A digital consultation

I left you last time with an inconclusive answer to the question of Bruce’s buckling leg, and the hope of some answers from an hour online with my tutor, Angela. Time to fill you in on what happened next!

Beforehand I had emailed Angela the issues I wanted to look at, and sent her some pictures. The question of Bruce’s hind leg, which might get dramatic if the advice was to unpick the whole lot, was kept as the main course; the starter was the two possible arrangements for the front leg. I showed Angela the samples I’d done and she (like most people I’ve shown them to, and in fact like myself) preferred the right hand version. Neat though the other one is, it makes the front leg look like a detached motif rather than a leg that is part of the kangaroo. She did suggest that I don’t turn the Jap, but plunge it staggered (this method seems to go by half a dozen different names including herringbone, fishbone, fishtail and dovetail; any of them will tell you what it looks like) to create a neat seam. As I have demonstrated sharp turns in the hind leg, she said I wouldn’t need them here; I’d been a little worried that there were only a few there, but she seems to be happy that they fulfill the brief.

The front leg sampled two ways

One last-minute question I’d added to my list was about mixed couching. Having seen progress pictures of the goldwork unicorn that a fellow Certificate student is stitching, I became concerned that the smallish area of mixed couching on Bruce’s back might not be quite enough. Could I perhaps add some to the front leg? Angela did think a bit more mixed couching would be a good idea, but suggested that instead of the front leg, which is a relatively small and complicated area, I could add it into the hind leg, which has a rather vast expanse of couched Jap already and more to come. This led neatly into our discussing the thorny question of whether any of that expanse needed unpicking, and if so, how much?

Having looked at the sample, she agreed that the straight-up-and-down method was out; gappiness, she implied, was the ultimate sin in goldwork couching (unless intentional, for effect). When I described in detail how I did the couching on Bruce she said that was exactly what I should do; the only thing she suggested was an occasional little stab stitch, which she said might make the couching a little more secure; she’d been taught that when she was training. I’d never heard of it! And I must say, if the tutors are taught that, I wonder why we students aren’t. All I can think of is that it might be because in the first four classes of this module I’ve had three different tutors, each of whom may have thought the other would have told me.

Be that as it may, having looked at close-ups of the thin part of Bruce’s leg her opinion was that it didn’t need unpicking. Hurray! She said that there was a little slippage in some of the pairs, but nowhere were they actually completely on top of each other, and the overall effect was neat enough. Well, that was obviously a relief smiley. Then we got on to the question of turning versus plunging. So far I’ve been plunging (as symmetrically as possible) when the Jap goes down from the haunch into the leg, but when the curve becomes sufficiently shallow (though still forming an acute angle) I want to start turning the Jap. Not only does it make for another demonstration of my ability to neatly execute a sharp turn, it also means less plunging!

When to start turning instead of plunging

Angela thought that I had definitely come to the point where I could start turning. But then the conversation took a different, erm, turn. This was partly because of the earlier discussion about adding mixed couching, and partly because of something else I had only noticed a few days before the online class, when I happened to be looking at close-up photographs to send to Angela: Bruce’s backside was not as taut as it ought to be – there were gaps…

Gaps in Bruce's backside

There is a reason why you put yellow felt underneath gold couching (and chipping, for that matter). Quite apart from the fact that it gives some lift to the metal and makes it catch the light in nice sparkly ways, it makes any gaps much less noticeable. These ones, as I said, I hadn’t actually noticed at all looking at the work from a normal distance, and even at “working distance” they hadn’t looked particularly alarming. In the close-up photograph, however, they looked positively cavernous! Would I have to unpick after all? Angela, fortunately, didn’t think so; close-up photographs, however useful in studying your work, are cruel in what they show up. She suggested I try and tweak the gappy pairs with a needle or mellor, and I said I could also push them to a small extent with the next pair.

Which brought us to what the next pair would be. We talked about various ways of introducing mixed couching, and having considered a few options (and discarded the ones that included twist, as I want to keep that for outlines only) I decided on a pair of rococco/Jap, followed by a pair of rococco, followed by a pair of Jap/rococco, and then back to Jap only. In order to accommodate this, I would unpick the most recent round of Jap, which hadn’t been plunged yet anyway. This would also help to address the gappiness I just mentioned. Unfortunately it does make it impossible to do a turn instead of plunging when going down into the leg, as each of the three pairs is different.

Plan for mixed couching

When I wrote up my notes after the meeting with this in mind, I had a look at Bruce’s haunch and how much of it has already been filled. I don’t want the mixed couching to get too close to the central area of chipping, and I do want some Jap turnings, so I will take out (in fact by the time you read this I will have taken out) two pairs of Jap, even though that means undoing the secured ends on the last but one pair and “unplunging” them. This will make the position of the three mixed pairs within the leg a bit more balanced, and with a bit of luck still leave a sharp turn when I get back to Jap-only.

Finally, a brief note on online classes. So far I have felt absolutely no inclination to do some or all of my Certificate online; has this one-hour consultation changed my mind? Even though this meeting was very effective in sorting out issues I needed help and advice on, no. There were difficulties. Zoom froze every now and then, and it was difficult to know how much of the previous conversation had been missed, so we would either repeat what the other had already heard, or not repeat enough. It also rather interrupts the flow of your thoughts when you have to keep going back a bit. A Whatsapp video call, which I wanted to use to show Angela close-ups of the work while moving the camera around (more informative than still pictures when trying to show texture, especially in goldwork), wouldn’t connect properly. You might say these are technical problems, and if everything works 100% as it should these classes would be fine. And if that could be guaranteed I could see myself taking the odd online class. But computers and internet connections hardly ever work 100% as they should, so the problems I had today would almost certainly also turn up in a day class. No, for the time being I’ll stick with face-to-face classes as much as I can. Roll on 24th April!

An inconclusive sample

Last time I updated you on my RSN Goldwork module, progress on Bruce’s leg was about to be interrupted by some sampling. To establish once and for all whether the buckling noticeable on the thin, steep part of his leg was caused by angling the needle when couching, I would couch all around a four-layer padded oval, angling on one side and not angling on the other. There was a picture of the felt I’d be using, but before attaching it to my sample cloth I decided I wanted it to be rather narrower, so I trimmed the four bits of felt and then secured my padded shape. Time to get couching! I started with a loop to minimise cut ends at the front (I was definitely not going to plunge and secure on my sampling…)

Trimmed felt for padding The padding is complete, and the Jap attached

I didn’t fill the shape completely – after all, what I wanted was the effect on the sloping sides, so the top was irrelevant – and I was pleased to see the sample had a nice bit of height to it. Just so I wouldn’t forget how to stitch on which side, I marked them on the fabric. This was very helpful as it is easy to get distracted (you can call me bird brain; or, if our Lexi is anything to go by, cat brain).

The 'straight' side of the sample The 'angled' side of the sample A nice bit of height

Remember those words “once and for all”? Well, that didn’t quite work out. There was some difference between the two sides, with the straight-up-and-down couching showing (as I rather expected) distinct gappiness, but the angled side rather let me down.

Distinct gappiness where the couching is straight-up-and-down

You see, although there was noticeable buckling on the tight curves, the side was actually pretty smooth…

Buckling on the curves A pretty smooth side

I hadn’t managed to reproduce the degree of buckling seen on the leg (indicated by the blue arrows), and so in one sense the experiment was a washout. On the other hand, it did clearly show that the only alternative, straight couching, was a definite no-no. It gave me more couching practice as well. And, as any sample cloths are handed in with the assessment piece, it shows the assessors I was willing to spend time and effort trying to find a solution to the problem; so on the whole a fairly useful exercise after all.

Buckling on the leg

And that’s where I was at the start of the one-hour online consultation I’d booked with Angela: an inconclusive sample, and Bruce with ends of Jap sticking out of his thigh. To be continued…

The state of play before the online consultation

The last leg

Ah, if only smiley. But starting from the front I suppose a creature’s hind leg can be thought of as its last leg, so I’ll stick with that! Before I got on to Bruce’s haunch, however, I invisible-couched the grass. Most of the points I managed to get nice and sharp with the aid of the lovely little pliers I was given for Christmas; one blade of grass (indicated by the arrow) would not do what I wanted it to, even after unpicking and re-couching. More unpicking would have damaged the twist to such an extent that I would have had to pick out the entire line and start again, and I did briefly consider that, but in the end decided I could live with one blunt bit of grass.

Grass couching in progress The whole line couched A wayward bit of grass

Now for the leg. On one of the design print-outs I’d pencilled in a rough guide to the way I wanted the Jap to go, with indications where I would likely have to fill in little “pockets” and start new threads. Another thing: you may be able to see from the way the shadows fall on the felt that especially on the thin part of the leg the incline is quite steep! A bit like the legs of Alpine cattle on a mountain side, one half of the pair of Jap threads is going to be significantly lower than the other. Which brings me to another challenge of couching through up to four layers of felt: I must pull the couching thread enough to lie snugly over the Jap, but not so much that it pulls the Jap into the padding. Deep breath, and off we go!

Getting ready for the leg

I started with a loop start in the toe, trying to get it right inside the tip, and then proceeded to couch along the twist outline. After a while I realised I could use the width of the foil wrapping on the Jap to gauge the distance between my couching stitches, which made them much more regular. The next tricky bit was getting the Jap to run smoothly along the edge of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back.

A loop start in the toe Couching along the edge of the mixed couching

I’m happy with the couching around the haunch, that’s nice and regular, but yes, there are a few gaps between the mixed couching on the back and the Jap on the haunch. With a staggered edge I suppose some gappiness is inevitable but in one place I could have taken the back thread a bit further in (see arrow). I bounced this picture off the lovely stitchers in the Facebook C & D group and one of those who had done their Goldwork module already said she thought it was an acceptable amount of gap, which was encouraging.

Gappiness along the edge

On with the foot. Feeling terribly organised and bathed in a virtuous glow I drew up a digital plan (easier to include in my log than pencil scribblings on a printed picture) for filling in the remaining gap by the ball of the foot, and a tentative start on the gap at the ankle.

A plan!

As I was couching I realised that lines drawn on a picture are never going to tell you how the Jap will fit on the actual piece – for one thing the lines are never going to be the exact width of the Jap, and for another there is variability in stitch tension (however much you aim for consistency) and the angle of the padding which you can’t see in the photograph. In the end I had to use some quite short lengths, and rather more plunging than I’d hoped for, to get the foot and ankle filled. Coming down the narrow part of leg, for example, there was only room for one thread so I plunged the second one, took the remaining single through, and added new thread to make a pair again. It was too tight for the planned turn so both were plunged staggered, then a new pair was started with a loop. And so on and so forth. I could have called this post “A twisted ankle” – my goodness it got tight! I’m not completely satisfied, but a stitching forum friend said the resulting triangle looked very much like an ankle bone, and although that was the almost automatic result of the shape of the foot rather than a conscious design decision, I was rather pleased with that comment.

Filling the foot The narrow part of the leg is closed Overview after filling the foot and ankle

One thing you will notice in the close-up below (if only because I’ve drawn attention to it with arrows smiley) is that there are some places where the gold foil does not quite cover the core thread. There is a trick of tightening the Jap by twisting it as you couch, and I’ve done that as much as possible, but it doesn’t completely eliminate it. And unlike with wool you can’t keep stopping and restarting with a new, neater thread. However, another message on the Facebook C & D group brought similar reassurance that this is quite normal and to be expected. Phew.

An ankle bone and some separating gold foil

With the lower leg completely covered, it now just remained to keep going round and round the haunch until I had a pleasing shape left in the centre to fill with chipping and a pearl purl border. That sounds nice and straightforward, but there were decisions to be made. To Turn Or To Plunge, for one thing. At first that was an easy one to answer, as the angle down the leg was just too sharp to turn. Ideally I would have plunged everything herringbone fashion, that is to say where the pair of Jap meets itself in the leg, you would first plunge the outer thread on one side, then the outer thread on the other side, then the inner thread on the first side and finally the inner thread on the second side. This makes for a neat line down the centre. Unfortunately I had placed my first couching stitch rather too close to the plunging point for this too work on the first circuit of the haunch, and I’d forgotten to take into account the single plunged thread I mentioned earlier – so the line starts with three consecutive plunges on the left side followed by two consecutive plunges on the right.

Asymmetric plunging down the leg

After that I managed to plunge symmetrically.

Symmetric plunging down the leg

Then I got to the point where I could either plunge or turn, and as I didn’t want to make that decision after several hours of concentrated work, I left it there, to be picked up again this weekend.

Plunge or turn?

But… I hit a snag. Actually, I hit that snag quite a while back, but I eventually decided to ignore it, which may turn out to have been a Very Bad Idea.

So what is it? Well, you will remember that the leg is padded with several layers of felt to give it plenty of lift. Where the leg is narrow, that creates quite a steep slope. And on those sloping sides the pairs of Jap simply will not stay flat. They start out flat, but by the time I come back to that point after another circuit of the leg, one of the pair will have tried to hide underneath the other. It isn’t very obvious when you look at the piece straight on, but when looking from the side (and the assessors will definitely be doing that) you can see the threads slip and buckle.

Jap slipping and buckling

I didn’t immediately and completely ignore the problem. I manipulated the misbehaving threads with my mellor and that would initially look quite promising, but after a while they frustratingly just slipped back again. The mellor having failed me, I tried pulling the couching stitches tighter – but that just dented the padding by pulling the gold threads down into it. I tried looser couching stitches – but then the gold threads just wobbled around. In the end I assumed that this is simply what pairs of Jap do when on a steep incline, and tried not to worry about it.

And then one night I woke up with A Thought. Could it be the rule about angling your needle when bricking Jap? Every goldwork class I’ve attended and pretty much every goldwork book I’ve read mentions this: when couching a stand-alone line of paired threads, the needle goes pretty much straight up and down to make the couching stitch. But when you couch a pair of threads next to an earlier pair, bricking the couching stitches (i.e. staggering them relative to the previous pair to create a brick pattern), you are told to come up on the outside of the pair and then angle the needle underneath the previous pair in order to pull the new pair snugly next to it. Now that works beautifully when the surface is flat or nearly flat, but might it be what caused the slipping and buckling on the steep sides?

Angling the needle when bricking

So here’s the plan: on my sample cloth I will make a four-layer padded oval with fairly steep sides. I will then couch paired Jap all around it, using angled stitches on the left and perpendicular/straight-up-and-down stitches on the right. If they both look the same (i.e. both “bunch up”), I’ll just continue with Bruce as he is. But if the right looks markedly better than the left, then it’s time for some Big Decisions…

The padding for my couching experiment

Golden memories

On the day that I should have been at my fifth class, a FoF about what was accomplished at my fourth class, and what I’ve done since. The fourth class, my goodness – I’m half way!

The first thing was to discuss with the tutor (Becky Quine) whether to leave or unpick the couched cloud. She said for rococco you would normally ignore the wave but couch by distance, making bricking easier. That makes sense but I wish I remembered where and when I was told to go by the wave; I’m fairly certain I didn’t just make it up! Becky agreed that the couching on the cloud was a little wide because of my trying to follow the wave but advised leaving it as taking it out might cause damage to the fabric (even though I hadn’t plunged them yet). So I plunged and secured the threads, and we’ll see what the assessors think.

The cloud is finally plunged

The picture above shows the start of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back. I had decided to use alternating pairs of very fine rococco and Jap; Becky said to use the larger rococco only as the very fine doesn’t come in the kit you get at the beginning of the module and it might be an issue in the assessment. I told her that I didn’t get the kit because I had pretty much all the materials already so Angela said to work from stash; and had also approved my using different sizes of rococco because the size isn’t specified in the brief. We agreed that I’d note my decision to use the very fine rococco in my log.

As I was couching a pair of the rococco I noticed the gold wrapping was rather gappy, showing the core thread. It would have annoyed me whenever I saw the piece if I left it, so I took it it out and picked a better bit to replace it with. Towards the end it needed a single very short line of rococco to cover the felt completely, which was fiddly but necessary to make sure it looked neat and tidy. Well, except for the spaghetti ends sticking out everywhere.

Some of the gold wrapping on the rococco was gappy Mixed couching leads to a lot of spaghetti

To practice creating a nice edge I first plunged the side that will be bordered by the couched Jap in the haunch, then the edge that would remain exposed. And that’s what the front looked like at the end of my fourth class.

The first edge plunged And the second At the end of the fourth class

Besides stitching there was a lot of discussing various bits of the design. I asked about the teeny details such as Haasje’s nose and Bruce’s nostril – as I can’t possibly do them in any of the threads in the brief, do I just leave them out or would I be allowed to stitch them in a thin metallic thread? Becky confirmed that for anything this small a thin or stranded metallic like Ophir is permitted. Unfortunately Ophir has been discontinued and I never managed to get hold of any, but in my goldwork stash I have a very thin Kreinik Jap #1 and a Madeira 3-ply Heavy Metallic, 1 ply of which should work well. I’ll take them to my next class to see what the tutor thinks of them.

At home the first task was to secure all the plunged ends of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back; as I mentioned in an earlier FoF, I couldn’t manage with the John James needles and I broke my last curved beading needle after only half the oversewing. Fortunately the Creative Quilting needles arrived not too long after and I could finish it. They are very nice to work with indeed, stronger than the beading needle but a bit finer and more flexible than the JJ ones; just what you need in a dense area such as this.

Bruce's back fully plunged and secured

Next was the front leg. I’d worked out two possible arrangements of the couched Jap, and I felt I couldn’t properly visualise them on paper – some sampling was called for!

Two possible front leg arrangements

Now this sampling was not done as neatly as I hope the real leg will be done, simply because I didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time getting it neat when the aim of the sampling was simply to compare the look of the two “layouts”; moreover, in order not to use up lots of precious Jap I used some unidentified Jap of a similar thickness which I rescued from a tangle in my mother-in-law’s work chest, and which is decidedly less than pristine in places. Because of this, it didn’t behave as well in tight turns as the proper stuff will. But it definitely gave me some idea of which I preferred.

The front leg sampled two ways

I expected to like the one on the right best, and I do like the way the lines run in that one (more like the way you would fill in that leg if you were drawing or painting it), but the version on the left is a lot neater. Purely in isolation that would be fine, but I feel that the gold going across the top makes it look cut off from the rest of the body, instead of flowing into it. Hmm, some thought and tutor input needed there.

So that’s where I am at the moment, and the question is, What next? I do need to get some homework done, especially now that my next class may well be a couple of months away. Well, not the front leg. That needs bouncing off the tutor. I was advised to do the line of grass later as it is so close to the bottom of the frame and it might get damaged if I lean on it to get to higher-up bits of the design. Still, I keep it covered when not working on it, I don’t lean on my frame much anyway as it’s so small, and it’s done in couched twist which seems quite sturdy, so as long as I don’t put the chips in I should be OK. I’ll probably do some work on the rear leg as well, as I’ve discussed the arrangement of that (starting with a loop start in the toe) in quite a bit of detail with two tutors. And then? If there’s no class in sight yet, I will put it away and go back to the racehorse – that way I will keep in practice with goldwork, and not risk ruining anything important smiley. And if there are still no classes when the horse is finished, well, I may just possibly have bought two of Alison Cole’s goldwork kits the other day which arrived at unprecedented speed and are therefore winking at me seductively from my craft room desk…

Alison Cole's Pearl Butterfly Alison Cole's Beetle Wing Floral

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

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 ib 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 awkwardfoot 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