Bartram is de-horned

A couple of weeks ago at Embroidery Group I got on with Bartram the Bayeux Ram’s horn. This is quite a tricky part, because it involves long straight stitches somehow going round a very curved horn. I’d drawn some guidelines on the transfer to have by me when stitching, as well as the photograph of the designer’s stitched model, but when I got home I wasn’t happy with it. Because there will be long couching stitches over these yellow stitches, they need to be at an angle to the ones that will overlay them, and I just wasn’t changing the angle quickly enough.

Bartram's horn doesn't curve enough

In Tanya Bentham’s model the stitches from the forehead into the first part of the horn don’t change direction, so mine could stay as well. But there was no saving the rest of it – the curved part of the horn would have to go. So out came the scissors once more, and a few snips and tugs later I had a clean playing field again. (By the way, as you can see from the pictures I decided to keep his bright red chest after all; I rather like the startling effect of it.)

Bartram gets de-horned A fresh start

When I photographed the re-stitched version and compared it to the old one, I realised it wasn’t nearly so different as I thought it was while stitching, but there is a slight improvement in the angle. It will have to do as I’m not unpicking it again!

The new horn

Before moving on to couching and outlining the horn, it was time to couch his fleece. This is done in woolly white (ivory in my case, brighter white for my friend), and the couching stitches are long – they cover the full length of his body. Normally when doing Bayeux stitch I would work all the long couching stitches first and then go back and do all the tiny couching stitches that hold down the long couching stitches. Here, however, I felt they would be rather too vulnerable to being pulled and moved, so I decided to couch each long stitch down before moving to the next one. That might also make it easier to keep the long lines parallel to each other.

Couching down the long stitches as I go Trying to get the lines parallel

That was tricky enough with them being much longer than anything I’d tried before, but then there is the spacing of the small couching stitches. I try to keep them equidistant, and brick them from one line to the next. On my Jacobean certificate piece I actually measured the distance between each pair of stitches, but I felt that would be overkill on what is meant to be just a fun piece, so I eyeballed it. There was a certain amount of unpicking and restitching even so… Still, looking at the back I think I got them fairly equally spaced! (It also shows how little thread is at the back of the work when using Bayeux stitch.)

Judging the distance between stitches from the back

Mind you, judging by this ram (if it is a ram – I think so, judging by his curly horn) on the Bayeux Tapestry, perhaps I’m being a leetle but too fussy about the spacing of the lines and the placement of my couching stitches…

An uneven ram

Meanwhile Sheep-Mad Friend has also been powering ahead, ably supported by her new table clamp (all right, I talked her into one of those smiley). Bartram the Bright is coming on beautifully, and at our next stitchy get-together we hope to give him his horizontal stripes!

The bright version of Bartram

Stash dull, delightful and decadent

Quite a lot of new stash has been making its way through the Figworthy letterbox lately, of various kinds. For the purposes of this FoF I’ve divided these new acquisitions into the three categories mentioned in the title, and I’ll start with the Dull. Now you may well disagree with my classification; and it is true that although this particular parcel wasn’t very exciting to unwrap, any parcel containing some new thread or other essentials is cause for a modest squeal of pleasure at least. Still, let’s just say that soft cotton in neutral shades isn’t the most Instagrammable stash.

Soft cotton in neutral shades

But though it may be a little dull, it is destined to become an essential part of my Canvaswork project, which came about in a rather serendipitous way. You see, when doing my sampling I looked for some threads that I could use which I had a lot of, which didn’t have an immediate purpose, and which would be relatively cheap and easy to replace should I need to. Rummaging through the various boxes of threads I found a bag of brightly coloured DMC Soft Cotton which I bought years ago for making finger-woven friendship bracelets with our church’s Youth Group. There was quite a lot left over, and it’s a nice chunky thread which would cover the canvas well. Ideal! But as I was sampling with this thread, it occurred to me that its texture would also be perfect for the tower and brick base of the windmill which stands right in the centre of the design – and as purple or bright red wouldn’t do for those, I had to get these more muted, subdued colours.

Soft cotton for friendship bracelets Bracelet made from soft cotton

Unfortunately I fell victim to false economy while ordering. For the windmill’s tower I will need four shades of grey, so four shades of grey is what I put in the shopping basket. I did wonder just a moment whether to pop in a fifth, darker shade just to be on the safe side, but then decided against it on the grounds that the darkest shade in my shopping basket looked quite dark enough on the screen. Alas, it didn’t in real life. Which meant I had to order a single skein, with postage that would be more than the skein itself. So I added a metre of Normandie fabric to qualify for free shipping. In my defence, it will come in handy for kits and workshops…

An extra soft cotton and some Normandie

The next bit of embroidery-related post was definitely Delightful: Hazel Everett’s book Goldwork and Silk Shading Inspired by Nature. Another of Mary Corbet’s dangerous reviews. I already have Hazel’s earlier book Goldwork: Techniques, Projects and Pure Inspiration which is an absolute gem, so I didn’t need a lot of convincing. As with many of these embroidery books, although I would love to do all sorts of projects from them it doesn’t really matter if that never happens – they are a joy to read and study, and are always an education and an inspiration. But if there is one project from this book which stands a very good chance of one day being stitched, it is the 3D butterfly, which is just incredibly lovely. Well, Hazel’s version is, and if mine turns out half as beautiful I’ll be quite content.

Hazel Everett's Goldwork and Silk Shading book A section about goldwork techniques A project using both goldwork and silk shading A gorgeous 3D butterfly

And finally the Decadent. Like the soft cottons this came about because of my Canvaswork sampling. You see, for the paving by the windmill I wanted something matt to contrast with the silk sky and the tulips and greenery which will probably be done in shiny perle cottons and the like. And as I tried out the most likely stitch for that paving in four different types of thread (more about that in a future FoF) the one that stood out was Danish flower thread, also known as Blomstergarn. Unlike stranded cotton, cotton floche, coton à broder and most other embroidery cottons it is unmercerised, so it lacks the sheen which that process imparts. Now the flower threads I used for sampling came from a small collection of five skeins that I was given many years ago, and which live in a box with my floche threads because there aren’t enough to warrant their own box. And none of the five were the right shade for the paving. Off I went in search of a supplier.

I found this in the shape of the Danish Handcraft Guild; and having learnt from my trying-to-judge-colours-on-the-screen failure with the soft cottons I emailed them with the photograph that is the basis of my design to ask whether they could advise which of their colours were likely to be most suitable. Quite understandably they declined to make the decision for me (why should I expect them to judge colours on screen when I am not prepared to), and advised me to get the shade card (which contains samples of the actual threads). But by then I had found out that they do a complete set of flower threads at what amounts to about a 25% discount compared to buying them all individually. And as the shade card would be £9 on its own, well… not too decadent after all, perhaps.

Flower thread or Blomstergarn from the Danish Handcraft Guild The complete collection of flower threads

Aren’t they beautiful? I think I’m looking forward to finding the right storage for them and arranging them by colour as much as I am to actually stitching with them smiley

Getting into canvaswork – slowly

After my first Canvaswork class back in November I was feeling more optimistic about the endeavour, but I’m afraid my doubts returned as I was getting closer to my second class. To say that I am outside my comfort zone with this module is putting it mildly, and whether or not that was the reason I didn’t do much homework, the fact is that with less than one week to go I was feeling woefully underprepared. I managed to change my booking from 22nd to 29th January and solemnly undertook to do some serious sampling in that extra week.

By the way, just so that you don’t think I’d been completely useless over Christmas – I did do some work. I sampled some herringbone stitch in two different ways to see if I could work out a method which didn’t involve coming up underneath previous stitches, but which would still look the same (I could, the only visible difference being at the back of the work; the blue arrow points to the “by the book” version, the green arrow to my alternative). I also made a start on my colour plan, but as I wasn’t absolutely sure what the colour plan was meant to look like and how shaded the shading needed to be, I abandoned that halfway through. And I also… er, no. That was it.

Two versions of herringbone Different stitch patterns on the back An abandoned colour plan

In order not to feel immediately overwhelmed I started my new regime by sampling a very small roof. From the start I had envisaged it in slanted buttonhole stitch, and as it was orange and I have oodles of orange wool left from the Jacobean module, I used that. First I transferred the exact outline to my sample canvas, so I could see if the wool gave enough coverage. It did, and I really like the effect of the stitch. I later sampled it again in a slightly darker orange – I’ll decide further down the line which one to go with. (The picture also shows some outlines of bushes for later samplings.)

A roof outline Sampled in one orange Two orange roofs

Next was the sky. There were two things to decide there: threads and stitch transitions. Because the sky is what we call in Dutch “strakblauw” (literally “taut” or “stretched” blue) I wanted a thread with a smooth texture, not rough or matt but not overly shiny either. And it so happens that in my stash there are two rather lovely series of blue silks, one in Caron Soie Cristale and one in Soie Alger. But there was possibly a snag – when the surface has to be fully covered, canvaswork takes a lot of thread (demonstration to follow), and I wasn’t sure whether my stash of silk would be enough. Buying more, especially of the Soie Cristale, would be difficult and would in any case mean different dye lots. But I do have a lot of DMC perle #8, and some of the blues looked quite suitable. They are more textured than silk, and a bit shinier (the silks I picked are both spun silks), but it was worth a sample.

Possible perles for the sky

Did I mention canvaswork takes a lot of thread? In any other embroidery that I do, perle #8 would count as a relatively chunky thread. Here it took a triple thread to get sufficient coverage. As for the texture, I wasn’t convinced, but I was going to wait and see how the silk behaved before deciding.

Perle sampling

Soie Cristale is a 12-stranded silk, and I started out sampling with six strands. I got to use my beautiful laying tool, as getting the strands to lie parallel not only looks nicer, but also spreads the thread more. Even then six strands didn’t quite cover the canvas, so I tried again with nine, and worked a larger area to see the effect. Then I did a similar area in blended perle #8 to compare. I can tell you now that there is simply no comparison – silk it has to be! So smooth, so pretty, so lovely to work with *swoon* … Soie Cristale is on the Definite list.

Smoothly stitching silk with a laying tool Silk versus perle Silk versus perle close-up

One of the required items in the brief is a stitch transition, where at least two different stitches (and bear in mind that in canvaswork a “stitch” is often a particular arrangement of several stitches) have to gradually blend into each other. This means they must have some similarities to begin with, otherwise the join will be far too visible. I decided on Parisian stitch (underlined in blue), Hungarian Grounding (green) and Victorian Step (red). In spite of the interesting names, these are all arrangements of parallel straight stitches. The first two are usually worked with the stitches running vertically, so I turned them 90 degrees as I think the sky will look better with a horizontal sweep. It took a bit of pencil-and-squared-paper work to get the second transition to blend, but in the end I had something that I could present to the tutor as a feasible option.

Sampling transitions

By the way, a lot of sampling is done in just any old thread, unless you are actually trying out coverage or the way colours work together; the above transition was done using a spare ball of perle #5, and gave me the additional information that even that thickness does not cover the canvas when used horizontally (it may work diagonally, where the lines are closer together).

What else did I do before class? Ah yes, Turkey rug stitch. I want to use it for some bushes, with blended threads. I first tried it out with two (not very blendy) shades of Appleton’s, only to find that I’d forgotten how to do Turkey rug (which I first used on the bodies of two stumpwork butterflies) and was making the securing stitch too long (green arrow; the red arrow shows the correct length). Having refreshed my memory on this count, I decided to try it out in the proper threads, a blend of three shades of green Heathway Milano wool (the blend to change as a darker or lighter look is needed). As it turns out, a triple thread may be a bit too thick – after a few rows it gets difficult to see the canvas for the next one – so I’ll try one of the bushes with a double thread. I haven’t cut the loops yet, that’s another thing on the To Do list.

Turkey rug with securing stitches that are too long Turkey rug in the right thread and colours

Finally, I transferred the two big tulips to the sample canvas and made a start on the red one. One possible stitch for this tulip is web stitch, which has diagonal stitches couched down to create a woven look. My thought is to leave out some of the rather dense couching and use the remaining couching stitches to create shading, partly by working them in a different colour from the diagonals, and partly by spacing them further apart when the shading needs to be lighter. Because I’d been working on Bartram the Bayeux ram, almost without thinking I stitched the diagonals as laid work (bringing the needle up right next to where you’ve taken it down so that there is hardly any thread at the back of the work) rather than satin stitch – but the Canvaswork brief, in its Tips section, advises stitchers to always take the thread the longest way round to help with tension. However, that really takes an awful lot of thread, and with all the couching stitches would make the back quite bulky. I put it down as something to ask the tutor.

Starting on web stitch

And that’s the point I’d got to when it was time to gather all my frames and hoops and bits and bobs to go to class! But more about that in another FoF.

Baa-yeux Bartram

Awful pun by kind permission of Mr Figworthy. Yes, Bartram is back – in fact two Bartrams are back! Because last Friday my sheep-mad friend came over for a stitching session and made a start on hers. I’d had a brief go at mine earlier in the week at my Embroidery Group, and managed his legs (minus blue split stitch outline) and the start of his purple backside (because I’d forgotten that the red wool for his chest, which I had meant to start with, was still in my Hengest box).

Legs and a purple bottom

At first I wasn’t going to add the green hillocks, as they are not in the transfer pattern; they are, however, in Tanya Bentham’s stitched model and I rather liked the look of them. On the grounds that even the Bayeux Tapestry has some stem stitch in it, we decided to work them in that, in two blended greens. Then Trina said that the position of his head suggested he was about to eat something, so we added some blades of grass in straight stitch for him to munch.

Trina's start on Bartram Some grass and another fleece colour

By the way, in the original version the fleece stripes (seven instead of six) are very distinct – one ends, the other begins. I decided to use a bit of shading, not so much to blend everything together (the colours are too different for that) but just as an interesting transition. I like the effect!

Extra stripes in the fleece

Now I can’t get it to show up clearly in the photographs, but in real life that purple is very dark. Too dark. I contemplated taking it out, but decided to wait until the red was in to see whether it really needed changing; it was going to be a fiddly job, so I didn’t want to do it if I didn’t have to. But alas, it was necessary. With all the other fleece colours, where they shade into each other the transitional stripes are quite noticeable, whereas between the purple and the blue it was almost invisible. Normally an invisible transition is exactly what you want, but in this case I wanted the stripes! It was time for a bottomectomy.

The fleece complete A bottomectomy

The cutting looks a bit brutal, but it was the easiest way of getting the purple out, and it meant I couldn’t shilly-shally and change my mind half way through. I had to be careful though, because if at all possible I wanted to leave the blue in place and stitch the new purple in between. Fortunately that worked, and the lighter purple shows up the transition with the blue much better as I hoped it would, so I’m pleased I took the plunge and changed it.

Leaving the blue The new lighter purple bottom

Only now the red looks too dark…