Assessing an assessment (goldwork) – part 1

Some months ago (last September, in fact) I received the assessment for the RSN Goldwork module, and I promised you a FoF about it as I had done for the Jacobean module. And then it didn’t happen. Life got in the way, and moreover there were a few things in the assessment that I was still mulling over. At the Knitting & Stitching Show I mentioned these to Noleen Wyatt-Jones, the Day & Evening Classes Manager, who is a most helpful, cheerful and encouraging person and who told me to write to Anne Butcher, the Head of Teaching, with my queries and comments, and she’d let Anne know that my email was on the way. She has helpfully, cheerfully and encouragingly nagged me to do so on several occasions since, and there was clearly only one way to stop that: write the email! So I did, with this FoF as a by-product; or rather, two by-products, as it turned out to be far too long for one edition!

Just a bit of recap on the marking system: you are awarded between 1 and 5 points for each criterion, or a multiple of these if the section is given more weight. If a section is seen as three times more “weighty”, then the possible marks are 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 – there is no option of awarding, say, 8 points. And before any marking gets done, you see the assessors’ general comment.

General comments at the start of the assessment

As it is the very first thing you see, it is a great relief when that comment is positive! Unlike in the Jacobean assessment no characters were singled out, but I will definitely settle for “interesting design” and “very good grounding”. As a former teacher who sat through numerous parent-teacher evenings trying to find acceptable things to say to them about their children, I am very much aware that “interesting” (like “different” and “individual”) can be a tactful way of conveying that the achievement is not quite what was expected, but I will ignore that and take the comments at face value!

The sections of the assessment vary from module to module, but they all start with “First Impressions” (although some of the criteria within that section are specific to the module).

Assessment: First Impressions

Again, no alien fibres! Lexi will be most disappointed that she didn’t manage to leave any trace of herself on the finished work – she’s been trying hard enough right from the start smiley.

Cat trying to add alien fibres

I’ve been trying to find a picture of the fabric with bits of wax on it (they do occasionally come off the waxed thread) but it seems I managed to remove them immediately, and well before any pictures were taken. Obviously a good strategy! As for the paint lines being covered, there was one place where I was initially left with a visible line: Haasje’s face. I found that following the line precisely with the pearl purl made him look wrong, and so I decided to couch it so that the outline looked right, and worry about the visible paint later. I managed to scrape that away successfully – the tacking line that was put in right at the start on top of all the paint lines I had to cut from the back and squirrel away. I’m delighted to find that I was successful in doing so.

Some scraped-off design lines

On to the section on Design, where they remarked favourably on the fact that I hadn’t allowed the gold to spread beyond the original design or lose its proportions, and on the “flow” of the threads and wires within the design. Yay! Even so, this was one section where I was braced for a loss of points, and so it turned out to be: one point on the choice of fabric, and two on the use of S-ing.

Assessment: Design

To begin with the fabric, the assessors were absolutely right. The brief specifically requires a power-woven silk dupion (or linen, but I have never seen anyone use that; silk looks so much more luxurious) and mine is hand-woven, which even under tension is noticeably less smooth. Neither I nor the tutor noticed this requirement until the project was already well underway, and I will admit that in any case I was so pleased with the colour and the textured look of the fabric that I decided to stick with it, explain it in the Project Evaluation Notes which you hand in with the finished piece, and take the consequences.

Smooth power-woven silk dupion Slubby hand-woven silk dupion

On to what I knew would be a bone of contention: my decision to use S-ing for the sun’s rays. The assessors’ argument is that a) it is a technique that should only be seen on an advanced goldwork piece, and b) if a technique is not listed as optional then it should not be used at all. Some of this had been mentioned (with varying degrees of discouragement) by my three tutors, and if I had been really worried about my mark I would have given it up as too risky. However, I really liked the effect of the S-ing there, it worked for the design in ways that the only other likely option, rococco, would not (less shiny, not enough contrast with the cloud outline), and most importantly, I did not and do not agree that it goes against the brief.

The sun with rays of S-ing

When it comes to materials and threads, the brief is unequivocal in what you must not use: no velvet, and no threads other than those mentioned. But on the subject of techniques, the only caveat is that you must include all the techniques on the list. There is no mention whatsoever (as there is for the materials and threads) that no others are allowed. Now if I had decided to do the sun itself in padded kid leather, that would clearly have gone against the brief as kid leather isn’t mentioned in the list of allowed materials. But the S-ing is done in smooth purl, which is on the list. I wrote all this in my Project Evaluation Notes in what I hope was a balanced way by being open about the fact that two of the three tutors I had for this module had advised against it (the third said it would be safer not to but that in the end it was my design decision); the assessors obviously didn’t agree. Still, in spite of the loss of points I am glad I did stick with it, as I think it was the right design decision within the constraints of the brief.

What you must not use What you must include

I will ask about this, too, in the email; I’m really not that bothered about the lost marks, but I would like it clarified what you can and cannot do in this module. A fellow student told me, when I mentioned something in the Canvaswork brief, that that was probably there because of something she had done in her Canvas piece, which the assessors weren’t happy about but which was at that time within the guidelines. They then changed the brief to exclude it from then on. Perhaps that’s what should happen about the S-ing as well, if the RSN strongly feel that it should not be attempted by Certificate students. I will keep you posted! And I’ll discuss the rest of the assessment the next FoF.

Grooming a horse

I’m practically neighing with excitement: after well over three years (I first mentioned him on FoF in November 2018) Hengest the Medieval Unicorn is finally nearing completion!

Hengest is getting there!

But there are, to employ a horsy metaphor, a few hurdles to overcome before we get to the finishing line, and I’m hoping they don’t turn into a full-blown steeple chase. One of these things is his horn. Since his conception Hengest has diverged fairly dramatically from the horse on the Steeple Aston cope which inspired him, not least by becoming a unicorn. The original, therefore, has no horn which I could use as a model. Now I had envisaged stitching the horn in two shades of dark golden yellow, in short lines curving around the horn; probably two or three lines of the lighter shade, then one of the darker shade, and so on.

The plan for Hengest's horn

When I got to the point of actually stitching the horn, however, I started to have my doubts. These would be very short lines, especially towards the tip. And would I be able to keep the curve even along the length of the horn? Wouldn’t it be very difficult to keep the edges neat? And wouldn’t it be better to have long lines along the horn to contrast with the stitch direction in the surrounding mane? I decided to do some sampling. One horn with the lighter shade stitched in long lines and the darker shade over the top, and one with both shades worked in curved lines across the horn, three light to one dark.

Two types of horn

What did I learn from this sampling? Well, the first thing was that unless I have very good light, I don’t see pencil outlines. One thing I liked about the right-hand horn is that it kept its pointy tip better. Closer inspection shows that this is because I didn’t fill the whole shape (purple arrow). So we’ll ignore the relative pointiness and concentrate on other things. In the left-hand horn, with dark stitches worked across the long lines of lighter ones, the first cross lines I did were too straight (blue arrow). I like the effect better when they are more diagonal (red arrow). In the right-hand horn, with both colours worked across, I found at first that my stitches were different lengths from one shade to the next (yellow arrow). That can be sorted with proper attention – I was stitching these samples while chatting and having tea at my embroidery group – and so is not a deal breaker. More difficult was to keep the edges straight (green arrows). And the colour difference between the two shades is not as clear as in the other one. On the other hand, I think it looks more natural when the stitch direction follows the spiralling pattern of the horn.

I’m undecided.

So shelving the dilemma of the horn for the time being, I concentrated on the eyes. You might wonder what the problem is there, as they have already been stitched. Well, the trouble is that they don’t look the way I meant them to. They evolved quite a bit from the first sketches: from big black eyes looking sideways, to smaller ones looking slightly up, to ones with blue irises (added when I noticed that the Steeple Aston horse had them) still with that slightly-up orientation.

The evolution of Hengest's eyes

But what I had actually stitched was this:

Hengest's eyes in wool

There are a couple of things there that I am not altogether happy with, neither of which is easy to change. His eyes are quite boldly outlined in dark grey (in my first attempt they were even more boldly outlined in black, but that was quickly knocked on the head). This is at least in part because the Steeple Aston horse has boldly outlined eyes – but quite a lot of the rest of him is too, whereas I opted to stitch Hengest without any outlines, so the eyes stand out more than I really intended. Stitching them in a grey one shade lighter would make a difference, but unfortunately the dark grey is so completely embedded in and connected with other stitches that unpicking it is a complete no-no. The other issue is the direction of his gaze: straight upwards, which I think makes him look rather goofy. Mind you, not as goofy as the original horse, whose uncoordinated eyes appear to be in some disagreement about direction.

The uncoordinated gaze of the original horse What direction am I looking in?

Still, goofy. Could this perhaps be changed with a few extra grey stitches? I tried to position a tiny bit of dark grey wool over some of the iris to see if that would look any better. It was very fiddly, but it was also immediately clear that trying to show the effect on one eye only wasn’t going to help!

Trying the effect on one eye only is no help

I tried it with bits of wool on both eyes – better, in the sense that he looked a little more sane, but I wasn’t sure I liked the effect. It makes the pupils an odd shape, and loses part of the irises.

Even with two eyes, the effect is not what I'm after

So what to do? Well, both before and after I expressed doubts about the eyes, stitching friends have described Hengest’s gaze as “expressive”, “regal”, “heavenward”, “noble” and “magic”, so I’m beginning to think I should accept that I am in a minority of one describing them as goofy, and leave well alone smiley.

Just so I didn’t feel all this had been a futile exercise, I added a little white to his eyes where I had previously left the fabric uncovered:

I can see the whites of his eyes!

And while I had the white in my needle, I also added two stitches to his body to improve the outline.

A slightly uneven outline A couple of remedial stitches

Now for a decision on that horn…

Double standards

Or rather, double stands. For what is this in the picture? That’s right, a Lowery clamp without felt in the jaws. And that can mean only one thing – I have succumbed to the temptation of a second Lowery stand… (Well, I suppose it could also mean that the felt had come off the jaws of my first Lowery stand, but you’re not going to buy that for a second, are you smiley?)

Getting ready to felt the jaws of the second Lowery

For some time now I’ve been considering getting another Lowery; for one thing it would be convenient to have one in both my stitching spots. Convenient, but not essential, as the one that is usually wedged under my comfy arm chair can be moved if necessary to be used at my stitching-spot-by-the-dining-room-window. So that in itself was not sufficient reason to succumb. However, if I go on to do the RSN Diploma after finishing the Certificate I will have to use the large slate frame for some of the modules, and two Lowerys could take the place of the Ikea trestles and make it easier for me to sit near my stitching (demonstrated here with the Millennium frame).

The two-Lowery set-up The two Lowerys in action

But before using this new Lowery for anything, it needed its jaws softening. I went into the craft room to get the same bits and pieces I used last time, but if you compare that occasion with the bits in the picture above, you will notice that the felt is a different colour. Originally I picked an off-white felt, thinking it was probably best to use a neutral colour as it would be clamped against my embroidery fabric. But besides the colour, I picked it because it was rather stiffer and thicker than my other felt. Well, I must have been using it for other things since then, because there was only a small scrap left, and the only other stiff felt I had was that lilac one.

I felt fairly sure it would be colourfast, and that it wouldn’t leave lilac smears on my fabric, but even so I’d be happier with something white or beige. Unfortunately the only white felt I have is relatively thin; fine for the pages in a needle book, but not what I wanted here, and trying to stick on two layers would be awkward. But then, as I rummaged through my “sticky stuff” drawer (double-sided tape, glue dots etc.) I came across a pack of adhesive felt in various sizes – mostly the sort of circles you stick to the underside of chair legs or coasters, but there was also a sheet of nice thick, stiff, off-white felt!

Serendipitous sticky felt

Some of the cutting guidelines on the back of the peel-off paper even happened to be just right for my purpose. So a few minutes later, the clamp was ready to use.

Felted jaws ready to be used

And a little after that, the whole thing was set up, with Hengest the Medieval Unicorn ready to be finished off (finally).

The second Lowery set up for non-Diploma stitching

Not quite yet, though – before Hengest can be finished, there are a few decisions to be made. But that’s a story for another FoF…

Hooked on mending

Most of my stitching, let’s face it, is decorative and of little practical use. Some of my stitching does get made into things that get used, like cards, coasters, thread boxes etc, but that has never been my aim. I enjoy embroidery, which I think is an excellent reason for doing it and really the only one needed. But sometimes my needle is plied in a more utilitarian fashion, mending, for example, the zip on one of my favourite boots or a torn sleeve or buttonhole on a dress (note: I would not generally recommend mending clothes while you’re in them; this was a just-about-to-leave-for-church emergency).

Mending a boot Mending a sleeve Mending a buttonhole - very carefully...

I have even been known to darn Mr Figworthy’s socks! But I’d never tried my hand at mending crochet before. Until my daughter-in-law asked me whether I could mend a crocheted blanket she’d inherited from my mother-in-law, which she would like to use as a table cloth but which unfortunately had got damaged (before she got it). She asked me this back in July 2021 – the very fact that I am writing about it in January 2022 will tell you how confident I felt about this undertaking. Still, a fresh new year calls for a fresh new challenge, so I went to the depths of the cupboard where my bag of crochet hooks and yarn is stored (and largely forgotten for long stretches of time). There I found, besides the yarn I was looking for, some small projects I did years ago, which reminded me that I do actually know how to crochet; a reassuring thought.

A crocheted heart A crocheted band of tulips A crocheted angel

Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the damage before I started on it, but what seems to have happened is that some of the threads had frayed, which had caused part of the stitching to come undone. My first task was to find out which frayed bits were still attached to something and which had come loose entirely; then I tried to work out whether the bits that were left could easily be re-attached to each other. But no, I found that some of the frayed and broken threads must actually have been lost before we got to it, and I was left with a hole covering three rows of crochet over a stretch of two to three inches. The original yarn was a variegated one, but luckily the missing bit was mostly in off-white, and I found one in my stash that was reasonably close in thickness and shade. I set to work adding in treble crochets (double in US terms). The trickiest bit, I found, was to match up the stitching where the existing row would originally have been worked around the row that I was adding in. It took a while, but then the gap was filled in and I breathed a sigh of relief.

First stage of mending

That would have been it, if it hadn’t been for two issues. The first one: another frayed thread. This hadn’t led to a hole yet, and I managed to knot the ends and pull them into the existing crochet.

Another frayed thread Safely knotted and the knot tucked away

The second issue was more one of aesthetics. The patch I mended looks very light. Because of the sometimes quickly changing colours of the yarn used, that’s what it would have looked like originally (there are parts where the lilac/pink shade clusters together in a similar way) but it looks like it is because of the mending! Could I perhaps work in some of the brown crewel wools from my Jacobean Certificate piece to make it blend in more?

Should I work in some brown?

Well, no. The colours looked close enough when placed on top of the blanket but when I tried working one of the shades into the crochet it looked awful (partly I think because the original brown has a pinkish shade to it) so I took it out again. This was one issue that couldn’t be solved.

There was a possible third issue, which was that the original crochet wasn’t always regular (something that makes me wonder whether it was in fact my mother-in-law’s own work). Sometimes there were four treble crochets where you would expect five, or the other way around; some stitches were worked around the previous row, some pierced the previous row – it made it difficult to decide sometimes how many stitches to put where! And in one place, that had led to a larger gap than I would have liked.

Even so I’d folded the piece away and let my daughter-in-law know it was done, when I realised I really couldn’t bear to give it back to her with that larger gap, so I brought out the hook and yarn and added two more treble crochets, blending them into the original stitches as much as possible. The two pictures below unfortunately don’t show the same side of the blanket, one is of the front and one of the back, but they do show the difference between the gap after my first go and with the added stitches. I’m happy with it now, or as happy as I’m ever going to be smiley, and it’s ready to go back to its home and be used. What more could I want?

The annoying gap No annoying gap!

Stitching a memory, part 2

First of all a very happy and healthy new year to you all! May there be joyful meetings with loved ones, plans which do not end up being cancelled or postponed, and oh yes, some stitching as well smiley.

Generally you look back on New Year’s Eve and forward on New Year’s Day, but I hope you won’t mind if I start with a memory, or rather, a memory bear. Having decided on prick-and-pen (like prick & pounce, only you make the dots by going through the holes with a fine drawing pen) as the transfer method most likely to succeed, I traced the signature printed at 5½cm wide, pricked it and tried it on the foot, only to find that it looked rather smaller there than I had expected. As it would be easier to stitch the larger it got, I tried several other sizes before settling on 7cm. The heart was there to be transferred later if I needed an extra bit in which to fasten on and off, but that turned out not to be necessary.

Five-and-a-half centimetres is too small Seven centimetres fits perfectly

Having carefully poked the drawing pen’s tip through all the holes, I then joined them up and fastened on.

A dotted transfer Joined-up writing Fastening on

In order to get comfortable using the sewing method rather than my usual stabbing style, I started with the lesser challenge of the underlining. Back stitch one way, whipping in the opposite direction, and then take the needle up to the writing itself. I had cut a ridiculously long thread so that I would only have to fasten on and off once, and had planned my route accordingly.

The line completed, I move on to the lettering

Fortunately the bear hadn’t been stuffed too firmly and the foot had plenty of give, so the sewing method presented no great problems. On top of that, the vintage Filoselle silk behaved beautifully (what a terrible shame it’s been discontinued!) even at this unprecedented length, so that my worries about whipping the backstitch soon dissolved. I’m glad they did, because it is the whipping that makes it look like one continuous line of writing rather than a line of dashes.

The lettering in backstitch only Whipping added

And here it is, finished. Not all the lines are as even as I would have liked, but it is recognisably Elizabeth’s handwriting, in Elizabeth’s silk, on Elizabeth’s jacket. A bear of many memories.

The writing finished The bear with its signed foot