A manageable frame

If you’ve been following my RSN Certificate progress you may have picked up a hint or two (or three, or four…) that I do not like working with the slate frame. Well, that’s not absolutely true, I do greatly appreciate the excellent tension you get on a slate frame, and I rather enjoy doing embroidery in a way that connects me with stitchers from many centuries ago; what I do not like was its size, which means you have to use it with trestles, which in turn means that even with considerable added tilt, the work is still at a near-horizontal angle.

A near-horizontal slate frame

This seems to work for some, maybe even most people (although I have heard from at least one RSN graduate that she hardly ever uses a slate frame anymore because it “did her back in”) but I am hampered by my eyesight. Not only am I very short-sighted, I have protein deposits in one eye which cause blurring. Together they make it impossible for me to see the whole slate frame in focus when it is positioned on the trestles. I could reasonably comfortable work on the bottom third of the design, and also on the top third by the simple expedient of turning the frame round. It was when working on a particularly challenging part right in the middle of the design that I found the only way I could see well enough to do the stitching with the required level of accuracy was to stand up and bend over the frame. Doing my back in? I’ll say!

Back-breaking work at the slate frame Back-breaking work at the slate frame

It was very clear to me that I needed a smaller slate frame. The RSN don’t do anything smaller than my present 18″ one, but several other people do, among them Jenny Adin-Christie, a former tutor and studio embroiderer at the RSN and therefore well-acquainted with what is required of a slate frame. It just remained to convince the RSN that I could, in fact, do the next three modules on a 12″ slate frame as the size requirements were so much smaller than for the Jacobean module (A5 max instead of A4). Initially they were not happy with the idea; it took a fair few emails (including mentioning that I would not be able to continue with the Certificate in the present set-up) and a promise that I would discuss it with my tutors, but in the end they did agree and the very next day I ordered my smaller frame.

A smaller slate frame

It’s difficult to tell the size when seeing it in isolation, so here it is (with pinned lengths of herringbone band to help it keep its shape) on top of the old one – once on top of the covers and once showing my Jacobean piece, which actually very nearly fits!

The new slate frame on top of the old The smaller frame would almost accommodate the Tree!

The main thing about getting this smaller slate frame was that I could dispense with the trestle set-up. But it’s obviously too big to hold – it needs a stand of some sort. On her site, Jenny Adin-Christie says this size can be used with a Lowery, although it will need support on the unclamped side. Well, that’s not going to be a problem – remember this?

A Meccano solution (with cat) The Meccano prop in place

But the Lowery is not ideal from a portability perspective. To use this frame at my classes it would be really helpful if it worked with the Aristo lap stand, the arms of which in their natural state are not quite long enough to support the slate frame at full stretch.

The arms of the Aristo lap stand are not quite long enough

Once again, Meccano and Mr Mabel’s engineering expertise to the rescue! (He has modestly requested I show only his hands, not his face.)

Picking useful bits of Meccano Putting things together

And here it is, ready for use when I start my Canvaswork module (whenever that may be…)

The finished extension in place The finished extension in use

PS By the way, the conversations with my tutors about the slate frame were interesting. One said that it was unusual but she had no doubt I’d manage as long as I could find a stand to use it with in class (sorted, see above); with the other, the conversation went as follows: “I’ve been allowed to work on a smaller frame.” “Yeah, that’s fine.” “No, but a much smaller frame.” “Yes, OK.” “I mean, 12-inch small”. “Yes, fine.” Well, that was obviously a big problem smiley.

Certificate decisions

Last week I wrote about a significant set of four RSN Stitch Guides and ideas for the Canvaswork module of the RSN Certificate and this means, doesn’t it, surely it must, that I’ve decided to do The Whole Thing after all. As you may remember I set out on this course with the clear intention of doing the Jacobean and Goldwork modules, and then stopping. Several people (including tutors, my very supportive husband and a fellow student) have since encouraged me to do the whole Certificate, and I’ve been keeping this in the back of my mind throughout the first module. The ideas are there – my canvas scribbles and pictures-for-inspiration are fairly obvious indications of that. And yet.

Various ideas for the Canvaswork module

Having stitched for quite a few hours now using the trestle-and-slate-frame combination, I think I can confidently say it is simply not my cup of tea. I find the stitching position uncomfortable and the nearly horizontal orientation of the frame (even after putting the rear of the trestles up another notch to give it extra tilt) puts a strain on my eyes – with my ordinary glasses I can see the further end of the embroidery, but I can’t see the details nearby, while with my stitching glasses I can’t see far enough without things going blurry. When stitching the tree trunk, which covers quite a bit of the height of the design, neither of my glasses allowed me to work an entire row of chain stitch in focus while keeping a comfortable (and healthy!) posture.

The trestles at maximum tilt

But the slate frame is obligatory when doing the Certificate (and the other “big” RSN courses like the Diploma and the Future Tutor programme), and I don’t think it is negotiable. Not for the Canvaswork and Goldwork modules, with A5-sized projects, and not even for the Silk Shading module, where the brief specifies that “overall the piece should be no bigger than 8×8 centimeters (3in x 3in)”. Leaving aside for the moment that 3 inches is even less than 8 centimetres, does this really need a slate frame, even my “small” 18-inch one? I fear that it probably does if it’s part of the Certificate, and that no amount of coin-bouncing off my laced Millennium frame will convince them otherwise. But just possibly the Bling SAL Tree may sneak into my frame bag, come to my February class and show off its drum-taut tension, and then who knows?

Laced Millennium frame

PS Depending on the outcome, would anyone be interested in taking over a hardly-used slate frame in a year or so? With trestles?

Recycling a memory

After my mother died, a little over three years ago, I had to clear out the rented flat she had lived in since 1973 (with solid help from my aunt who lives in the same tower block), and decide what I was going to take back with me to England, and what would be sold or given to charity. Among the things I took were several duvet covers (Dutch duvet covers have tucking-in strips at the bottom, which I sorely miss on the ones I can buy here), one of which was a particular favourite of mine. The seam at the top was frayed but otherwise it was fine, so I mended it – by hand, as sewing machines and I don’t really get on – and we’ve used it ever since (not continually, I hasten to say).

A mended duvet cover

But last week I had to admit defeat. It’s not just seams coming apart, it’s the actual fabric that is perishing.

A duvet cover beyond repair

Is it stupid to cry over a duvet cover? Perhaps not if it’s the memories more than the cover itself. Even so, it’s no use crying over spilt duvet covers, as they say, and so I had to decide what to do with it. Consign it to the rag bag? Turn it into dusters? Or… recycle it as protective flaps for my slate frame instead of the tissue paper I was given when framing up?

A slate frame covered in tissue paper

The more I thought of it, the more it seemed like a spiffing idea. Bearing in mind the size of the actual design I’d be working on (rather than the size of the twill fabric mounted on the frame) I sketched a few ideas, took some measurements, and decided to go with two 35cm square flaps, and two 40cm square ones; with a double-folded seam (0.5cm, then 1cm) that meant I’d need two 38cm squares and two 43cm ones. Even staying well away from the perishing edges (shame I couldn’t re-use the seams) there should be plenty of fabric in a double duvet cover!

A sketch and the necessary measurements

Now I was all set to do this by hand (did I mention my less-than-cordial relationship with sewing machines?) – and then my mother-in-law came to stay. Although nowadays she prefers to sew by hand, she is a whiz with the sewing machine (many, many quilts bear witness to this) and so I enlisted her help. My husband got the old Singer down and installed it on the kitchen table, I cut the squares, my mother-in-law finger-pressed the first narrow seam, I ironed the full seams, she sewed them, I read bits of the sewing machine manual and re-wound bobbins and ironed the final squares. Teamwork!

Finger-pressed turn-under Pinning the hems Mother-in-law subdues the sewing machine Ready to iron

Behold, the finished squares. As it happened, the thread on the bobbin ran out halfway through and a little part of one hem was left unsewn, so there is a little bit of hand sewing in them after all smiley.

Square 1 Square 2 Square 3 Square 4 A bit of hand stitching

Here they in situ, attached to the webbing with safety pins, ready to do their protective job. At my next class I’ll ask how to attach the top and bottom flaps when the fabric is rolled up on the bars.

The side flaps folded over the twill All four flaps folded over the twill The flaps folded back to show the stitching area And the view that will distract me

And so bits of old duvet cover will aid me in my stitching while reminding me of both my mother and my mother-in-law – a great outcome, don’t you think?

My 10% trestles

Right, so I’ve got the slate frame, and all framed up too – now where do I put it? Thinking about it, that question could go in two different directions, so first I’ll briefly touch upon the one I didn’t intend.

Although that was not what I was driving at, the question could mean “where do I store it?”, and although the easy answer to that is “in my craft room”, that won’t really do. Do I just keep it in the big sturdy plastic wrapper I was given in my starter kit? And if so, how do I transport it? So the slightly more complicated answer turned out to be “in a bag”. Or more accurately, “in a very very big bag”. This one was made for me by Adele at Little Thimble Co based on measurements and requirements I gave her. In hindsight, an inch less all around would have sufficed, but at least the frame isn’t cramped in there!

The quilted bag for my slate frame The quilted bag for my slate frame

What I actually meant when I asked the question was “where do I put it when I’m using it?” As soon as I saw the slate frame in its full glory I realised there wasn’t a hope of using it with any of the stands I have, whether of the floor, seat or lap variety. It would have to be trestles. And after a brief play with the ones we use for our annual trade fair I decided to splash out, not on the £500+ RSN ones, but a more modestly priced pair of Ikea ones which set me back almost exactly a tenth of that. If I was going to do a lot of ecclesiastical embroidery I’d have called them my tithe trestles, but as Baptists don’t go in much for vestments and altar cloths I’ll have to stick with the more secular-sounding 10% trestles.

My husband is an engineer, so no sooner had the box arrived than he was on the floor, putting the first of the trestles together. Here he is with our inevitable assistant.

Mr Figworthy building one of the trestles, supervised by Lexi

When one trestle had been completed, I was entrusted with the pile of bits that would make up the second one.

One trestle down, one to go

So would the frame fit on the trestles? And more to the point, once the trestles were in the right position to support the frame, would I be able to fit my legs in between? A quick trial run demonstrated that as long as I didn’t indulge in manspreading (unlikely, you will agree) then yes, I would fit. We also found that with a modest one-hole tilt (one end of the trestle pegged one hole further up than the other end) there was no need for added stops on the lower ends of the trestles, as gravity and friction kept the slate frame from slipping. Even with a two-hole tilt it was reasonably secure, and I don’t think I’ll often use it at that angle.

Trying the trestles on for size

And here is the trestles-and-frame set-up in what will be its designated spot whenever I want to work on my Certificate piece. Isn’t it idyllic?

My Certificate stitching set-up

PS Don’t the trestle shelves look like the purrfect place for a pussycat to curl up and have a nap? So far Lexi has resisted the temptation.

A slate frame day

Last Wednesday was my second class for the RSN Certificate. And did I get to stitch? Well, that rather depends on your definition of “stitch”…

I stitched on my doodle cloth – I’d done some homework stitching trying out battlement couching and padded buttonhole for my snail’s shell to show to Angela, and while there I tried some fillings for a leaf. Not very successfully, as I still don’t know what I want to use, but at least I stitched!

Battlement couching A snail's shell Doodling a leaf

Then there was a lot of stitching that was sewing rather than embroidering when we got on to dressing the slate frame (after cutting the fabric exactly on the grain). Sewing the fabric to the webbing, sewing herringbone tape to the sides of the fabric, and (using a positively lethal bracing needle) “sewing” the herringbone tape to the side bars. My hands got an awful lot of exercise!

The slate frame parts and my on-the-grain fabric The fabric pinned to the webbing, ready for stitching Lacing the fabric to the frame with a bracing needle Some very very tight fabric

I’d been working as fast as I could while still being accurate (I’d even curtailed my lunch break to 45 minutes instead of an hour, and didn’t have an afternoon cup of tea – quite unheard of, as I tend to live on intravenous tea) but by the time the fabric was taut on the frame there was no way I was going to get the design on. However, I did manage to get my tracing (or rather my cleaned-up version printed on tracing paper) pricked so that next time I can get started on transferring the drawing by pouncing (not an inappropriate term with that cat in the design) and then connecting the dots with paint (trying to keep the lines as fine as possible).

The printed tracing The design ready-pricked

In between getting the fabric on the frame I managed to discuss some of my questions with Angela, and have a look at the colour plans I’d done (two on the computer, one in pencil). Over the next month I’ll have to consolidate these into one which I’m sticking with, and I also need to work out a detailed stitch plan. There are some stitch ideas and indications in these colour plans, but not nearly precise enough.

Three colour plans with stitch indications

Several stitch ideas will have to be tried out first on a doodle cloth; the one I started with is not very big and will soon be full, but my fabric drawers yielded a larger piece of twill (you can doodle on calico or any other material, but I like the idea of seeing how it works on the right fabric with the actual threads I’ll be using) which I got some years ago and managed to scorch slightly when ironing it *oops*. This makes it unfit for a proper project, but perfect for a doodle cloth! So this one will probably see my attempts at curved burden stitch for the cat’s body, detached backstitch for the snail’s shell, various shapes filled with satin stitch, and block shading. I don’t particularly like the look of block shading but it’s one of the obligatory elements; I’ve been trying it out on the crewel rabbit & carnations project, which is proving to be quite a good practice piece for this course.

A larger doodle cloth Starting on block shading

So one month and two contact days into the Certificate, what have I got? I’ve got my fabric mounted on the slate frame, a pricked-but-not-pounced design, several colour plans and half a notebook full of questions, sketches and stitch ideas. It doesn’t sound much, does it? But it’s a start, and next time I am definitely going to get stitching on the real thing!