Class notes, a hillock and a brick

It’s been a few weeks since my last RSN Certificate class so high time for an update. And the update doesn’t go beyond the class, I’m afraid, as I haven’t touched the project since – at the moment, the SAL is taking up most of my Mabel time!

We were a select few on 30th November at the Rugby branch of the RSN – only four of us, three of whom were on the Jacobean module. As always it was extremely interesting to see the other students’ projects, what design choices they had made, how they were handling certain stitches. I also found out that I was on the positive side (to my mind) of a change the RSN had made to the Jacobean brief. The other two crewel students both started a little after I did, and they were told that they could have only one animal in their design (I assume people had been going rather overboard on the animal front; the same thing happened some years back with the number of colours you are allowed to use). I heaved a sigh of relief that I’d started earlier, for how could I possibly have sacrificed either James the snail or Lexi the cat! Phew.

Talking of the cat, you may remember I had sampled the ball of wool that she is entangled in. Angela (the tutor) thought it looked very effective but warned me that the assessors (who, by the way, do not look at your work through a magnifying glass – the person telling me that was fibbing!) might have something to say about the long, unsecured satin stitches on the top. I prodded at them to show her that they were really quite firmly placed but she said normally they would expect satin stitches that long to have a little couching stitch in the middle. This, of course, would ruin the effect I was after, so she advised me to put a note in my log to explain that it was a conscious design decision to have the top stitches long and unsecured, and not just me being ignorant of best practice smiley.

Second, incomplete layer of satin stitch

In preparation for my fifth class I had worked on the gap in the tree trunk and the left hillock. I was going to ask the tutor about my idea of whipping the existing chain stitches bordering the gap, but completely forgot! However, if I do decide to add that whipping it can be done right up to when I finish the project, so I’ve made a note to ask next time. For the Pekinese stitches making up the hillock my pretty little stiletto came in handy once again, especially by the tree trunk where the stitches were threatening to get far too intimately acquainted with each other.

Using the stiletto on the left hillock Two areas of stitches coming together

I’d hoped to complete the hillock before going to class but that was clearly not going to happen unless I got up very early on the Saturday, and I felt I’d probably be doing quite enough stitching that day! So this is where I was at the start of my fifth class:

Before the fifth class

Incidentally, although your are expected to attend eight classes (or contact days) per module, don’t let that give you the idea that you put in your last stitch at the end of class #8. Part of the module is mounting your work, and that generally takes all of your eighth class as well as probably half (or more) of your seventh. Angela advised me to have most of my stitching done by the start of the seventh class, so that a bit of tidying and tweaking is all that’s left, stitching-wise, and then concentrate on the mounting. This includes cutting your own mount board and covering it with calico before you get to what I would usually think of as mounting.

But for now it was mostly checking with Angela that she was happy with the bits I’d done at home, like the lattice work and the long & short leaves; to show her the various samplings and ask her opinion; and to get on with stitching. Now you’d think, wouldn’t you, that working on these various aspects of my project from 10am to 4pm (minus about 45 minutes for lunch and stretching my legs, and the odd cup of tea in the classroom) I’d get lots done. I certainly thought that, although previous experience should have taught me otherwise. Let’s face it, if you’re into instant gratification an RSN Certificate is not the way to get it. Stitching this precise is slow, not only because accuracy takes time but also because you stop and consider what you’ve done, judge previous decisions and decide whether to change or re-stitch, and so on. This meant that I finished the class with one completed hillock and a little over half a brick.

After the fifth class

Of course that’s a slightly misleading way of putting it, as I came away from the class with lots of feedback, advice, encouragement and ideas as well – and the pleasure of having seen the start of what is set to become an amazing piece of blackwork (creepy, but amazing) by a Diploma student, and of meeting a lady who to my mind is a stitching hero. Having done nothing more than a few needlepoint kits, she decided she wanted to get some solid embroidery schooling and is now working on the Jacobean module for her Certificate. My husband, when I told him about her, said it sounded like someone who’d got a provisional driving licence and a few lessons and then entered a Formula 1 race. Fortunately the risk of serious injury is not nearly so great in embroidery smiley and that Saturday she was having a lot of fun designing a worm as the animal in her crewel project.

Telling my husband all about the classes afterwards is part of my enjoyment of them, and I also like discussing bits of the design or stitch decisions with him as he knows enough about it to understand what I’m talking about, but because he is not an embroiderer himself he has a different way of looking at these things which can help me see them from a fresh perspective. He also helps me not to get too obsessive about the whole thing. When I confessed to him that I liked the doodle cloth hillock much better than the one on the proper project, and wondered aloud whether I should re-do it, his straightforward engineer’s solution was to threaten to take my doodle cloth away until I came to my senses. I have since come to realise that although they look different, and the shape of the doodle cloth hillock is still, to my mind, more pleasing, the final version is absolutely fine.

Now when I said that this FoF would not look beyond the class I was not entirely accurate. It is true that on Sunday afternoon I packed away the trestles and slate frame to sit idle until the new year, but before that I did do a little bit of work on it – I just couldn’t leave it with the brick only half done. There was a practical consideration to this: it is generally best to work a shape like that in one sitting, if possible, because your stitch tension changes from one day to the next. Imagine how it might change from one month to the next! So before bundling the whole set-up into the craft room I finished James’s brick, and I am really pleased with the smooth outline I managed to get on the satin stitch.

A satin stitch brick

And here is the whole thing as it’s gone into hibernation:

The RSN Jacobean project before hibernation

Roll on 2020!

Any tool will do?

While at my mother-in-law’s last Sunday I was in need of A Thing That Makes Holes. As a travel project I’d brought some kit preparations instead of embroidery, and I was cutting threads for the tassels used in the Felt Bookmark kits (which, incidentally, will need re-thinking as the shop from which I get the felt shapes have annoyingly discontinued them. Grrr).

The felt bookmarks with their tassels

To attach the tassels I thread a bundle of white and variegated perle threads through the felt, then knot it. But even with a size 18 chenille needle this was proving very difficult, and the strong pull needed to get them through caused a rather unsightly kink in the threads. The obvious answer was to pre-pierce the felt with something rather thicker than the needle I was using. I couldn’t remember the word for the tool I wanted so asked my mother-in-law if she had an awl. She asked if I meant a stiletto. Of course that was exactly what I meant; she produced one, and I produced the necessary holes, and all was well.

Back at home I started thinking of getting my own Thing That Makes Holes; I’d heard that some people use the pointy end of their mellor (a curiously shaped object used in goldwork to push metal wires into shape) but I wasn’t at all sure whether the pointy end was really pointy enough for my purpose. It is apparently very good for gently pushing fabric threads apart rather than piercing and possibly damaging the threads, so the hole will close again, but on trying it out I found that pushing it through the fabric (especially a non-woven fabric such as felt) took a lot of force because the point is in fact relatively blunt.

A goldwork mellor

I then drooled for a while over a rosewood stiletto available from the London Embroidery School. It was beautiful, but unfortunately also rather expensive, especially with the postage, and quite apart from that I was a bit concerned about the sharpness and strength of the point. Although wooden stilettos have been used for yonks I felt a metal version would be more reliable.

A rosewood stiletto

eBay offered me a great variety of pointy hole-making things under various names, most of them impossibly cheap and coming from China or Hong Kong. Eliminating any items from outside the EU I found a UK-based basic awl. I seriously considered this one – cheap, nicely tapered and sharp but, well, not very inspiring.

A basic awl

A bit more searching and my workbox is now enhanced with this rather pretty compromise: an inexpensive antique stiletto (advertised as a bodkin) with a mother-of-pearl handle. Not as cheap as the basic awl, but a lot less than the rosewood stiletto. The metal is a little stained, but the tip is sharp and a little rubbing with nothing harsher than paper left it feeling nice and smooth.

An antique bodkin

And does it make proper holes? Yes it does, and you can control the size of the hole by how far you push the tool in. The four holes along the top of the fabric were all made with the stiletto, and range from sizeable to practically non-existent; the one on the right was made with the mellor, and I think all holes made with it would be about this size. The second picture shows that even when making the biggest hole the fabric isn’t damaged very much, and can be stroked or rubbed back into shape should that be necessary. The fabric around the mellor-made hole by contrast still looks rather dented. So hurray for my new tool!

Holes made with the stiletto The holes closed up after rubbing the fabric

On a different topic, I promised to let you know if Kelly Fletcher got back to me. She did, saying, “sorry to hear you had trouble with the threads. You assumed correctly that I have no control over the packaging of the kits. But I will pass on your experience and the links to your two posts to my publisher.” In fact she did more than that – she looked at the colour numbers I mentioned in FoF, and with her publisher worked out that the Amazon seller had sent me a replacement set of threads for a different kit, her Boho Chic one. The publisher offered to send me the proper threads, but considering the amount of thread I’ve got that seemed rather silly; I asked her, however, to pass on my thanks for their customer service as it would no doubt be greatly appreciated by any beginner who had the same thing happen.