would do an Intermediate level this time, but oh well, I’m happy to take what I can get so I am now booked in for April, where it looks like we’ll be stitching a goldwork ankle boot.
This is, you will agree, quite as much excitement as a stitcher can be expected to handle, but there is more! Following a link in the RSN’s recent newsletter I found that they offer private one-to-one tutorials.
I’ll allow some time to let that sink in a bit.
A private lesson, taught by one of the RSN tutors, at Hampton Court Palace *starry-eyed look* – what more could any stitcher wish for? Well, a bigger needlework budget would be nice. It would be lovely to book a whole day (10am till 4pm with an hour off for lunch) (who needs lunch?) (actually, I would; I like food quite as much as I like stitching) but a quick look at the latest bank statement suggests that a 3-hour class is probably more realistic. So I took the plunge and rang them, and I am now pencilled in for a goldwork tutorial on Wednesday 11th October, an extension to my usual Knitting & Stitching Show jaunt. It is as yet dependent on them finding a tutor available, so I’ll let you know when I hear more!
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.
Having made an enthusiastic start on getting my little goldwork project up and running, it all rather ground to a halt after the initial transferring. There were several reasons for this; for one thing I got terribly distracted by those pretty floral gems, and they in turn reminded me that I needed a good stock of cards and coasters to sell at the church Christmas Fair, and so far I didn’t have that many. There were also some occasions that warranted hand-stitched cards, and they naturally had priority.
And then there were a few things connected with the goldwork project itself. You may remember that the transferring process didn’t go altogether smoothly, and both the drawing pen transfer and the pencil one ended up with rather thicker lines than I’d aimed for. The pencil one being marginally the finer of the two I picked that one, but it wasn’t ideal. Next came the framing up. The piece of dupion isn’t large enough to be stretched on the Millennium frame and even if it were, it would still need a backing material. The usual procedure is to attach the dupion fabric to a larger piece of calico by means of herringbone stitch all around, and then to stretch the calico; the dupion will then automatically stretch with it.
I’ve done it before, and it has worked just fine. But this time I just couldn’t get the top fabric smooth. However I attached it (and I tried at least three ways) the moment I got the calico taut the dupion started wrinkling. In the end I attached it top and bottom only, got it as smooth as I could, and decided to just ignore the slight wrinkles that were left and hope I’d be able to get rid of them after I’d completed the project.
So I finally got to stitch *yay*! As this is meant to be a relaxing project where I can just go where the fancy leads me I’m completely ignoring the instructions – I’ve attached the colour picture from the original magazine article to my frame and will go roughly by that, but if I think a different thread or way of doing things will suit me better, that’s what I’ll do. And as I’d chosen to make it rather bigger than the original minuscule pincushion I’ll need different thicknesses of thread and wire anyway.
The first thing I did differently was the way of starting the Japanese threads for couching the leaf. I had cast a glance at the instructions before deciding not to use them, and it said to cut two 9″ lengths of Jap thread, couch them leaving an inch at the start, and then to plunge the two ends at the start and the two ends at the finish. Plunging means to take the ends to the back of the fabric and attach them there as a way of fastening off. The method employed in the magazine would mean four ends to plunge, and I dislike plunging – it’s necessary but cumbersome and involves fiddly stitching with a curved needle, and the more I can avoid it the better I like it. Why not cut a double-length piece of Jap and fold it in half, with as sharp a fold as possible, and attach the fold with a single stitch before couching the two halves together? To my delight this worked just fine, although I did have an uncomfortable moment when I realised that the 9″ length was calculated for the original pincushion size, not my double-sized version. Fortunately the magazine writer chose to err on the side of caution, and I found that my doubled-up 18″ piece was ample to do the entire leaf with.
The second bit I did differently was unintentional. I’d forgotten to transfer some of the little green leaves-inside-the-leaf, and the ones I did transfer had come out a bit on the small side. I’m really pleased with the way the Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk stitched up in the satin stitch leaves, but there is too much empty space within the left side of the leaf, so I will probably add a few spangles there. And finally I chose to use two different sizes of pearl purl for the main stem and the leaf stem; partly because I haven’t got that much of the #2 (the thicker of the two) but plenty of the Super (the finer one). Unfortunately the Super is too thin to use throughout, so I may have to get some more #2 at the K&S Show…
Having got this far I find that the wrinkles do annoy me too much to ignore, so I’m going to try and stretch the dupion sideways and get it smoothed out just a bit more. And then it’s on with the flower!
Right. The most urgent deadline stuff is out of the way, with the next one not due until October (except for getting all the workshop kits ready, but I’m going to devote a large part of the coming weekend to that), and there is nothing that I absolutely Have To Stitch Now. This means that for my next project I can choose whatever I jolly well like – luxury!
At this point, my mind went blank and I had no idea whatsoever as to what I wanted to stitch. The only thing I did know was that I didn’t want to do anything that would need photographing or monitoring or tweaking or serious thinking. This ruled out any of my own designs. Well, I have quite a few designs by other people tucked away in my One Day folders, so I had a good rummage through those and found just the right thing. You may remember that earlier this year I saw a little goldwork pincushion on a magazine cover shown in Mary Corbet’s blog and fell completely and unreasoningly in love with it. I eventually managed to get the chart, but then used it not for goldwork, but for two crewel wool experiments: one with Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool and one with Pearsall’s Heathway merino wool.
So now is the time to actually get it done in goldwork. One of my favourite stages in any project is getting the materials together – I love playing with stash and have been known to put project boxes together for projects that subsequently didn’t get stitched. No problem, everything just gets put back into the storage boxes and I have the pleasure of doing another project box when I do get round to that design!
My usual project boxes, the ones with little compartments, don’t really work for goldwork; for one thing, the acid-free glassine envelopes that the various precious metals are kept in won’t fit unless I fold them over, and some of the reels of thread will only fit at an angle, taking up a compartment each. I resorted, therefore, to borrowing a small lunch box from one of the kitchen cupboards. Here it is with the tools and metals and threads – doesn’t it look inviting? And this picture was taken in a shady spot; the one I took in direct sunlight had so much sparkle and shine on it that it was unusable .
Of course it takes more than the threads and metals; we need fabric too. I decided on some cream satin dupion, stitching on the shiny side. I transferred the design with one of my fine drawing pens, but unexpectedly the line bled rather severely, leaving a much thicker line than I wanted although it may still work. To see if a different method would work better I did another transfer using an ordinary pencil, and this came out better. It did take a lot of going over the lines to make them visible enough, though, and the tip of the lead occasionally got caught in the fabric. I’ll have to see if there is a more effective method for dupion, and I also want to try transferring to the less shiny side, to see if that makes a difference. Another thing I would like to experiment with is to draw the design on the calico backing in black, to see if it will show through the dupion sufficiently to work from. In that case, if a transfer goes wrong, I’ve only wasted a bit of calico, not my pretty fabric.
So here is the whole caboodle, everything that is needed for the project, including both transfers. I’ll need to decide which one to use, then iron the calico and attach the dupion to it with herringbone stitch, and mount it on my Millennium frame. By the way, you may have noticed that there are two green threads, and that not all the goldwork materials are gold. The original design used a variegated silk by Pearsall’s which unfortunately has been discontinued – in fact, all their embroidery silks have been discontinued *sniffle*. There are two candidates to replace it: a Vineyard Silk Shimmer in a light greyish green with sparkle (which, incidentally, seems to have been discontinued as well) and a Treenway 8/2 reeled silk. I may use both as they are equally lovely.
The reason for the silver and copper purl getting in on the act is because I’d like to try some shading in the chipping used on the flower head. Yes, once again I just can’t seem to work the design as originally intended. Oh well. I’m also seriously considering using overstretched purl with a silk core for the stem, and I’ll probably attach the spangles using tiny petite beads instead of chunky purl chips. I’m sure it’ll still be recognisable. More or less.
One disadvantage of the goldwork project is that it isn’t exactly portable, even using the lap stand, so it’s not really suitable to take to the monthly craft group meeting at the local library tomorrow. Another project was obviously called for, and as I was going through my One Day folders this Christmas tree freebie by Kelly Fletcher cheekily suggested that it was Just The Ticket and that it was about time it got stitched. I’ll do this on Rowandean’s cotton fabric, which I got at last year’s Knitting & Stitching show. Interestingly, it has a plain side and a slightly fuzzy side; last time I used the plain side, so I’ve decided to go fuzzy this time. The threads are Caron Watercolours and Wildflowers. I may use different stitches for the baubles from the ones Kelly Fletcher suggests, and definitely will do on the bucket/basket in which the tree sits. Let imagination roam free!
It makes sense, doesn’t it? You order one small thing that you need for a project, and pay the standard postage. And then you realise that the same standard postage would apply if you added a few other things. Which you’d be getting practically for free. Well, postage-free anyway.
True, unsympathetic persons will probably point out that the only thing it really means is that you are spending more than you originally planned; but anyone who has the sort of hobby for which you buy materials in smallish amounts will recognise the argument, especially when “buying only the one thing you need” turns out to mean paying twice or three times in postage what the item itself costs.
So how does this sound principle lead to adding more bling to your SAL? Well, you may remember that one of the items on the SAL materials list is metallic kid leather. It is optional (I realise not everyone wants to get into goldwork), but if you decide that you’ll give it a go and you don’t already have metallic kid in your stash you will have to buy some. And unless you are lucky enough to have an uncommonly well-stocked local needlework shop, that means buying online, and paying postage.
Golden Hinde sells sensible-sized bits of metallic kid for 70p. Which sounds very affordable indeed until you find out that their minimum postage is £2.60. So what are the options? Well, one option is to buy one small piece of kid and pay £3.30. Another is to go for one of their larger pieces (9 times as big but only about 7 times the price) and still pay £2.60 postage. Or you could think of it as your golden opportunity to collect some serious bling and experiment with it in the SAL.
Without increasing the postage you can go for the larger piece of kid leather, and add 1 gram of 3mm gold spangles (about 70, more than enough for the SAL) or 4mm silver spangles (about 40, still enough) as well as 18″ of a purl of your choice. Purls (except for pearl purl, which I love and which has a brilliant name but wouldn’t work in these projects) are thin, flexible tubes of wound gold/silver/copper wire, shiny or matt, circular or angular, which you can cut into “chips” (short lengths) and use as you would seed beads or bugle beads. For the SAL, a size 6 would probably work best.
The aforementioned unsympathetic person would no doubt point out that including the unchanged postage your shopping basket now stands at £14.40 instead of £3.30 – and he’d be absolutely right. So if you’re fairly certain goldwork isn’t your cup of tea, this would be the moment to close the Golden Hinde website and stick to beads, sequins and a scrap of gold or silver lamé, a 22mm round sequin or even some shiny card instead.
But if your budget can stand it and you’d like a not-too-daunting introduction to using some of the standard goldwork materials, think about it. Because, well, don’t they look pretty?