To Bayeux or not to Bayeux, that is the question

There is a lot of Bayeux stitch in my life at the moment, which is at least partly because my enthusiasm for different techniques tends to come in waves. I usually have quite a few projects on the go of various types, but every now and then one technique captures my imagination and I’ll want to stitch lots of designs in that technique, whether other people’s or my own. In the past year I’ve read a lot about the Bayeux tapestry which piqued my interest in the style, and so when Bartram the Bayeux Ram came along he was a great way of having a play with the stitch. Being able to do so with a friend was even better, and we have now both finished him – we’re very pleased with our flock of two!

My Bartram Trina's Bartram (with beady eye!)

When we next get together we’ll lace the two Bartrams over foam board ready for display. By the way, I finished mine at the very first Cake & Craft held in our new church building. As the name implies it’s just people getting together to do some craft and eat cake, and we had a lovely time. One lady had brought her sugar work, another a small weaving project, and there was also plenty of knitting, crochet and stitching. As the one organising it (and therefore in charge of making the teas and coffees and cutting and handing round the cake) I didn’t get a lot done myself, but I did manage Bartram’s final curl.

Another Bayeux presence in the Figworthy household came about because of my intention to rectify the inexplicable absence of Austin Sevens on the tapestry, in honour of the little car’s centenary this year. For the first model, a Chummy like the one Mr F and I went on our honeymoon in, I chose the wrong fabric. It was a lovely linen but the weave was too open, and although it looked just about OK it was difficult to stitch accurately. Not one to persist with non-enjoyable stitching I abandoned it.

An abandoned Chummy

Quite apart from the bad choice of fabric, it also took too long – remember, this was meant to be a quick stitch project to offer as an activity for the non-car-enthusiast partners during the week of Centenary celebrations. So I tried one of the other models in a smaller size, and for the moment without the accompanying text (as it takes a lot of time, and is probably only funny to those who know a bit about the tapestry anyway). At my first go I managed to misread my own colour plan and made the blue stitches too short. Sigh. Unpick, restitch. For the wheels I studied the tapestry again. Surprisingly, I could only find one cart, but that did show me that the wheels were worked in eight parts of straight stitches. They look suitably wonky for a hundred-year-old car, but the whole thing still takes too long.

A Bayeux Box Saloon

Even so, I was not yet ready to give up on some Austin-Seven-themed stitching at the Centenary. Outline only then? In that case the wording would definitely have to go, as it wouldn’t be in the style of the Bayeux tapestry any more. A shame, but heigh ho, if that’s what it takes to make it doable, that’s what I’ll do. And it turns out that an outlined Austin Seven (a 1937 Ruby, in this case) looks quite attractive! But it still takes too long…

An outlined Ruby

I had to admit defeat. Still, I was enjoying these little projects, and as I had already transferred both the sporting Nippy and another Chummy, I thought I might as well stitch them – the Nippy in a primrose yellow typical for that model, and the Chummy in turqoise, the closest I could get from stash to the colour of our honeymoon car. The latter is still in progress, and I had to decide what to do with the lettering as the black Appleton’s I have is so thick and rough (see the roof of the Box Saloon – and I actually went over that with fine scissors to remove the worst of the sticky-out fluff) that I haven’t a hope of producing legible writing in it. Stranded cotton would work, but has too much shine compared to the wool. However, you may remember that I acquired a whole set of unmercerised, matt flower threads recently, and among them there is a black which looks just about the right thickness; I’ll let you know how I get on!

A primrose Nippy A Chummy in progress

So is the Chummy the end of my Bayeux binge? You won’t be surprised to hear that it isn’t, but my next project could have been a bit embarrassing if I’d been any slower in designing it. You see, I’m working on some projects for a 6-week course I’m planning, the first three weeks of which will revolve around crewel embroidery. In those three classes I want to introduce Bayeux-style embroidery, Jacobean, and modern crewel, and for the Bayeux class my inspiration came from some of the intriguing creatures in the margins of the tapestry. There are dogs, birds, fish, mythical creatures, and what must be a camel designed by someone who’d heard about camels but had never actually seen one.

Bayeux creatures A Bayeux camel

After some deliberation, and briefly considering some smiling horses’ heads sticking out of the boats in one of the scenes, I settled on a pair of peacocks, and of the pair particularly on the rather chunky one with the circular tail (who Mr F says looks like a dodo).

A pair of Bayeux peacocks

You will understand my dismay when, on a visit to Tanya Bentham’s blog, I found a video of her stitching the other peacock, with a comment that it was a companion to the circular peacock which was in her latest book – the book I actually had on pre-order! Fortunately I hadn’t received it yet, and therefore hadn’t seen what her treatment of the peacock was; I decided not to read the book until I had completely decided what my peacock would look like, and I heaved a sigh of relief when I did read the book and saw that our interpretation of his tail in particular and of some other parts as well was quite different. Phew. Now I just need to stitch mine smiley, and to do it I’ve ordered some Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool. You see, I would like the students to be able to work with some nicer wool than Appleton’s on at least one project, but my favourite Heathway Milano is rather too expensive if I want to keep the course kits a reasonable price; the Renaissance Dyeing wool works out at about a third of the price per metre. I haven’t quite decided which of these colours I’m going to use – I want to keep the palette fairly limited, as in the original – but I’ll have fun experimenting on the two sizes of peacock I’ve transferred!

The start of some Bayeux peacocks

Encouraging Canvaswork classes

It’s been a while since I last wrote about my Canvaswork module for the RSN Certificate, and that is partly because I am still finding my feet, even after three classes. I think my comfort zone isn’t even dimly visible on the horizon most of the time. Still, the two classes I’ve had since that previous FoF have been encouraging – the tutors appear to have faith in me even if I haven’t smiley, which makes me feel a bit better about the whole enterprise. So what have I been doing since that frantic surge of last-minute sampling back in January?

Well, I attended a class with Helen McCook, who okayed several of my samples, such as the roof and the Turkey rug bushes; she advised stitching several samples and cutting them to different pile heights to see what would work best, keeping the bushy look but without them becoming too prominent, as they are meant to be on the horizon and should therefore recede into the background rather than push themselves forward. I did this at the next class, where Angela Bishop suggested I blend other threads besides wool into the mix, so I tried it with an anonymous green thread from my stash (blue arrow) as well as some of the vintage green silk I inherited from my mother-in-law (orange arrow); neither were very noticeable once trimmed, so I will have to try another one with more strands of silk mixed in.

Sampling various bushes The trimmed bushes don't show the non-wool threads well

The main point I took away from Helen McCook’s class was the fact that my idea of what the sky’s stitch blending should be was incorrect. I’d started sampling the stitch blending going horizontally, but it should in fact be done vertically. As Helen pointed out, in canvaswork the smallest stitches should be at the vanishing point – in my case the horizon. From there they go larger the closer you get but (and it took me a while to get my head around this) this goes not just for the foreground, it also applies to the sky! So the stitch blending in the sky should be larger stitches at the top merging into smaller at the bottom. She also felt that although the Parisian (small) and Hungarian Grounding (medium) in my sample worked well together, Victorian Step (large) had too much of a diagonal component to blend in. So I started looking for suitable large stitches with a more horizontal look, and found one called Water, which is basically random-length satin stitches. Because I wasn’t sure that that would provide enough contrast (they have to blend, but I don’t want them to be too similar) I found some others and stitched a sample of each, which I could later use to blend into the other two stitches.

Possible large sky stitches

The stitches were, from left to right, horizontal Milanese, Willow, Pavilion and Water. Willow immediately revealed itself as a non-starter – too blocky – but I continued with the other three to see how they would blend into Hungarian Grounding (and that in turn into Parisian), trying to make the transitions gradual so that there wasn’t a clear horizontal break between one and the other. I showed these to Angela at my third class and we agreed that the pattern in Pavilion was too strong. Water blends in beautifully and looks least stylised, but I thought it was all a bit samey, and Angela worried that it would also echo the stitches in the paving too much (of which more later), so I will most likely go with the Milanese version. It has some patterning but the lines move forward (albeit in a zigzag) rather than turning back on themselves (like the diamonds in Pavilion).

Sampling the sky transitions

One thing I found in my two classes was that different tutors have different approaches and ideas. Helen advocated creating different “stitch languages” (so that, say, flowers are done in one set of thread types and stitches while leaves are done in other threads and stitches, which don’t overlap) while Angela at one point suggested that when using vertical Parisian for the smaller tulips near the paved area I could keep the same stitch but change to green to just make a colourful jumble of tulips and leaves. It’s a bit confusing when they do that…

Talking of tulips, I got on with those as well, the two big ones that stand out in the foreground. The pink tulip has so far been sampled in soft cotton but in the near future I must try blending the various shades of pink Carrie’s Creation overdyed stranded cotton which I’ve picked for that (so far I’ve only worked out how many strands are needed for full coverage – six, separated and recombined and used with a laying tool). I started out on the red tulip using soft cotton as well, but have since tried out threads that would work on the actual piece, and the main colour is going to be a lovely orangy red Caron Watercolours called Bittersweet. The pink tulip is going to be done in modified Florentine/Bargello, so I had to sample some standard Florentine as the assessors need to see you can do that too; and Helen suggested doing some of the petals in angled Florentine to make them more distinct from each other. When doing similar length stitches at an angle you can use whatever slant you like, but I found that with stitches of different lengths it’s easier to stick with 45 degrees, so that’s what will happen in the final version.

Sampling the red tulip Standard Florentine stitch Sampling the pink tulip Six strands of cotton give good coverage

Another prominent shape in the foreground is a large bud on the left, which is mostly green but with a hint of red in it. I sampled this before my third class in Cashmere stitch using blended perle #8, and I really liked the look of it. The shading isn’t in the right place yet, as I had only two shades of the yellowy green (I have since bought two more…), and the single strand of red applied over the top (which Angela suggested I try, to see if it would work) looks a bit messy so I will try and blend that in while stitching the greens, but on the whole it’s probably the part I’m happiest with so far!

Sampling a Cashmere bud Adding a hint of red

Then there was the paved area. One of the things the brief requires is at least two each (and Helen suggested picking three to be on the safe side) of four stitch types: horizontal, vertical, diagonal and crossed/textured. I’d intended the paving to be horizontal, but as I didn’t have many diagonal stitches yet Helen suggested using one there – she pointed out that “diagonal” includes anything slanted, so it could be as near horizontal as possible and still count as diagonal. I sampled various slants in Oblique Slav, settled on a 1 in 5 incline, then tried it in a linen thread I had lying around and didn’t like it. I then sampled it in flower thread or blomstergarn, coton à broder, and floche. Flower thread, with its unmercerised matte appearance, was the clear winner, and led to my acquiring the Danish Handcraft Guild‘s complete set. I have picked six shades that should work together well, covering the paved area’s brick-like colour as well as the rather surprising grey and almost-white in some areas.

Sampling oblique Slave Oblique Slav in linen Oblique Slav in different threads

Which bring me to one of my main stumbling blocks in this module – colour blending. In other people’s projects I noticed that in some areas the blend of, say, six threads might change composition (e.g. from 3 dark, 2 medium, 1 light to 2 dark, 2 medium, 2 light) every three or four stitches. I asked Angela how on earth you got into a stitch rhythm changing blends so often. “You don’t,” came the reply. Her tip was to load up ten or twelve needles with the various blends so at least you didn’t have to keep stopping and re-threading all the time, as there is the additional snag of incredibly high thread usage in this technique. Oh joy. So far I haven’t dared to think in any detail of the blended sky yet, but I have sampled some fuzzy threads (Madeiral Lana and Rainbow Gallery Wisper) to represent the white haze near the horizon, in one case blended with the silk used for the sky. I need to play a bit more with the proportions to get it looking quite right.

Madeira Lana and Wisper for the sky Blended haze

Otherwise, I have been sampling, sampling, and then sampling some more. Angela has told me to bite the bullet and actually put some stitches onto my proper canvas, but so far it hasn’t happened. The sampling has given me lots of ideas for things to use though (and some for things definitely not to use). Here are a few that made the Useful list: woven plait, fern stitch, slanted gobelin (encroaching, plain and split), brick stitch (and the decorative but less useful herringbone snowflake), upright cross & alternating continental (with a rather messy vault stitch), raised spot (three ways) & vertical Parisian, upright double cross & spot stitch (with some other odds and ends), kalem & lazy kalem (with another fern stitch).

Woven plait Fern stitch Slanted gobelin (encroaching, plain and split) Brick stitch
Upright cross and alternating continental Raised spot and vertical Parisian Upright double cross and spot stitch Kalem and lazy kalem

One idea of Angela’s that I haven’t sampled yet is to use Upright Double Cross for the complex areas where the blue sky shines through the leaves on the tree – work the upright cross underneath in blue silk like the sky with the diagonal cross in green wool (or whatever I will be using for the tree) over the top. I really like that idea, and it is yet another example of the way colours can change even within stitches. One day that idea may become a natural one, for now it definitely has to be suggested to me before I see it.

Where tree and sky mingle

Since the third class I’ve done only two more bits of sampling, a fringed pale lilac and yellow tulip for which I want to use some ribbon inherited from my mother-in-law (I haven’t quite got the look I want yet), and the wooden parts of the windmill’s sails, worked in ribbon over tent stitch. I like the way that’s come out, especially in the loose-lying version (on the right), but the one held on with stab stitches would be more secure. Still, no rush for that decision. I’m taking this module at a very sedate pace.

Using a variegated ribbon for a fringed tulip Two possible tulips Tent stitch base for the sail Ribbon windmill sails

And finally a little update on Bruce – in response to my questions Anne Butcher, Head of Teaching, wrote a detailed reply with helpful comments, and although I specifically did not ask for a reassessment she said I should not have lost points for using S-ing, so my final score is 89% (tantalisingly and ever so slightly annoyingly 1% short of a Distinction). Upgraded Bruce & Haasje have since been framed and are waiting to be put on the wall, so I can be proud of them every day smiley.

Bruce and Haasje framed

A Bayeux Box

2022 is the 150th anniversary of the Royal School of Needlework, but much more importantly (as Mr F would say) it is also the Centenary of the Austin Seven, one of which you can see in the picture below, taken on the Figworthy honeymoon. There will be a whole week of festivities in the summer, with runs through beautiful countryside and so on, but a lot of it will also involve owners of Austin Sevens admiring each other’s Austin Sevens and talking about, er, Austin Sevens. What, I wanted to know, is planned for the non-Austin-Seven-mad spouse/significant other (who is usually, though by no means always, the wife/girlfriend) and any offspring?

An Austin Seven honeymoon

As just one possible activity, could I perhaps set up a little stitching corner? A table with some chairs, a pile of fabrics and threads and hoops and they could come and sit down for a bit and stitch. Ah, he said, but they’re trying to keep everything on site Austin Seven related. And then inspiration struck. I’m hoping to teach another course at Rugby’s Percival Guildhouse later this year, which would include a few classes on crewel or wool embroidery. And as I worked with great enjoyment on Bartram the Bayeux Ram, I’d been thinking of including one class on a Bayeux-themed project. For that reason I’d been studying the excellent online version of the tapestry made available by the Bayeux Museum, looking among other things at some of the horses. And what is a car, after all, but a mechanised horse? The Bayeux Austin Seven was born.

A quick Austin sketch

Well, conceived anyway. What I needed was a simplified outline that could be filled in with fairly large chunks of Bayeux stitch (which is a lot quicker than, say, cross stitch – a good thing as people are unlikely to want to sit and stitch for hours). And although I mentioned “Box” in the title because I like a bit of alliteration, actually my first idea was for a Chummy, like the 1925 one we went on our honeymoon in. I drew one with the hood down, and one with the hood up.

Two Chummy outlines

However, in order to cater for all (or nearly all) comers, I did indeed include our Box Saloon (1933), and as for a short while we looked after a 1936 Ruby, that too went in the line-up. Then I didn’t want the sporting owners (or rather, their stitching partners) to feel left out, so a Nippy completed the collection.

Three additional Austin Sevens

As usual when designing I got a bit carried away at this point, and decided that what it really needed was lettering like on the Bayeux tapestry. The captions there tend to say things like “hic Harold mare navigavit” (which roughly translates as “here Harold sailed the sea”), so what I wanted was something in this vein, but Austin Seven themed. I thought of “here Sir Herbert / wrought the Seven”, then decided it would look more authentic (in as far as a Bayeux Austin Seven can be said to be authentic in any way) in Latin, and eventually settled on “hic Herbert Dom. / Austin 7 fingit”. “Dom” is short for Dominus, which is Lord rather than Sir but is the closest I could get, and at the last moment I changed the figure 7 to Roman numerals. I like the look of it, but it’s probably a good idea to make the lettering optional…

Cod Latin in Bayeux tapestry lettering The lettering tidied up

Finally it was time to add some digital colour, to give me an idea of what I was aiming for. I went for fairly authentic colours, but the actual stitched versions will depend on a) whatever I’ve got in my stash of non-Milano crewel wools and b) what people want their embroidered Austin to look like; after all, if their spouse’s Austin is a non-authentic shocking pink, who am I to object to them recreating it in wool?

A bit of colour

After all, how accurate do these needlework cars need to be? In order to emulate the Bayeux tapestry, not very (judging by that ram I showed you a while ago). As long as they are recognisable by the afficionados I’m happy. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – I need to get stitching!

Stitching a Bayeux Austin