The last leg

Ah, if only smiley. But starting from the front I suppose a creature’s hind leg can be thought of as its last leg, so I’ll stick with that! Before I got on to Bruce’s haunch, however, I invisible-couched the grass. Most of the points I managed to get nice and sharp with the aid of the lovely little pliers I was given for Christmas; one blade of grass (indicated by the arrow) would not do what I wanted it to, even after unpicking and re-couching. More unpicking would have damaged the twist to such an extent that I would have had to pick out the entire line and start again, and I did briefly consider that, but in the end decided I could live with one blunt bit of grass.

Grass couching in progress The whole line couched A wayward bit of grass

Now for the leg. On one of the design print-outs I’d pencilled in a rough guide to the way I wanted the Jap to go, with indications where I would likely have to fill in little “pockets” and start new threads. Another thing: you may be able to see from the way the shadows fall on the felt that especially on the thin part of the leg the incline is quite steep! A bit like the legs of Alpine cattle on a mountain side, one half of the pair of Jap threads is going to be significantly lower than the other. Which brings me to another challenge of couching through up to four layers of felt: I must pull the couching thread enough to lie snugly over the Jap, but not so much that it pulls the Jap into the padding. Deep breath, and off we go!

Getting ready for the leg

I started with a loop start in the toe, trying to get it right inside the tip, and then proceeded to couch along the twist outline. After a while I realised I could use the width of the foil wrapping on the Jap to gauge the distance between my couching stitches, which made them much more regular. The next tricky bit was getting the Jap to run smoothly along the edge of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back.

A loop start in the toe Couching along the edge of the mixed couching

I’m happy with the couching around the haunch, that’s nice and regular, but yes, there are a few gaps between the mixed couching on the back and the Jap on the haunch. With a staggered edge I suppose some gappiness is inevitable but in one place I could have taken the back thread a bit further in (see arrow). I bounced this picture off the lovely stitchers in the Facebook C & D group and one of those who had done their Goldwork module already said she thought it was an acceptable amount of gap, which was encouraging.

Gappiness along the edge

On with the foot. Feeling terribly organised and bathed in a virtuous glow I drew up a digital plan (easier to include in my log than pencil scribblings on a printed picture) for filling in the remaining gap by the ball of the foot, and a tentative start on the gap at the ankle.

A plan!

As I was couching I realised that lines drawn on a picture are never going to tell you how the Jap will fit on the actual piece – for one thing the lines are never going to be the exact width of the Jap, and for another there is variability in stitch tension (however much you aim for consistency) and the angle of the padding which you can’t see in the photograph. In the end I had to use some quite short lengths, and rather more plunging than I’d hoped for, to get the foot and ankle filled. Coming down the narrow part of leg, for example, there was only room for one thread so I plunged the second one, took the remaining single through, and added new thread to make a pair again. It was too tight for the planned turn so both were plunged staggered, then a new pair was started with a loop. And so on and so forth. I could have called this post “A twisted ankle” – my goodness it got tight! I’m not completely satisfied, but a stitching forum friend said the resulting triangle looked very much like an ankle bone, and although that was the almost automatic result of the shape of the foot rather than a conscious design decision, I was rather pleased with that comment.

Filling the foot The narrow part of the leg is closed Overview after filling the foot and ankle

One thing you will notice in the close-up below (if only because I’ve drawn attention to it with arrows smiley) is that there are some places where the gold foil does not quite cover the core thread. There is a trick of tightening the Jap by twisting it as you couch, and I’ve done that as much as possible, but it doesn’t completely eliminate it. And unlike with wool you can’t keep stopping and restarting with a new, neater thread. However, another message on the Facebook C & D group brought similar reassurance that this is quite normal and to be expected. Phew.

An ankle bone and some separating gold foil

With the lower leg completely covered, it now just remained to keep going round and round the haunch until I had a pleasing shape left in the centre to fill with chipping and a pearl purl border. That sounds nice and straightforward, but there were decisions to be made. To Turn Or To Plunge, for one thing. At first that was an easy one to answer, as the angle down the leg was just too sharp to turn. Ideally I would have plunged everything herringbone fashion, that is to say where the pair of Jap meets itself in the leg, you would first plunge the outer thread on one side, then the outer thread on the other side, then the inner thread on the first side and finally the inner thread on the second side. This makes for a neat line down the centre. Unfortunately I had placed my first couching stitch rather too close to the plunging point for this too work on the first circuit of the haunch, and I’d forgotten to take into account the single plunged thread I mentioned earlier – so the line starts with three consecutive plunges on the left side followed by two consecutive plunges on the right.

Asymmetric plunging down the leg

After that I managed to plunge symmetrically.

Symmetric plunging down the leg

Then I got to the point where I could either plunge or turn, and as I didn’t want to make that decision after several hours of concentrated work, I left it there, to be picked up again this weekend.

Plunge or turn?

But… I hit a snag. Actually, I hit that snag quite a while back, but I eventually decided to ignore it, which may turn out to have been a Very Bad Idea.

So what is it? Well, you will remember that the leg is padded with several layers of felt to give it plenty of lift. Where the leg is narrow, that creates quite a steep slope. And on those sloping sides the pairs of Jap simply will not stay flat. They start out flat, but by the time I come back to that point after another circuit of the leg, one of the pair will have tried to hide underneath the other. It isn’t very obvious when you look at the piece straight on, but when looking from the side (and the assessors will definitely be doing that) you can see the threads slip and buckle.

Jap slipping and buckling

I didn’t immediately and completely ignore the problem. I manipulated the misbehaving threads with my mellor and that would initially look quite promising, but after a while they frustratingly just slipped back again. The mellor having failed me, I tried pulling the couching stitches tighter – but that just dented the padding by pulling the gold threads down into it. I tried looser couching stitches – but then the gold threads just wobbled around. In the end I assumed that this is simply what pairs of Jap do when on a steep incline, and tried not to worry about it.

And then one night I woke up with A Thought. Could it be the rule about angling your needle when bricking Jap? Every goldwork class I’ve attended and pretty much every goldwork book I’ve read mentions this: when couching a stand-alone line of paired threads, the needle goes pretty much straight up and down to make the couching stitch. But when you couch a pair of threads next to an earlier pair, bricking the couching stitches (i.e. staggering them relative to the previous pair to create a brick pattern), you are told to come up on the outside of the pair and then angle the needle underneath the previous pair in order to pull the new pair snugly next to it. Now that works beautifully when the surface is flat or nearly flat, but might it be what caused the slipping and buckling on the steep sides?

Angling the needle when bricking

So here’s the plan: on my sample cloth I will make a four-layer padded oval with fairly steep sides. I will then couch paired Jap all around it, using angled stitches on the left and perpendicular/straight-up-and-down stitches on the right. If they both look the same (i.e. both “bunch up”), I’ll just continue with Bruce as he is. But if the right looks markedly better than the left, then it’s time for some Big Decisions…

The padding for my couching experiment

Assessing an assessment: Jacobean

Last week I got an exciting email: the assessment for my RSN Certificate Jacobean module! Just so you don’t have to skip ahead to the end, I passed smiley. But I thought it might be interesting to show what such an assessment looks like, and also to go through the assessors’ comments to see what I can learn from them.

We were off to a good start with my name being spelled wrong in the general information section; I just hope that won’t cause administrative hassle further down the line. It then shows the range of markings. In practice these turn out to be points from 1 to 5 for each criterion within a section, or a multiple if the section is given more weight. In the Stitches section, for example, the five possible marks are multiplied by three. This means there is no option of awarding, say, 14 points – if you don’t score the perfect 15 it’s down to 12 as the next highest mark.

General comments at the start of the assessment

The assessment proper started with some general comments with quite a bit of appreciative attention paid to The Two Critters. When Lexi found out she was mentioned by name it quite turned her little feline head; I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was actually referred to as Alfie/Lexi. I was really pleased that James’ shell, which was enormously fiddly to do, was praised for being very precisely executed.

Lexi the cat James the snail

Well, what can I say about the First Impressions section except that I am astonished they found no alien fibres! The amount of cat hair I removed from that piece of work in the course of its creation would probably make up at least a small kitten – somewhat surprisingly I must have got rid of it all successfully. I’m pleased they were happy about the thread condition; several times I unpicked things and used a new thread because it started to look fluffy, or was too irregular in thickness to begin with, or had inclusions. It’s nice to know that paid off.

Assessment: First Impressions

On to the Design section. This looks at two aspects of the design: as it was drawn (these are criteria that would apply even if it were never stitched) and as it appears on the fabric (is it straight, is it like the drawing, etc.)

Assessment: Design

Here I lost one point each on three criteria. One of the sides (I’ve asked them to clarify which right side they meant…) is thought to be a bit empty, causing a lack of balance; the accent colour has been over-used; and they would have liked to have seen more stitches from what you might call the “leaf family”. To begin with the second one: fair point. I loved the orange shades and there would have been even more orange areas if I hadn’t restrained myself; notably the fringe on the big tulip, which I changed to brown, and Lexi who was originally Alfie our ginger tom. I still like the way it works in the design, but I agree that it does not comply fully with the brief.

An empty area and a lot of orange

As for the slight emptiness on one side, I’m guessing they mean the area indicated by the purple arrow. I did, in fact, have a flower there in an early stage of the design process (not to mention a bee, with a balancing fellow on the other side), but the tutor thought they made it too busy overall, and I must say I agree with her, it would have looked fussy. Possibly a slightly bolder flower and no bees would have satisfied the assessors while avoiding the over-crowded look.

A flower and some bees

Finally the point about the leaf stitches. It is true that I have used none of the stitches they mention from that particular family. In hindsight this rather surprises me, as I really like fishbone stitch and closed fly in particular for leaves. Possibly this is because there are no smallish leaf shapes in the design that I could have filled that way. On the other hand, for the gap in the tree trunk I used Cretan stitch, which is essentially a shallow feather stitch, so the category has not been completely ignored. But I appreciate their comment about including more different textures, and in future designs will pay extra attention to that aspect when appropriate.

Cretan stitch

The next section is called Stitches, and accounts for the majority of points available (120 out of 205) partly because each criterion is scored in multiples of three points. This was also the section that felt most important to me as it is concerned with the actual thread-on-fabric stitching, and with how well you, the student, have mastered the technique. I was therefore chuffed to bits to have dropped only three points, the minimum you can drop in this section. (Obviously I would have been even more chuffed with a perfect score, but I’m definitely not complaining!)

Assessment: Stitches

Although I was quite pleased with how the long & short stitch leaves on the big tulip had come out, as the assessors point out there is visible banding. Avoiding that is definitely one of the things I find most difficult to achieve in long & short, and I’ll have to do quite a bit more sampling and practicing before I do the Silk Shading module! I’m pleased with the shading on the left-hand flower though, so I hope they were referring only to the tulip. Choosing to work the trunk of the tree deliberately stripy rather than shaded (which I noted in my log) may, in hindsight, not have been the right decision. The hillocks are stripy by the very nature of the stitches, and Lexi is stripy by the very nature of being a tabby, so I can see why they wanted a bit more shading demonstrated.

Slightly stripy shading Better shading

Scoring full points for smooth outlines (purple arrows) and sharp points (green arrows) was very gratifying as I’d worked really hard on those, with a fair amount of unpicking and restitching. Good to know that was worth the effort!

Outlines and points

The final section is Mounting, which accounts for about a fifth of the total points (more than Design, which seems quite a lot). Some of the criteria here are about getting the balance right: pulling the fabric taut, but not so much that you bend the mount board. Others are about accuracy in the securing stitches.

Assessment: Mounting

Well, I’d expected to lose points here, as I had never mounted my work in this way before, and I did. Most of them on the looseness of the fabric, both front and back. And as much as I expected to lose points here, I will admit that this annoys me a little. I’m completely with them as regards their comments about the corners of the linen, some of which were not 100% square, and I’m perfectly willing to take their word for it that the grain was not completely straight to the edges. But both when I had the fabric pinned and when I had finished the mounting Angela did the finger test (pushing your finger along the fabric to see whether it ripples) and pronounced it a good stretch. In fact, I asked her after the initial pinning whether I should let the fabric relax and then re-stretch, as some people do, but having tested the tautness of the fabric she said she didn’t think that was necessary. So I can only assume that the fabric did relax during the longish wait for the assessment, but I’m not sure what I could have done to prevent this.

The mounted piece, front The mounted piece, back

I’m sorry to end the discussion with a bit of a grump, and even more sorry if this makes it sound as though I’m not satisfied with the result. I am most definitely elated to score 94% on my very first module! Next time I will do a re-stretch and see if that makes a difference to the mounting outcome, but on the whole the points that really matter to me are in the Design and Stitches section, and with those I am more than happy. And now on with Bruce the golden kangaroo smiley.

Golden memories

On the day that I should have been at my fifth class, a FoF about what was accomplished at my fourth class, and what I’ve done since. The fourth class, my goodness – I’m half way!

The first thing was to discuss with the tutor (Becky Quine) whether to leave or unpick the couched cloud. She said for rococco you would normally ignore the wave but couch by distance, making bricking easier. That makes sense but I wish I remembered where and when I was told to go by the wave; I’m fairly certain I didn’t just make it up! Becky agreed that the couching on the cloud was a little wide because of my trying to follow the wave but advised leaving it as taking it out might cause damage to the fabric (even though I hadn’t plunged them yet). So I plunged and secured the threads, and we’ll see what the assessors think.

The cloud is finally plunged

The picture above shows the start of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back. I had decided to use alternating pairs of very fine rococco and Jap; Becky said to use the larger rococco only as the very fine doesn’t come in the kit you get at the beginning of the module and it might be an issue in the assessment. I told her that I didn’t get the kit because I had pretty much all the materials already so Angela said to work from stash; and had also approved my using different sizes of rococco because the size isn’t specified in the brief. We agreed that I’d note my decision to use the very fine rococco in my log.

As I was couching a pair of the rococco I noticed the gold wrapping was rather gappy, showing the core thread. It would have annoyed me whenever I saw the piece if I left it, so I took it it out and picked a better bit to replace it with. Towards the end it needed a single very short line of rococco to cover the felt completely, which was fiddly but necessary to make sure it looked neat and tidy. Well, except for the spaghetti ends sticking out everywhere.

Some of the gold wrapping on the rococco was gappy Mixed couching leads to a lot of spaghetti

To practice creating a nice edge I first plunged the side that will be bordered by the couched Jap in the haunch, then the edge that would remain exposed. And that’s what the front looked like at the end of my fourth class.

The first edge plunged And the second At the end of the fourth class

Besides stitching there was a lot of discussing various bits of the design. I asked about the teeny details such as Haasje’s nose and Bruce’s nostril – as I can’t possibly do them in any of the threads in the brief, do I just leave them out or would I be allowed to stitch them in a thin metallic thread? Becky confirmed that for anything this small a thin or stranded metallic like Ophir is permitted. Unfortunately Ophir has been discontinued and I never managed to get hold of any, but in my goldwork stash I have a very thin Kreinik Jap #1 and a Madeira 3-ply Heavy Metallic, 1 ply of which should work well. I’ll take them to my next class to see what the tutor thinks of them.

At home the first task was to secure all the plunged ends of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back; as I mentioned in an earlier FoF, I couldn’t manage with the John James needles and I broke my last curved beading needle after only half the oversewing. Fortunately the Creative Quilting needles arrived not too long after and I could finish it. They are very nice to work with indeed, stronger than the beading needle but a bit finer and more flexible than the JJ ones; just what you need in a dense area such as this.

Bruce's back fully plunged and secured

Next was the front leg. I’d worked out two possible arrangements of the couched Jap, and I felt I couldn’t properly visualise them on paper – some sampling was called for!

Two possible front leg arrangements

Now this sampling was not done as neatly as I hope the real leg will be done, simply because I didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time getting it neat when the aim of the sampling was simply to compare the look of the two “layouts”; moreover, in order not to use up lots of precious Jap I used some unidentified Jap of a similar thickness which I rescued from a tangle in my mother-in-law’s work chest, and which is decidedly less than pristine in places. Because of this, it didn’t behave as well in tight turns as the proper stuff will. But it definitely gave me some idea of which I preferred.

The front leg sampled two ways

I expected to like the one on the right best, and I do like the way the lines run in that one (more like the way you would fill in that leg if you were drawing or painting it), but the version on the left is a lot neater. Purely in isolation that would be fine, but I feel that the gold going across the top makes it look cut off from the rest of the body, instead of flowing into it. Hmm, some thought and tutor input needed there.

So that’s where I am at the moment, and the question is, What next? I do need to get some homework done, especially now that my next class may well be a couple of months away. Well, not the front leg. That needs bouncing off the tutor. I was advised to do the line of grass later as it is so close to the bottom of the frame and it might get damaged if I lean on it to get to higher-up bits of the design. Still, I keep it covered when not working on it, I don’t lean on my frame much anyway as it’s so small, and it’s done in couched twist which seems quite sturdy, so as long as I don’t put the chips in I should be OK. I’ll probably do some work on the rear leg as well, as I’ve discussed the arrangement of that (starting with a loop start in the toe) in quite a bit of detail with two tutors. And then? If there’s no class in sight yet, I will put it away and go back to the racehorse – that way I will keep in practice with goldwork, and not risk ruining anything important smiley. And if there are still no classes when the horse is finished, well, I may just possibly have bought two of Alison Cole’s goldwork kits the other day which arrived at unprecedented speed and are therefore winking at me seductively from my craft room desk…

Alison Cole's Pearl Butterfly Alison Cole's Beetle Wing Floral

When we had classes…

A belated Happy New Year to you all! This post was meant to appear earlier this week, and it should have started: “As I’m now halfway between classes, it’s about time I gave you an update on the Goldwork module”. Unfortunately, because of lockdown I am no longer halfway between classes, as they have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Disappointing, of course (especially the fact that assessments are also on hold) but completely understandable, and so we just get on with things as best we can.

But first we must go back. I realise that the last thing I showed you (apart from a couple of looks at the back of the work) was the state of affairs after my November class, so today I’ll show what I did in the run-up to the December class, and next week what was done when I got there. You may remember I’d couched the cloud outline but was leaving the ends unplunged because I wasn’t altogether sure about the bricking, so ignoring that for the moment it was time to couch some pearl purl (PP). To get into it with something not too challenging I started with the outline of the sun.

The sun's outline in pearl purl

The next bits (the far legs) were more intricately shaped, and I wanted the line drawing near so I could keep referring to it. My needle minder was pressed into multitasking as a paper minder, and helped me keep an eye on the outline I was trying to create. You might think surely the paint lines would do that, and most of the time they do. But sometimes the paint lines (remember the smudged pounce debacle?) are not exactly like the line drawing, and although they have to be covered, a bit of careful placing of the wires here and there can improve the outline… I was going to say “considerably”, but in reality I’ll probably be the only one who notices smiley; still, for me that makes it worth the effort.

A way of keeping the line drawing near The far legs completed

For Haasje (worked in the thinner PP) having the drawing there was even more important – after all, it’s essential to the look of the finished piece that I get his expression right. And this was the bit where the pounce had got smudged most. In a couple of places my decision to create the outline I wanted especially for Haasje’s head may have left a teeny bit of paint visible, but I came to the conclusion that whatever the effect on the assessment, making Haasje look the way I wanted him weighed more heavily with me. And I’m happy with the way he’s turned out, even without his big spangle eye. But my goodness some of the smaller and curvier bits were fiddly!

Haasje outlined

The final bit of PP was the inner line of Bruce’s ear, and then it was on to the twist outline. As Helen had said single twist is always couched using the “invisible” method, that’s what I did, including some challenging pointy bits. I also had to work out which bits of Bruce’s outline were behind which other bits, so the overlaps looked as natural as possible. And then I plunged one bit of twist a little too short… fortunately I managed to tease the end back out and plunge it a little closer to the line. Phew.

Bruce's inner ear A pointy ear in couched twist

The first ear was followed by back and tummy, head, other ear, front leg, and finally rear leg with haunch.

Bruce's back and tum outlined And his head And his other ear And his front leg And finally his rear leg

That’s a lot of twist, I can tell you, and at that point I’d reached homework saturation point. It was time to take Bruce and Haasje to class, show them to Becky Quine (who was taking over last minute from Helen Jones), and decide what to do next. To be, as they say, continued!

Proper padding and a little bit of gold

After all the preparations I talked about in last week’s FoF, it was time for the third class in my Goldwork module. The first thing I did there was not concerned with the prep at all, but involved a little tweak to my sampled grass. Helen Jones, the tutor, suggested gently pinching the tips of the blades of grass with tweezers to make a sharper point, and it did make a difference. I still have to sample invisibly couched tips though! I also learnt that twist is always couched using the invisible in-between-the-plies method unless it is part of mixed couching, so both the grass and the kangaroo outline will have to be done in this way.

The tweezered points look pointier

On to discuss the soft string padding. Helen hadn’t seen the design or the extra bit of tail padding before, so we talked about possibly using thicker string or more strands as a documented design decision (as discussed with Angela last time), but when I remarked that I had sampled a blunt ending and moved the tail felt because the tail had to gradually get down to the level of Bruce’s rump, she suggested I cut 20 short lengths of my slightly thicker soft string, wax them, outline the tail on my sample cloth and see whether splayed out the twenty strings might not be enough to cover the base of the tail after all. They were. Helen said the sample I’d done at home was fine so she suggested I move straight on to the real thing. Away with the sampling cloth and out comes the slate frame!

On to the actual padding!

It took several goes and a fair bit of unpicking, because I wanted to get this absolutely right. The cutwork tail is going to be quite an eyecatcher, and having the proper foundation will make it much easier to get the cutwork even. So the tapering had to be gradual, and the securing stitches not stick out. It took most of the class, but then I did have a tail to be proud of! Well, Bruce did smiley.

The tapered end done, now for the chisel end Close-up of the tapered end Working on the chisel end The finished tail

Actually, it was rather nice to be able to spend such a long time just getting an important part of the project done just right. It’s not something you can easily manage at home, but in class, well, there’s nothing else to do but concentrate on your stitching!

And finally, I did manage to get on a little bit of actual gold thread that would be seen – but not without a design change. I was going to use a pair of rococco and Jap for the outline of the cloud, but the Jap looked dwarfed by the chunky medium rococco, so I changed it to a single line of rococco with a pair of Jap couched next to it. I got the rococco on ib class and later that weekend added the Jap and the pearl purl outline of the sun at home.

The first gold

So the first gold is on – yay! Although… I’m not at all sure the bricking on the Jap and the rococco is up to scratch. The irregular nature of rococco when couched in curves makes it difficult to space the couching stitches evenly, which in turn makes it difficult to know where to place the couching stitches on the Jap; bricking based on the rococco will simply make the spacing on the Jap uneven as well, while spacing the couching on the Jap evenly upsets the bricking pattern. For now I will leave plunging and fastening off on the cloud, in case I decide to take it all out after discussing it with Angela. If a thing is worth doing…

Stabbing and padding and a soft string sample

Sometimes embroidery can sound quite aggressive, or just plain weird – stabbing, waxing, plunging… Never mind, we know what we mean! Before there can be any plunging at all, however, there is the very extensive prep stage to get through. Tempting to rush through it or skip bits, as it will all be covered up, but I know from experience that it does make a difference to the look of the end product, so I’m being a good little embroiderer and completing all the steps.

So the first thing was to finish stab stitching the silk and the calico together (to avoid any puckering when the embroidery is taken off the slate frame), just inside paint lines which enclose areas that will be covered, and exactly on the paint lines of areas that will only be outlined. Encouragingly, when I had finished this it was very difficult to see where the stitches were, but the picture taken with the light at an angle will show you the general effect.

The stab stitching finished and not very visible The stab stitching close up

Then it was time to put some near-golden colour on: the felt padding. I recut the front leg as the original felt piece simply would not fit properly inside the paint lines, and I lowered the bit of padding in the tail, having just in time realised that the tail would need to flatten towards the rump in order to prevent an ugly step in height.

All the bits of felt in position, except the hind leg Most of the felt attached

By that time the light was getting bad. Should I leave hind leg with its four layers and intricately shaped top? After some consideration I decided to attach the first three layers; after all, the fourth layer is the only one that will be seen, and even that only temporarily! Now to position them correctly. My Bohin chalk pencil proved invaluable in making sure that the outlines of all layers were more or less equidistant on the part of the haunch where all four pile up.

Chalk outlines to position the felt The first layer attached Layers two and three attached on top

The next day, when the light was better, I added the last layer. And boy was it fiddly! Still, I managed to fit that sizeable and awkwardfoot snugly within the paint lines, so a good result.

The final piece of felt padding added

On with the string padding. My homework was to get that finished too, but I was having second thoughts. I have done string padding before, once at a one-on-one RSN class and once at Helen McCook’s goldwork racehorse class, but in both cases the padding was tapered at both ends. Here I needed to have one end (the top of the tail where it attaches to Bruce’s rump) gradually decreasing in height but increasing in width – a sort of chisel edge rather than a fine point. Out of my entire collection of goldwork books (admittedly only about five, but these include the RSN guide and Alison Cole’s excellent volume) there was only one that described this process: Lizzie Pye’s. Her pictures were very helpful and informative but even so I decided to sample this method first – I wanted to bounce it off the tutor before applying it to the real project.

Cutting and securing a blunt edge The padding seen from the side

Besides all this foundation work I also did some grass sampling (well, I wanted to do some shiny embroidery). There are two methods of couching twist: taking the needle down in between the plies and making stitches that lie in the direction of the twist, so the couching thread “disappears”, or taking the needle over the top at right angles just as all other metal threads are couched. I tried both, the disappearing version on the left and the visible version on the right. I prefer the invisible method, but it is more fiddly, and it’s very difficult to make the pointy turns work so I had to use a few auxiliary stitches. More sampling needed to learn how to couch the points invisibly too. Nothing like a bit of a challenge to keep things interesting!

Invisible couching Two types of couching and some chipping

The perils of painting a kangaroo

In preparation for my class on the 7th I did some more sampling – bricking rococco. I found that by twisting or untwisting individual rococco threads I could manipulate them so that they fitted together better, both within the pairs and the pairs side by side. There are a few gaps, especially in the strongly curved bits, but on the whole I’m not unhappy with this! I used a lighter weight of rococco here from the one I used in the mixed pairs to see the different effects, and I think I will use the heavier weight (Medium) in the couching on the cloud outline, while using the lighter, slightly easier to manipulate weight (Very Fine) in the more solid area of mixed couching.

Couching rococco and trying to brick A few gaps, but not too bad

Incidentally, I learnt something about mixed couching in class (well, that’s what I’m there for smiley) – the mixing doesn’t have to be within the pair, it can also refer to pairs made up of two the same threads, as long as other pairs in the area are made up from other types of threads. So you could alternate pairs of Jap with pairs of twist or pairs of rococco. Angela also suggested that if I did use mixed pairs which included rococco, I should reverse the pairs when couching them next to each other; in other words, if the first pair is Jap/rococco, couch the next pair as rococco/Jap, so the two wavy threads lie together. All very useful stuff.

Next was sewing on the silk dupion. Because I’m working with the smaller slate frame and we wanted to keep the silk as large as possible, this was a bit fiddly, but it worked. You have to leave the calico fairly slack while doing this, which makes it even more fiddly but which is apparently essential, then you put full tension on the fabric ready for getting the design on. Things were getting exciting!

Sewing on the silk Putting tension on the frame

I’d done the pricking, now for the pouncing. Positioning the tracing paper with the pricked design was a bit awkward as the back (which is rough because the holes are pricked from the front and so sharp bits of tracing paper stick out at the back) kept catching on the silk. When I removed the tracing paper there was in fact some fluffing up here and there, but I hope most of that will be covered up. Anyway, having rubbed in the pounce, it was time to see how the tracing had come out.

The pricking positioned Rubbing in the pounce The pounced design

Doesn’t look too bad does it? But before long most of the kangaroo’s head, all of Haasje and the left-hand side of the grass were a ghostly blur. Probably partly because of the rough texture of the silk, and partly because I had to tilt the frame while painting to be able to see the dots because of the way the silk catches the light – and so the pounce moved. (Unfortunately I didn’t take a pic of the blurry mess, but I was working Haasje in particular mostly by referring continually to the printed design.) I just had to make the best of it, and most of the lines are, I think, pretty close to the original design.

The painted design

By the way, as we were looking through the brief for something else I found that I should have used a power-woven (i.e. much smoother) silk dupion, not the rather slubby (though very attractive) hand-woven one I did pick; Angela was surprised at this as she thought it just specified silk dupion, so we’ve agreed she’ll put a note in the official paperwork to say she approved the fabric.

The next step in the process is tacking, basting or stab stitching (choose your term) the two layers of fabric together. “Where is your self-coloured thread?” asked Angela. I didn’t have any – it wasn’t mentioned in the list of materials or in any other part of the brief. She said that if I was very precise I could use the yellow sewing thread; the only reason they prefer a thread the colour of the silk is that stitches that don’t get covered don’t show up so much, so it simply means I have to be extra careful in placing my stitches! Back home I showed my husband the back of the work because he couldn’t see from the front where the tacking was (a good sign) and noticed a big loop. Bother. It has now been seen to.

An unnoticed loop in my stab stitching

Besides my homework I also did a bit of felt padding sampling; not really necessary, perhaps, but I wanted to try out something with more layers than I had used so far. This little heart has five layers on the left, but only two on the right, with a bit of stab stitching to create extra contours. When my goldwork is back from assessment (whenever that may be) I might work Jap couching all over it; I’ve done some sketches of possible patterns. Perhaps it could even be turned into a brooch or ornament.

Five layers of felt The layers all attached, and stab stitched The height difference between the two halves

So the painted design is on, and by the start of the next class I will (with a bit of luck) have completed the stabbing, the felt padding and the string padding. All of which will eventually be covered up. Sigh. Still, at the class I may actually get to attach some gold that will remain visible!

Stretcher bars, eyes and rainbows

Some days ago I found myself saying to my husband, “More threads isn’t always the answer”. Yes, I know – heresy! But I have redeemed myself by ordering a pair of longer side stretchers for my Millennium frame. As I was commenting on a fellow member’s Cross Stitch Forum post about Millennium frames and Lowery stands I wrote “with hindsight I would have chosen the slightly longer side stretchers” and then thought, well, why not actually get them! The idea is that with the larger stitching area I could use it as a sampling set-up for the RSN Certificate goldwork module, mimicking the slate frame set-up better than a hoop can.

Now Needle Needs, known for their excellent craftsmanship and their beautiful, sturdy and effective frames and stands, are unfortunately also known for slow delivery and less than ideal communication. Personally I’ve never had any problems, possibly because I just ring them instead of emailing, but I know other people have had difficulties. I’m not in a frantic hurry for these stretchers (I’ve managed very well without them so far, after all) but in view of wanting to use them for the goldwork module it would be nice to have them before I finish! So I rang them to ask for a time frame – and found that the gentleman I spoke to remembered me (and my husband’s vintage Austins) from when I visited their workshop to try out the Aristo lapstand back in 2015!

Trying out the Aristo lap stand

Anyway, he said he would be making some stretchers of the right size in the next few days, and yesterday I got an email to say they would be delivered by 9th November, exactly one week after I ordered them. There may, of course, still be glitches, but it all looks promising!

Until then I continue to do my sampling on the spare silk mounted in a hoop, which works well enough. Today I heard that next Saturday’s Certificate class will go ahead, with only two students which should make it nice and safe, so I’m glad I managed to do most of my homework to show Angela. Part of that involved “mixed couching”, where instead of using a pair of the same threads you couch a pair of dissimilar threads, for example rococco paired with twist. Because rococco is by far my least favourite goldwork thread I decided to practise mainly with that, starting with it combined with twist, and then trying to work a pair of rococco and Jap right next to it, bricking the couching stitches as much as possible.

Mixed couching

“As much as possible” turned out to be not very much – one of my questions for Angela will be how on earth you evenly brick anything that has rococco in it, with its wave that should be regular but in practice turns out not to be even when stitched in a straight line, let alone on a curve. Oh well, I’m meant to be learning so it’s just as well I have questions smiley. (The picture also shows some improvement in my stitching already: there is a definite gap between the two pairs where I start on the left, whereas they are much better abutted as I went on. Reassuring to know sampling helps to sort these things out.)

Another thing I’ve been sampling is kangaroo eyes. That rather sounds like a buffet I don’t want to try, but actually it was a very useful exercise. In the design drawing, the kangaroo’s eye is roughly triangular, and my original idea was to use chips of smooth purl to somehow fill in that triangle, either with the chips all running vertically (with the front one slightly curved) or with some used as outlines (another idea of making them all run parallel with the top sloping line never even made it to the sampling stage). As you can see both these options looked awful. So then I started playing with the idea of a spangle with two chips of smooth purl for the top and bottom outline. That effect was much more like it, and after some experimenting with spangle sizes and placement of the securing stitches I eventually decided on the one indicated by the orange arrow: a 2mm spangle with the slit facing forward and one securing stitch facing backward.

Lots of kangaroo's eyes

And finally, remember the rainbow project I called Hope? I’ve been stitching quite a lot of variations on the theme (including a personalised one for a young girl facing a lockdown birthday) and was hoping to put the chart pack on the website this month, but the design was taken up by a magazine for publication which means I can’t publicise it myself until after that issue of the magazine has come off the shelves (some time next spring). I think I can probably get away with a teeny-weeny sneak peek though…

Five rainbows

How a kangaroo ousted a seahorse…

…and was in turn endangered by a miniature gecko. The story of how a goldwork design can be influenced by fabric, bedtime stories, and a Baptist minister.

Once upon a time, in 2015 to be exact, I sketched a whole series of ideas for goldwork designs, among them a toadstool, a sort-of-daisy and a seahorse. Forward a year, and on a visit to the Viking Loom I bought some scrumptious hand-painted silk dupion in turquoise, blue and purple shades. Forward another four years, and I’m starting the goldwork module for my RSN Certificate. For which I need to stitch my goldwork design on silk dupion. Well!

Sketch for a goldwork toadstool Sketches for a goldwork daisy and seahorse Hand-painted silk dupion

No-brainer, right? Sea-coloured dupion, seahorse – done! Hmm, not quite. All these sketches were for designs without any rules other than what I liked. But the goldwork module comes with a brief; there are only certain materials you are allowed to use (no kid leather, no smooth passing, no rough purl or wire check, no silver or copper let alone any other colours) and there are certain techniques you have to use (bricked Jap, mixed couching, cutwork over soft string padding), sometimes with a specified minimum area. The seahorse couldn’t quite fit all that in, and I’d have to get rid of some of the materials I’d originally included. No worries (keep that expression in mind…), we can add to it. How about a treasure chest? I worked out that that could be made to include several of the required techniques, so I did some sketching to work out the proportions and positions of seahorse and chest to make them into a coherent design.

Adding a treasure chest to the seahorse

And then, in my pile of sketches, I came across an undated, very basic sketch of a sitting kangaroo with the scribbled note “find good pose. check eye shape” and an indication of padded cutwork along the tail, and some chipping on the haunch/hip joint. (It also had a small sketch of a hot air balloon, but I ignored that.) A kangaroo… well, it would be unusual; I’d found plenty of sea creatures when looking at previous Certificate goldwork pieces, but no kangaroo (although there was a koala). It wouldn’t work with the hand-painted silk dupion, of course – I’d need to buy some more shades to have a good range of options (oh the hardship). As I talked to Hilary at the Silk Route about this I mentioned that it was now between a seahorse and a kangaroo and she immediately plumped for the kangaroo, simply because it was so unusual; and Angela, my tutor, had also greeted my simple sketch with some enthusiasm, not surprising perhaps as she is Australian smiley.

A basic kangaroo

Anyway, I figured there was no harm in finding some more kangaroo pics and deciding on a suitable position, and what about a pouch and possibly a Joey? And then it hit me. Haasje!

Haasje (“little hare” in Dutch) is the cuddly toy my grandmother bought for me before I was born. For various reasons it was a very special welcome into the world, and Haasje became my constant companion. He was also my champion: when an older cousin told me that “earworms” (Dutch for earwigs) would creep into your ears at night and nibble your brains (I had no older brothers, but my cousins obviously did a great job as substitutes), I looked for a solution to keep me safe. One ear was protected by the pillow, but what about the other? Haasje, of course! For several years I slept with him snugly held against my ear; my mother didn’t find out why until I was a grown-up.

Haasje, my constant companion

Now when my favourite aunt lived with us for two years and told me bedtime stories every night, she chose Haasje as the protagonist, and in one particularly memorable series of tales he travelled all the way to Australia, where a passing kangaroo gave him a lift in her pouch. He wasn’t used to hopping that fast and high, so he clung on for dear life while nervously looking down at the ground. That was it. The seahorse was forgotten. I had a design!

Haasje in the kangaroo's pouch

As is always the case the design went through several changes before it was finalised – it gained some grass, and a cloud with the sun behind it – but the basis for me was a panicky Haasje travelling by kangaroo (I hope to convey his wide-eyed look of fear by means of a big round spangle). In class I did some more work on what materials to put where, where to have padding, and which bits to leave open to contrast with the solid gold parts; the cutwork for the tail remained, as did the chipwork haunch, and other techniques and materials were added in, making sure all the requirements of the brief were covered. When I got home I did a mock-up (not easy for goldwork) to give myself a better idea of the balance between open and solid, and I think I’ve got it about right. I also printed the cleaned-up design on tracing paper to make the pricking needed for the prick & pounce transfer process.

The colour mock-up The tracing for prick and pounce

Then in the middle of this whole process, after Haasje had been added but before my class, our minister shared a holiday snap during the Sunday service’s all-age talk of this teeny-weeny little chap (that giant white thing is a teaspoon), almost changing my mind a second time, but although I did find some lovely pictures of miniature geckos in beautifully sinuous positions perfect for goldwork, I decided to stick with Bruce (as I have called the kangaroo) and Haasje.

The miniature gecko shared by our minister

Remember I mentioned getting some more colours of silk dupion? Here is the selection I got, with the two at the top bought specifically for Bruce. The olive shade was not at all what I was looking for, so that became my doodle cloth, but I absolutely loved the shade called Ether. It was a bit of a surprise as the picture on the Silk Route website was rather brighter, but actually this less saturated look was just what I wanted.

A collection of dupion shades

Unfortunately, although the 28cm x 33cm cut was fine as regards size, it had the grain running the wrong way. Well, “wrong” for this particular design. In order to accommodate the design I’d have to use the fabric in portrait orientation, but in that case the grain (which is very visible in silk dupion) runs vertically, and Angela and I both agreed that that would look all wrong. So this piece of fabric will become a second doodle cloth, and I’ve bought a fat quarter of the Ether dupion which is easily big enough to cut a piece of the right size with the grain running horizontally.

This does mean I won’t be able to fully frame up until my next class, as I would much prefer to attach the silk to the calico with a tutor to hand. On the few occasions I’ve attached a piece of silk to backing fabric I’ve ended up with puckers in the silk at the end of the project, so I want to get this absolutely right. Apparently the secret is to baste the two layers together on the design lines when the whole sandwich is under tension.

However, we could get the calico framed up. Angela had never worked with a slate frame this small so it was a new experience for her as well! But apart from everything being rather smaller, the rest of the process is pretty much the same: sew the top and bottom of the fabric to the webbing, sew herringbone tape to the sides, and lace up using the lethal bracing needle (I won’t show you the wounds…)

Sewing the calico to the webbing Lacing the side tapes to the bars

By the way, do you remember the four protective flaps I made for the big slate frame? True, they overlapped quite a bit, but it will give you some idea of the size difference when you see the effect of a single flap attached to the new frame.

Four flaps covering the large slate frame One protective flap is enough

And that’s it so far! I’ve got my homework – getting the silk ironed, sampling some couching and s-ing, creating a tonal plan, pricking the transfer, cutting the layers of felt padding; Angela is definitely keeping me busy smiley. After the next class I hope I’ll be able to show you the silk all framed up and with the design painted on, and who knows even a bit of gold (although all the padding needs to go on first, so it may be a while before I get to play with the bling bits – but there’s always the doodle cloth).

Ready for my homework!

And now we wait…

Those of you who follow Mabel’s Facebook page will know that last week I finished mounting my Jacobean Certificate piece and handed it in for assessment. Definitely a Proud Picture moment, and Angela kindly obliged. Yay me! And now we wait for the assessment to come back, probably some time in January. Patience is a virtue, they say, and I will be getting a lot of practice…

Posing with the now fully finished Jacobean piece

But how did we get to that point? You may remember that at the start of my last Jacobean class I had the twill all herringbone-stitched to the calico, and the sateen cut to size and ironed. As it happens I’d misunderstood Angela and cut a 10cm excess all around, instead of 10cm in total (5cm all around) so some cropping was needed, but then the sateen could be folded to the right size and pinned to the twill in the four corners.

The sateen backing pinned at the corners

Then it was a matter of slip stitching the twill and sateen together. It’s a bit like a ladder stitch really, except with ladder stitch you have two folds that need sewing together and you scoop a bit of both folds alternately. Here the sateen got scooped in the fold, but the twill just got picked up as close to the sateen as possible. Boy do you need a curved needle for this! I hate them with a vengeance because they have a will of their own and are a pain to work with, but I will admit that this sewing would be well-nigh impossible without one.

A slip stitch in the twill A slip stitch in the sateen

You work several slip stitches before firmly pulling the thread (a sturdy buttonhole) to make the stitches disappear into the fabric. In the picture I’m getting near to a corner and am about to pull, so the stitches further away are already neatly tightened away but the ones near the corner are still visible. Which brings me to the invisible even stitches mentioned in the brief – I asked Angela and she explained that although if properly done the actual stitches are invisible, the tension on the fabric shows where they are so you can see whether they are evenly done even if you can’t see the stitches themselves! What do you think, in the second picture – are they even?

Getting to a corner The sateen all attached, pins still to be removed

The final step was to take out all the pins, and then get rid of 140 or so pin holes. Quite a satisfying task, it was rather fun to see them disappear when gently rubbing the edge of the fabric.

getting rid of pin holes

And here it is, fully mounted, front and back view.

The mounted piece, front The mounted piece, back

Irrelevant picture: while pinning I found these two entangled pins in the box. I thought they looked rather sweet smiley.

Entangled pins

Tomorrow will be my first proper class for the Goldwork module, and I’m hoping to frame up the new, small slate frame and finalise the design. Yes, I have a design – not either of the ones I started out with as ideas, but that’s what happens. It’ll change a bit more over the next few weeks I don’t wonder, but I’ve got the general idea plus a personal twist, which I think is very important to have in a project you’ll be working on for many months. I’ve also got my doodle cloth hooped up: one of the silk dupions I got from the Silk Route turned out to be an olive green I am unlikely ever to use for a proper project, so it may as well be put to work in this way.

Sample cloth for goldwork

Incidentally, I finally unlaced the SAL Tree on my Millennium frame – quite a difference in tension, isn’t it! Perhaps slate frames do have the right idea after all smiley.

The Millennium frame all laced up for the SAL Unlacing the Millennium frame at completion of the SAL