Until recently I didn’t really “feel” Canvaswork, so I approached my first proper class (which initially had been planned for last July, but got postponed several times for various reasons) with some trepidation. I came armed with two outlines which I knew to be far too detailed, a framed-up canvas which I knew wasn’t tight enough (but which by this time did at least have the required rectangular running stitch outline in sewing thread), a few samplings in the wrong sort of thread, and about one idea. I did not feel confident.
The tutor assigned to this class was Angela, and I’d been looking forward to seeing her and perhaps having a little Bruce chat with her, but unfortunately she had gone down with Covid (apparently feeling rather rough with it, poor her) and so the class was taken by Helen Jones. With only four students we each had plenty of time to discuss things with her, and for me the first thing was indeed to get that canvas tightened. I unlaced part of it, turned the bottom roller once and re-laced. It is now most definitely taut as a drum, but as that is difficult to photograph you’ll have to take my word for it!
The next thing was to simplify the outline. I was surprised at how far you take this process in canvaswork, and I fear mine probably still has too much detail (especially in the windmill) but this was as simple as I felt comfortable with, and Helen OK-ed it. To make it easier to transfer she suggested tracing the pencil lines in marker pen; this was also a good opportunity to get the horizon level. In the photograph the furthest edge of the paved area which forms the strongest horizontal line in the piece is actually slightly curved, but making it perfectly level would help to “anchor” the design when transferring it – if the horizon didn’t follow a straight line of holes on the canvas, I’d know I had to reposition it.
Having got used to prick & pounce and paint for transferring the design at RSN classes, canvaswork is a bit of a wayward module. There is no way the canvas would take the pounce in any meaningful way, and as you have to transfer the design when the canvas is on the frame you can’t just bung it onto a light box either. Instead, you build a squat tower of books with the design on top of it, place the frame over it so that the canvas rests on the design, and then trace what you can see of it through the holes with a permanent marker. It then becomes abundantly clear why the outline has to be simplified so much: the canvas simply will not take any great level of detail. It is also surprisingly difficult to manipulate the traced design if its position is slightly off, sandwiched as it is between the books and the frame. But eventually I got that nice straight horizon to line up with a row of holes, and drew it on.
I can’t guarantee that what eventually ended up on the canvas is exactly like the design outline – some of the squigglier lines were difficult to trace precisely – but again it got the OK so perhaps I was being a bit too fussy. What definitely did need addressing was the fact that I managed to leave off an entire hedge, which I didn’t notice until I got home and showed the canvas to Mr Figworthy! It has since been added in.
Because it felt silly to do absolutely no stitching at all in class, I did do a tiny bit of sampling: it’s a herringbone variation which takes shading rather well, and which I hope to use to bring texture to the green bits that aren’t worked individually. It is rather fiddly, as you have to bring the needle up underneath previous stitches half the time, but I think it will be worth the effort.
My next class is in January; until then I’ll be colouring in a print of the outline (officially “making a colour and shading plan”), choosing stitches and doing a lot of sampling. I’ve got some ideas for the two large tulips in the foreground and various other bits and have sketched and scribbled a few ideas (yes, my handwriting is atrocious) to be translated into sampling at some point.
Due to canvaswork being the Mary Mary Quite Contrary of embroidery, those two big tulips will be worked first. In all other techniques you work the background first, and then the things that are a bit nearer to the viewer, and so on, until you reach the things in the foreground. If parts of the design overlap you stitch the overlapping bit last, which looks more natural and convincing. But in canvaswork you stitch the foreground first, and end with what is furthest away in the picture. As far as I understand, this is because the further back in the design you go, the smaller the stitches get – and it is much easier to work small stitches around large ones than fit large ones into a background made up of small stitches!
Having to end with lots of green and a big expanse of sky after doing all the interesting foreground bits may sound like starting with the fireworks and going downhill from there, but I rather like it – I think those tulips will entice me into a technique which is entirely new to me and feels unfamiliar and challenging. Let’s hear it for the Tempting Tulips!