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

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