Buds and pieces

All right, it’s still not stitching on the actual canvas, but at least I have sampled the large green bud as it will eventually look. I changed the single strand of red from a burgundy cotton to a slightly more orangy silk, threaded five needles with various combinations of green perles, and Had A Go. And I must say I like the effect! The only slightly mysterious thing is that my charted version, whose shape was taken from an earlier sample which used the proper design outline, now doesn’t seem to completely fill the design outline (blue arrow). Still, inexplicable though it is, if it turns out to show this behaviour on the real project as well I can easily fill in the missing bit with the darkest shade. I will find this out at my fourth class tomorrow, where I hope to put in this bud and perhaps the pink tulip. Even so, I fear this module may take rather more than the usual eight classes…

Getting ready to sample the bud Lots of needles at the ready The finished bud may need a few more stitches

By the way, earlier this month we finally made it to the Netherlands for the first time in two and a half years and saw lots of family and friends, and slightly more relevant to this blog, the Keukenhof – that incredible garden where growers show off their flower bulbs for two months every year, and which was the inspiration for my Canvaswork design. The flowers change every year, I mean they don’t plant the same ones in the same places, and the photograph I’m working from must have been taken while the park was closed as there are no people in it, but I managed to find pretty nearly the right spot!

My canvaswork spot

In my usual spirit of optimism I took three embroidery projects with me, but only one of them was ever taken out of my stitching bag, and even then I didn’t do an awful lot. Still, Do-Pea now has the stem stitch part of his wing done, plus all the laid-and-couched work in his tail circle.

Progress on Do-Pea

The blue I needed to outline his tail and fill in the rest of the wing was waiting for me when I got home, together with some other shades. I’m beginning to get quite a collection of Renaissance Dyeing wool! And today a parcel arrived from America with some lovely Splendor silks, some to add to my collection and some (the ones at the bottom) specifically for the Quatrefoil kit. The beads were on offer so I stocked up on some of my favourite shades to make the most of the postage smiley.

The new wools My Renaissance Dyeing collection Splendid Splendor silks Bonus beads

Going back to the blue wool needed for outlining, on the Bayeux tapestry this is done using outline stitch rather than its mirror twin stem stitch (it is also done before the laid work, which has the advantage of not covering up internal design lines but which does add a degree of fiddliness I am not prepared to subject myself to). As the wool they used was a normal S-twist, this means the stitches blend into each other more and the resulting line has a less rope-like look than with stem stitch.

Outlines in outline stitch

Having read about this while I was on holiday the outline/stem issue was obviously still lingering in my mind when I was deciding on stitches for a small project earlier this week. I wanted to stitch the small Hope rainbow but didn’t want to use the three different textures of stem stitch, chain stitch and French knots. On the other hand, stem stitch only seemed a little dull. So I opted for alternating stem and outline stitch, with their subtly different looks, and I’m quite pleased with how that turned out.

Hope using stem stitch and outline stitch

Small embroidery projects like these are great for making cards and ornaments for special occasions. Any embroidery project is also a guaranteed method for Finding A Cat. Just place the embroidery in the brightest spot of the house to photograph it, and a cat will magically appear…

Embroidery, with cat.

A colourful dodo

The peacock I picked from the Bayeux tapestry as inspiration for a crewel project that will be part of a course later this year has been dignified, or rather undignified, with various monikers. Tanya Bentham refers to him in her latest book as an oven-ready chicken, and in a recent talk as a bit of a turkey. Mr Figworthy thinks he looks more like a dodo than a peacock. Now I’m rather partial to dodos – I love Dick King-Smith’s delightful book Dodos Are Forever, there is a Dutch series of comic books in which a resourceful dodo accompanies the hero, and Jasper Fforde, in his Tuesday Next series, created the unforgettable Pickwick (catchword: “Plock”). So I have decided to consider my Bayeux creature a dodo-peacock hybrid, who will henceforth be known as Do-Pea.

The Bayeux tapestry is about 50cm high, from which I calculated that the original peacock stands at a little under 8cm tall. Helpfully having worked this out after picking two sizes in which to transfer my modified outline, I was rather pleased that they happen to be about half a centimetre either side of the original size.

Do-Pea in two sizes

After getting Do-Pea transformed into a usable outline, the next thing was to decide on where to use what stitch (the original uses stem stitch filling as well as the more predictable Bayeux stitch) and in what direction; and the tail needed some work as even with the Bayeux Museum’s excellent high-resolution photographs it wasn’t very clear what the original treatment was – the stitching looks a little the worse for wear, and as I’m not trying to create a perfect copy I thought I might as well do whatever I liked the look of. I went for stripes inside a circle of dots. As I was undecided about whether to use circular stem stitch or satin stitch/Bayeux stitch on those dots and his head feathers I’m trying both (one of the reasons for stitching two models).

Stitch type and direction

Incidentally, I picked two different fabrics for these two dodos: for the larger one a soft woollen fabric (the same that I used for Bartram the Rainbow Ram) and for the smaller some of the vintage Irish linen I inherited from my mother-in-law. It is the latter I’ve started with, in a rather pastel palette (bigger Do-Pea will be much brighter). Unfortunately the blue in this selection is rather too light for the outlining I had in mind, and the next blue I’ve got is the much darker one used on the other version, so I’ve ordered the shade in between (and one or two other colours, just to make the most of the postage you understand).

A pastel palette The brighter larger version

Until that turns up I’m working on the tail, which doesn’t use blue for any of the filling in. So far I’ve done the pale turquoise and the mid violet parts. What I particularly like about the Renaissance Dyeing wools for this sort of project is that they are not completely uniform in colour – there is some subtle shading along the skein, which which makes for a pleasantly medieval look. No purple or lilac is used in the Bayeux tapestry, but I think it works rather well; perhaps the Bayeux stitchers’ local needlework shop had run out smiley.

Starting on a tail A close-up of the wool

By the way, I know some of the dots aren’t particularly regular, but outlining hides a multitude of sins and I want this to be a fairly relaxed project so I’m not trying to be super precise. And wonky dots may make him live up to his name more…

Not quite stitching

While chatting with Gary and Beth for Fiber Talk a couple of weeks ago, it came up that in spite of having had three of the eight classes allotted to my RSN Canvaswork module, I had yet to put a single stitch onto the actual canvas. I can now tell you… that this is still the case. But I did do some work on the project, which considering my complete lack of ease and familiarity with this technique I am happy to call progress even though it was mostly on paper. Especially as the work got the Lexi seal of approval smiley.

Some paper prep with cat

Once again I’ve been doing very little in the way of homework, and I am still extremely reluctant to do anything on the “real” piece. But then an idea struck me. Unlike Jacobean and goldwork, canvaswork is a counted technique; this means it can be put into a chart, which in turn means I can basically work out what to stitch before stitching it, which feels very reassuring! So I set to work by my usual method of starting with pencil and squared paper and then transferring it into my stitching program. First up was the big bud which is mostly green but with some very faint red shading. First I charted the diagonal-ish columns of stitches without any reference to colour, then roughly drew in dark and light areas, and finally computer-charted it in five greens (to be made up from four shades of perle #8 in different blends) and some red. I also decided on one mostly red stitch at the top, as the photograph shows a distinct touch of colour there.

Charting a bud

Next was the big pink tulip. That is going to have much more blending and shading in it, which I find quite challenging to get my head around. Again I started by charting the stitches (which in this case go in three different directions to visually separate the petals) without any reference to the colour, then worked out the dark and light areas and allotted colours to them in the stitching program. Because the mid to darker pinks in the program were very similar, I had to make some of the lines thinner to distinguish them from the nearest shade. It looks a bit odd but does show up where there is a change of colour (or more likely colour blend).

Charting a tulip

I did manage a little bit of actual thread-related work too: I wasn’t happy with the five shades of pink I had chosen for the tulip, which were all Carrie’s Creations overdyed stranded cotton. Lovely threads, but one of them was too variegated and the lightest shade wasn’t light enough. After a lot of rummaging through thread boxes (what a lovely relaxing activity that is!) I ditched most of my original selection, picked a new darkest shade, kept the second darkest one, and added four pinks from Chameleon Threads’ Shades of Africa range of stranded silks, from the Fynbos set (that means I now have six shades, but two of them are quite similar and I want to see which one works best on the canvas). I also tested how many strands were needed for good coverage on the diagonal stitches, and worked out that whereas the vertical ones take six strands (blue arrow), for the diagonal ones four strands will suffice (orange arrow) – five starts to be difficult to lay flat, and six definitely looks crowded.

A range of pinks Sampling for coverage

And finally I sampled Angela’s suggestion of mixed upright double cross, with my sky thread underneath and a green over the top. For the green I used a new acquisition, a variegated sashiko thread, which is a matt cotton used in Japanese embroidery. The sky takes nine strands of silk for good coverage (canvaswork eats thread, it really does) but as this stitch has several layers crossing over each other I tried it with six, and the sashiko thread as it comes (it’s about the thickness of a full thread of stranded cotton). I like the look of it but want to try it again with just the horizontal stitch in blue, to echo the horizontal direction of the sky, and probably with more strands of silk and perhaps a double sashiko thread as there are some visible bits of canvas (orange arrows, among others).

Sampling two-tone upright double cross

My next class is on 20th April so I’m hoping to use the Easter weekend to get some serious sampling done – and who knows, perhaps even put in that scary first stitch…

James goes bling

Some time ago someone suggested that James, the snail from my RSN Jacobean module, would make quite a nice little crewel kit. That is now on my To Do list, but as I was looking at his outline, I suddenly thought, “wouldn’t he look good in gold?” And because there’s always room for another project, I thought I’d have a go. First of all, bits of him needed padding. I wanted the shell raised in the centre, which was done with a rather pleasant-looking little comma of felt with two more layers over the top, and extra stitching to emphasise the spiral. The brick/stone he is sitting on got a single layer of felt as it would be filled in, although I didn’t yet know what with.

Several outlines, and some felt cut out A little felt comma A raised shell All the padding done

My idea was to stick as much as possible to the “layout” of the crewel version, which meant an open body with some dotted shading and a filled-in shell and brick. The best way to represent the shaded satin stitch on the original brick would be vertical cutwork, and I wanted that outlined first. Then there was a line indicating the curved ground the brick rests on, plus the outlining of James’ body. As I wanted to keep them all distinct I went with pearl purl for the sides of the brick, twist for the ground and double passing for the body. The twist was attached with stitches snuggling in between the plies so the couching is invisible.

All the outlining done

Time for the shell. I couldn’t see a way of reproducing the “spoke” effect of James’ raised backstitch crewel shell, so I chose to couch along the spiral instead. In order not to lose the spiral in one homogenous mass of circling couching I started with a double line of check thread, with the rest of the shell done in pairs of passing again. A lot more plunging than I’d like, but heigh-ho, it was needed to get the effect I wanted. (Oh, I also added a spangle eye and metallic thread feelers with little beads on the end. I know a snail doesn’t have an eye as such, but I prefer him with one.)

The spiral outlined in check thread A lot of plunging The shell complete

A few dotted bits of bright check in the body to represent the seed stitching in the crewel original, and then on to the brick! Vertical cutwork in one of the cylindrical purls and one of the angular ones, and because it seemed a good idea to have the brick relatively matte compared to James’ shiny shell I picked rough purl and wire check. As always, cutting the chips to exactly the right length was a, uhm, lengthy process – a chip is too long, so you take off a fraction of a smidgen and suddenly it’s too short. I have a fair few spare chips in a separate little bag now…

Cutting the chips

I decided to shade the chips a bit like the satin stitch in the original to add texture. And when, several hours later, I had covered about half of the brick, I realised I wasn’t sure I liked the look of it. Bother. I’m not even sure why I have second thoughts about it. I like the shading. I even like the look of that row of companionably snug vertical chips in itself. I’m just not sure it makes the brick look the way I want it.

Half a brick

So that’s where I am with Blingy James – he has been temporarily put away while I think about his brick and decide what I want to do with it. I’ll let you know when I know!

Fortunately there are two pieces of goldwork (or more accurately one piece of goldwork and one piece of silverwork) which did get finished, and indeed were finished some time ago. They were the Secret Project which can finally be revealed because the edition of Stitch magazine in which they appear is now in the shops. I present to you: Come Rain, Come Shine – two metalwork samplers in the shape of, respectively, an umbrella and a parasol. If you choose to stitch it, I’d love to see pictures of your finished projects! And as always, if you have any questions about the instructions, the materials or anything else, just drop me a line.

The two projects with the magazine they appear in Come Rain Come Shine