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.

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…

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

Getting into canvaswork – slowly

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

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

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

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

A roof outline Sampled in one orange Two orange roofs

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

Possible perles for the sky

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

Perle sampling

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

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

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

Sampling transitions

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

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

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

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

Starting on web stitch

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

Assessing an assessment (goldwork) – part 2

Having got the S-ing issue off my chest last time smiley let’s move on to Padding (Bruce’s, not mine…) Second-highest score on both criteria, with deductions for the felt not having been stitched firmly enough, and there being a bump in the soft string. By the way, I was really pleased with the comment that although the width of the soft string padding would have been thought too wide generally, it worked for this design. It was one of the headaches about Bruce’s tail (which was just the perfect design area for padded cutwork) that where it attached to the rump it had to be quite wide to look natural (in as far as any goldwork kangaroo looks natural). I’m glad that was successful.

Assessment: Padding

Do you remember how I struggled to keep that endless expanse of couched Jap on Bruce’s haunch and hind leg to lie flat against the sloping padding? And how the sample I did showed none of that buckling, even though my couching technique was exactly the same on both? And how I couldn’t work out why they behaved differently? Well, the assessors’ comment that the felt had “not been stitched firmly enough to support the gold” made me think – my sample padding was quite a bit smaller than the haunch (2 x 4cm against 4½ x 6cm) and that fact alone would have made it firmer, as the felt had less ground to cover between the attaching stitches. I suppose it’s like holding a very short string taut by holding the two ends, and trying to do the same with a much longer string – however tightly you pull the ends of that longer string, it is more likely to sag than the short one. In the email to Anne Butcher, the Head of Teaching, I’ve asked whether the assessors would be willing to tell me how I can remedy this lack of firmness in larger areas of padding, so I can avoid the distortions in future projects (such as, hopefully some time in the not too distant future, my Advanced Goldwork).

Buckling pairs of couching on the slope Sampled sloping couching seems to work better

I realise that the above theory doesn’t account for the buckling on the thin part of the leg, but that may have been because the gradient there was very steep; I’ll ask about that as well. As for the bump in the soft string padding, going back over the progress pictures I took I think they must refer to the one shown below, which does indeed show up even when covered in cutwork. Still, on the whole they were pleased with how the padding supported the gold, which is very satisfying!

A slight bump in the soft string padding... ...shows up even when covered by cutwork

Next up is Couching, Plunging and Pearl Purl.

Assessment: Couching, Plunging and Pearl Purl

Full marks for my bricking, and the way I had invisibly joined the pearl purl – as I did extra sampling for the latter, I’m pleased that came out so well. I can in fact see the join if I look closely, but that may be because I know where it is, so I won’t point it out to them smiley.

An (almost) invisible join

The front leg, or arm as they call it, was never my favourite bit. It was changed to couching-straight-onto-the-fabric fairly last minute, when Angela realised that there was no such couching in the design and it was required by the brief. The herringboned plunging (green arrow) is not my best, and the plunging along the top line has, as they very rightly point out, damaged the fabric in places (purple arrows). The gold foil has also come a little loose near the plunging on a few threads (red arrow for one example). Not my best work. Still, I was a bit surprised about the comment that the turns in the arm needed a further stitch, as the only turns are in the paw/hand, and I can’t quite see how I could have put in any more stitches there. Also mysterious: “the turns on the leg show progression.” Unfortunately I worked the leg before the arm…

An arm with issues Couched turns in the hand

There were two comments about the pearl purl: that some of the couching stitches were visible, and that there were “many kinks”. Absolutely no disagreement with the first one – there are some visible couching stitches. Fortunately not so visible that they are noticeable when Bruce is viewed from a normal distance, but at “assessment distance”, yes. But the kinks, well, I wondered what exactly they meant by that. There are several (bright pink arrows), for example, in Haasje and in Bruce’s front leg, but they are there because the design line changes direction in a way that can’t be couched in a smooth curve. There is one such kink in the hind foot where the gap between the coils of the pearl purl is larger than it should be (green arrow), which may be what they mean. But if it is I honestly cannot see “many” of them. Another question I asked in my email, therefore, was how the assessors define a kink. They can’t have thought them extremely important though, as they deducted the minimum number of points (two, in a double-weighted section) covering both the visible stitches and the kinks.

Design kinks in Haasje's outline Design kinks in the front leg Too much of a kink in the hind foot

On to the final section about the embroidery, which is Chipping and Cutwork. Full marks for uniform chips and uncracked cutwork – I had taken a lot of care over the latter especially, re-cutting and attaching quite a few of the tail chips, so it was encouraging to see that that paid off.

Assessment: Chipping and Cutwork

There were two areas of chipping in the piece, the sun and the centre of Bruce’s haunch. The two things you mustn’t do in chipping is overlap the chips, and have felt showing. But for me at least (perhaps that gets better with more experience) it sometimes seems that it simply has to be one or the other, especially when trying to fill in the last bit of an area. I did try to cut some of the chips a little smaller to fit into small gaps, but it didn’t always work. The pictures below (the last chip was just about to be placed in the sun) show a few of the gaps that I either couldn’t fill or didn’t actually notice; among the sparkle in the pictures it is quite difficult to spot overlaps, but looking close up at the piece in real life, especially at the sun, there are definitely a few of those which I missed when working on it. A learning moment, which is what it is all about!

Chipping on the sun Chipping on the haunch

Besides there being the required span of cutwork and not many cracks, the cutwork tail had two other positives: the chips hugged the padding closely (awww – sweet) and the ends touched the fabric on both sides. Again, something I had really worked on, by endlessly re-cutting chips so they would be exactly the right length. I’m hoping to train myself to get a better eye for it so I get the length right first time! The two criticisms refer to challenges that are rather related to each other: the angle of the chips (which ought to remain at about 45 degrees throughout, and therefore has to change with the curve of the tail) was slightly lost, and there were gaps where the felt was visible. In trying to minimise the gaps, I flattened out the angle at the top of the tail, and in trying to maintain the angle, I introduced some very visible gaps in the tip of the tail. I mentioned the latter in my Project Evaluation Notes after discussing it with Angela, who said that because the outline was very nice and even it was probably better not to unpick some chips and try to fill in the gaps; knowing the time and effort it took to get it to look that even (hugging the padding and touching the fabric, as the assessment calls it) I gladly took her advice. And compared with the two bits of cutwork I did before this module (a one-on-one RSN class in 2017 and the goldwork racehorse in 2019) I can definitely see improvement, so I’m happy with that. More practice and one day I’m sure I’ll get to the point where I can keep the angle and minimise gaps.

The outline of the tail is even Flattened angles Gaps between the chips

The last section, which is not really about the embroidery itself, is Mounting. You may remember I lost a fair few marks on that in the Jacobean module, so I was pleased to see that I had improved: four points lost instead of six.

Assessment: Mounting

Most marks were deducted for failing to stroke the fabric around the edges back in place to hide the pin holes, and that was fair enough; partly because of the looser, rougher weave of the silk, some of the pins had made holes that I simply could not get rid of, and in one or two places they had actually severed the thinner dark fabric threads. I described my unsuccessful attempts in my Project Evaluation Notes.

A pin-damaged edge

That, by the way, brings me to an interesting distinction. I’m always telling students (and other fellow stitchers) not to point out any mistakes in a piece to people who are admiring it. For one thing, they are often things that they wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. Who but the stitcher knows that a particular stitch should have been very dark brown instead of very dark blue, for example? But when handing in a piece for assessment, it’s different. It actually works in your favour if you can say, “that bit is wrong, and I know it is wrong; this is what I did to try and make it better, some of which helped and some of which didn’t work”. It feels oddly counter-intuitive, pointing out to those who will be judging you exactly where they can deduce points smiley, but in the end I think it is the best way, as it shows that you have a realistic view of your own achievements.

And having had a realistic look at all that is wrong with Bruce, I will now have another good long look at him and feel proud!

Assessing an assessment (goldwork) – part 1

Some months ago (last September, in fact) I received the assessment for the RSN Goldwork module, and I promised you a FoF about it as I had done for the Jacobean module. And then it didn’t happen. Life got in the way, and moreover there were a few things in the assessment that I was still mulling over. At the Knitting & Stitching Show I mentioned these to Noleen Wyatt-Jones, the Day & Evening Classes Manager, who is a most helpful, cheerful and encouraging person and who told me to write to Anne Butcher, the Head of Teaching, with my queries and comments, and she’d let Anne know that my email was on the way. She has helpfully, cheerfully and encouragingly nagged me to do so on several occasions since, and there was clearly only one way to stop that: write the email! So I did, with this FoF as a by-product; or rather, two by-products, as it turned out to be far too long for one edition!

Just a bit of recap on the marking system: you are awarded between 1 and 5 points for each criterion, or a multiple of these if the section is given more weight. If a section is seen as three times more “weighty”, then the possible marks are 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 – there is no option of awarding, say, 8 points. And before any marking gets done, you see the assessors’ general comment.

General comments at the start of the assessment

As it is the very first thing you see, it is a great relief when that comment is positive! Unlike in the Jacobean assessment no characters were singled out, but I will definitely settle for “interesting design” and “very good grounding”. As a former teacher who sat through numerous parent-teacher evenings trying to find acceptable things to say to them about their children, I am very much aware that “interesting” (like “different” and “individual”) can be a tactful way of conveying that the achievement is not quite what was expected, but I will ignore that and take the comments at face value!

The sections of the assessment vary from module to module, but they all start with “First Impressions” (although some of the criteria within that section are specific to the module).

Assessment: First Impressions

Again, no alien fibres! Lexi will be most disappointed that she didn’t manage to leave any trace of herself on the finished work – she’s been trying hard enough right from the start smiley.

Cat trying to add alien fibres

I’ve been trying to find a picture of the fabric with bits of wax on it (they do occasionally come off the waxed thread) but it seems I managed to remove them immediately, and well before any pictures were taken. Obviously a good strategy! As for the paint lines being covered, there was one place where I was initially left with a visible line: Haasje’s face. I found that following the line precisely with the pearl purl made him look wrong, and so I decided to couch it so that the outline looked right, and worry about the visible paint later. I managed to scrape that away successfully – the tacking line that was put in right at the start on top of all the paint lines I had to cut from the back and squirrel away. I’m delighted to find that I was successful in doing so.

Some scraped-off design lines

On to the section on Design, where they remarked favourably on the fact that I hadn’t allowed the gold to spread beyond the original design or lose its proportions, and on the “flow” of the threads and wires within the design. Yay! Even so, this was one section where I was braced for a loss of points, and so it turned out to be: one point on the choice of fabric, and two on the use of S-ing.

Assessment: Design

To begin with the fabric, the assessors were absolutely right. The brief specifically requires a power-woven silk dupion (or linen, but I have never seen anyone use that; silk looks so much more luxurious) and mine is hand-woven, which even under tension is noticeably less smooth. Neither I nor the tutor noticed this requirement until the project was already well underway, and I will admit that in any case I was so pleased with the colour and the textured look of the fabric that I decided to stick with it, explain it in the Project Evaluation Notes which you hand in with the finished piece, and take the consequences.

Smooth power-woven silk dupion Slubby hand-woven silk dupion

On to what I knew would be a bone of contention: my decision to use S-ing for the sun’s rays. The assessors’ argument is that a) it is a technique that should only be seen on an advanced goldwork piece, and b) if a technique is not listed as optional then it should not be used at all. Some of this had been mentioned (with varying degrees of discouragement) by my three tutors, and if I had been really worried about my mark I would have given it up as too risky. However, I really liked the effect of the S-ing there, it worked for the design in ways that the only other likely option, rococco, would not (less shiny, not enough contrast with the cloud outline), and most importantly, I did not and do not agree that it goes against the brief.

The sun with rays of S-ing

When it comes to materials and threads, the brief is unequivocal in what you must not use: no velvet, and no threads other than those mentioned. But on the subject of techniques, the only caveat is that you must include all the techniques on the list. There is no mention whatsoever (as there is for the materials and threads) that no others are allowed. Now if I had decided to do the sun itself in padded kid leather, that would clearly have gone against the brief as kid leather isn’t mentioned in the list of allowed materials. But the S-ing is done in smooth purl, which is on the list. I wrote all this in my Project Evaluation Notes in what I hope was a balanced way by being open about the fact that two of the three tutors I had for this module had advised against it (the third said it would be safer not to but that in the end it was my design decision); the assessors obviously didn’t agree. Still, in spite of the loss of points I am glad I did stick with it, as I think it was the right design decision within the constraints of the brief.

What you must not use What you must include

I will ask about this, too, in the email; I’m really not that bothered about the lost marks, but I would like it clarified what you can and cannot do in this module. A fellow student told me, when I mentioned something in the Canvaswork brief, that that was probably there because of something she had done in her Canvas piece, which the assessors weren’t happy about but which was at that time within the guidelines. They then changed the brief to exclude it from then on. Perhaps that’s what should happen about the S-ing as well, if the RSN strongly feel that it should not be attempted by Certificate students. I will keep you posted! And I’ll discuss the rest of the assessment the next FoF.

Can we canvas? Yes we can!

Until recently I didn’t really “feel” Canvaswork, so I approached my first proper class (which initially had been planned for last July, but got postponed several times for various reasons) with some trepidation. I came armed with two outlines which I knew to be far too detailed, a framed-up canvas which I knew wasn’t tight enough (but which by this time did at least have the required rectangular running stitch outline in sewing thread), a few samplings in the wrong sort of thread, and about one idea. I did not feel confident.

Two detailed tracings Framed up, but not quite tightly enough (and as yet minus outline) Possible stitches Some sampling

The tutor assigned to this class was Angela, and I’d been looking forward to seeing her and perhaps having a little Bruce chat with her, but unfortunately she had gone down with Covid (apparently feeling rather rough with it, poor her) and so the class was taken by Helen Jones. With only four students we each had plenty of time to discuss things with her, and for me the first thing was indeed to get that canvas tightened. I unlaced part of it, turned the bottom roller once and re-laced. It is now most definitely taut as a drum, but as that is difficult to photograph you’ll have to take my word for it!

The next thing was to simplify the outline. I was surprised at how far you take this process in canvaswork, and I fear mine probably still has too much detail (especially in the windmill) but this was as simple as I felt comfortable with, and Helen OK-ed it. To make it easier to transfer she suggested tracing the pencil lines in marker pen; this was also a good opportunity to get the horizon level. In the photograph the furthest edge of the paved area which forms the strongest horizontal line in the piece is actually slightly curved, but making it perfectly level would help to “anchor” the design when transferring it – if the horizon didn’t follow a straight line of holes on the canvas, I’d know I had to reposition it.

Simplifying the outline Tracing the outline and levelling the horizon

Having got used to prick & pounce and paint for transferring the design at RSN classes, canvaswork is a bit of a wayward module. There is no way the canvas would take the pounce in any meaningful way, and as you have to transfer the design when the canvas is on the frame you can’t just bung it onto a light box either. Instead, you build a squat tower of books with the design on top of it, place the frame over it so that the canvas rests on the design, and then trace what you can see of it through the holes with a permanent marker. It then becomes abundantly clear why the outline has to be simplified so much: the canvas simply will not take any great level of detail. It is also surprisingly difficult to manipulate the traced design if its position is slightly off, sandwiched as it is between the books and the frame. But eventually I got that nice straight horizon to line up with a row of holes, and drew it on.

Propping up the frame The horizon is in!

I can’t guarantee that what eventually ended up on the canvas is exactly like the design outline – some of the squigglier lines were difficult to trace precisely – but again it got the OK so perhaps I was being a bit too fussy. What definitely did need addressing was the fact that I managed to leave off an entire hedge, which I didn’t notice until I got home and showed the canvas to Mr Figworthy! It has since been added in.

Outline minus hedge Outline with hedge

Because it felt silly to do absolutely no stitching at all in class, I did do a tiny bit of sampling: it’s a herringbone variation which takes shading rather well, and which I hope to use to bring texture to the green bits that aren’t worked individually. It is rather fiddly, as you have to bring the needle up underneath previous stitches half the time, but I think it will be worth the effort.

Herringbone variations sampled

My next class is in January; until then I’ll be colouring in a print of the outline (officially “making a colour and shading plan”), choosing stitches and doing a lot of sampling. I’ve got some ideas for the two large tulips in the foreground and various other bits and have sketched and scribbled a few ideas (yes, my handwriting is atrocious) to be translated into sampling at some point.

A few sketches

Due to canvaswork being the Mary Mary Quite Contrary of embroidery, those two big tulips will be worked first. In all other techniques you work the background first, and then the things that are a bit nearer to the viewer, and so on, until you reach the things in the foreground. If parts of the design overlap you stitch the overlapping bit last, which looks more natural and convincing. But in canvaswork you stitch the foreground first, and end with what is furthest away in the picture. As far as I understand, this is because the further back in the design you go, the smaller the stitches get – and it is much easier to work small stitches around large ones than fit large ones into a background made up of small stitches!

Having to end with lots of green and a big expanse of sky after doing all the interesting foreground bits may sound like starting with the fireworks and going downhill from there, but I rather like it – I think those tulips will entice me into a technique which is entirely new to me and feels unfamiliar and challenging. Let’s hear it for the Tempting Tulips!

Ally Pally, Bruce, cards and a new book

Well, I’m back after four days away, and more or less organised again after four days back home. London was lovely, especially as I tend to wander from park to river to green space to cemetery and avoid the busy shopping streets as much as possible, and I was lucky with the weather. It was wonderful to be back at the Knitting & Stitching Show again, too, even though it was very much a scaled-down affair. In fact I was having such a good time that I didn’t think to take very many pictures! Here are two things I did remember to photograph, the big Stitch A Tree project and one of the winning quilts which depicts a “missing” panel of the Bayeux Tapestry: the one with the people who actually produced it (that sewing machine in the border is just hilarious smiley!)

Stitch A Tree Project The Bayeux quilt

Shopping-wise I’ve been remarkably abstemious, helped (or hindered) by the fact that two of the shops I really wanted to see, Barnyarns and West End Embroidery, weren’t there. But I got this lovely hand-dyed fabric from Paint-Box Threads, and some green-and-red beetle wings from Golden Hinde.

Paint-Box fabric and beetle wings

One highlight of the Show was meeting up with fellow Dutch C&D student Marlous (of the Stitching Sheep fame) at the RSN stand and then sitting down to have a good chat.

Meeting Marlous, the Stitching Sheep

Marlous was also kind enough to take a few pictures of me with Bruce on the RSN display wall (well, I wasn’t on the wall – you know what I mean); the second one shows a bit more of the rest of the display. I was rather chuffed to hear from the lady on the stand that Bruce had garnered quite a bit of interest! Later that day when I returned for a last peek I was asked to talk to a couple of ladies thinking of starting the Certificate, to give them the student’s point of view. I also asked about adopting a stitch (you can see the Stitch Bank poster behind Marlous and me), and I’ll let you know how I get on with that.

Bruce and Mabel The RSN display

The workshops went well, but teaching with a visor did present some challenges, especially as I tend to look at any problems the students have by taking off my glasses and bringing the work practically up to my nose – you can imagine how that went! Below is the only picture I thought to take of one of the works in progress, a great effort by a lady who had done no embroidery before.

A Butterfly Wreath in progress

I always take three stitched models to any class or workshop I teach so that students can see several versions of the project in real life, instead of just the one picture on the kit cover, and it was a bit annoying to find after the second workshop that one of them had gone missing. Fortunately I had an unmounted Butterfly Wreath in a folder at home, so I could make a new one. At the same time I made up a stitched model for one of the classes in the Freestyle Embroidery course I’ll be teaching next month, the little silk and gold Quatrefoil.

Stitched models for workshops and classes

Craft Creations having been taken over by a new management who even after several years haven’t got back the same range of aperture cards, the Quatrefoil card comes from a new supplier, PDA Card & Craft. My first order from them arrived while I was away, so I had the pleasure of having an interesting parcel waiting for me when I came back. Well, the cardstock is of good quality but I wasn’t happy to notice that on the blue cards the aperture was clearly off-centre. However, an email I sent on Monday explaining the situation brought an almost instant reply with an apology and a promise to send out a new set with the correct aperture – very good customer service.

New aperture cards from PDA An off-centre aperture

Another interesting parcel arrived earlier this week: Tanya Bentham’s Opus Anglicanum, which is both an in-depth look at this style of embroidery and a project book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but it looks very interesting, and I am reassured by Mary Corbet’s detailed review that it’s bound to have been a good buy! Some of the Opus Anglicanum-inspired kits and projects on Tanya’s site are not my cup of tea but the ones in the book seem to be mostly traditional in style with the occasional funny twist (Medieval Selfie Girl, for example).

Tanya Bentham's Opus Anglicanum

Unfortunately I won’t be stitching designs from this book any time soon, but I have been getting quite a lot of split stitch practice, having picked up Llandrindod as my Embroidery Group project. I’m looking forward to adding the little touches of sparkle soon!

Steady progress on Llandrindod

Gold, gold, gold

When you get into goldwork you soon realise that it has a vocabulary all of its own – and I’m not just talking of waxing and plunging. There is pearl purl, which sounds like a superflous repetition but does actually mean something; there is the mysterious milliary wire which looks like a misspelling of military wire but isn’t, and which sometimes occurs without its second “i”; there is rococco which seems to be spelled with any combination of “c”s available. Then there are names which suggest non-existent similarities: check thread and wire check have absolutely nothing in common; wire check has much more in common with smooth purl. And why do only two of the flexible hollow purls (the cylindrical ones, shiny “smooth” and matt “rough”) have “purl” in their names, while the two corresponding facetted ones are called “check” and are designated “bright” (shiny) and “wire” (matt)?

Milliary and rococco Check thread and wire check A selection of purls, not all called purl

But some of the names you come across are not just obscure or mildly amusing, they are downright odd. Flatworm, anyone?

Flatworm. Really.

Flatworm starts its life as a rather thick passing thread, which is a metal wire or a thin strip of metal wrapped around a silk or cotton core. Then it gets bashed (not the correct technical term…) so that it ends up as an irregularly flattened, rather chunky ribbon. I describe it as “irregularly flattened” because when you try and lay it down flat, you’ll notice it twists here and there, unpredictably and to varying degrees. Not-so-flatworm, you might say.


If you use it as an outline, or a thin curve consisting of one thread only, you could couch it down as it comes, twists and all – I’ve not tried it but I think it would create rather a pleasing effect. But I want to use it to fill a shape, and for that it needs to be laid flat. Not that difficult, it just takes a little untwisting, so that’s not really the problem with this thread; what I found more challenging was managing the turns.

This refers only to filling a shape in back-and-forth rows, by the way; for a spiral filling I think getting it to lie flat around the curves would actually be the difficult bit (imagine doing that with a ribbon). But in my case the first thing I had to decide was how to make the turn. With passing or any of the other goldwork threads you would simply bend the thread around the needle at the end of a row, possibly pinching the fold with tweezers or small pliers for a nice sharp look, and go on couching in the opposite direction. But that doesn’t really work with this flattened shape. So I looked to another goldwork material, plate. It is basically a metal ribbon – flattened metal without a thead core – and it comes in Broad no.6 and Narrow no.11 (not shown in the picture) with the broad version also available Whipped (with a metal thread wound around it).

Broad plate and whipped plate

This metal ribbon is attached only on the turns where it is sharply folded over, and it zigzags rather than lying in parallel rows. As it can’t be couched along the rows because of the overlaps it tends to be used for relatively small, or at least narrow, shapes. Online you can find many beautiful examples of acorns and other shapes filled with this material, but for copyright reasons I will show you an unfortunately rather messy bit of my own sampling.

Plate attached in the characteristic zigzag pattern

I did actually try turning the flatworm as you would any other metal thread (orange arrow), just to see what the effect would be, but as the picture shows it isn’t very good. Even after pinching the ends together there is a noticeable gap which shows the underlying felt padding. As this is an extreme close-up it is not quite so visible in real life, but still far too much to be acceptable. The other turns have all been done by securing the flatworm on the edge of the padding with a stitch parallel to the edge, and then folding it over with another couching stitch close to the fold (yellow arrow). Although there are still slight gaps, these are so small that they don’t offend the eye when seen at a normal viewing distance, so this is obviously the way to go. Watch this space for pictures of the flatworm used in a proper project!

Turning the flatworm

As those of you who take the occasional look at my Facebook page will know, another golden moment during the past week was the arrival in my Inbox of the assessment for the RSN Certificate Goldwork module, a.k.a. Bruce. I will write more about the various scores and comments later, but for now I will just reveal with a grin on my face that I passed with a Merit and an 88% overall score. Haasje was speechless smiley.

Haasje was quite astonished when told the result

An old Dutch saying and a framed tree

The Dutch have a saying: “uithuilen en opnieuw beginnen”, which roughly translates as “have a good cry and start afresh”. Don’t worry, no actual tears were shed, but over the weekend it became clear that a fresh start was indeed called for.

I’d been working on my pair of designs and the stitching was all fine, but some of the design lines were not quite as balanced as I would ideally like, in spite of some early-stage tweaking to correct the worst of it. I thought I could ignore it, and then my husband commented on it as well. It was obviously noticeable to other eyes than just mine! Add to that that I was getting increasingly dissatisfied with the fabric I was working on (which I’d chosen three or four years ago when the designs were first taking shape) and it was time to bite the bullet and cut my losses (to add a couple of English sayings). The die was cast! (Latin saying.) The two fortunately only very partially stitched models were taken out of the hoops, folded up and put in my goldwork drawer as a record of how the design process doesn’t always run smooth, and then I cut and ironed two new pieces of calico backing, ready for the new fabric and the new design lines.

Empty hoops and new calico

Now deciding on new materials and browsing the various fabric shops is, of course, a very pleasant way to while away the odd Saturday afternoon, but I was determined to be disciplined and first get those design lines right! I rotated and flipped and erased and re-drew and found, oddly enough, that perfect symmetry in the parts I was tweaking looked wrong. Eventually I ended up with a slightly asymmetrical but much better balanced pair of designs, which I will be happy to transfer to the new fabrics when they arrive.

And what are the new fabrics? Well, colour-wise they are similar to the original ones. I like the slightly unusual combination and so does the editor, whom I bounced my design and fabric dilemmas off before doing anything too drastic. But instead of a cotton-linen mix I’ve decided to go with silk dupion – the same type of fabric that Bruce was stitched on. The only difference is that for Bruce I used handwoven silk dupion, which is quite textured and slubby, whereas for this pair I’m going with the smoother powerwoven version. You can see the difference between the Bruce fabric on the left, and my new doodle cloth (a piece of powerwoven silk I happened to have in my stash) on the right. Just hooping up that sampling piece of silk convinced me I’d made the right decision. Remember my mentioning that it was very difficult to get the Essex linen taut in the hoop? Well, this could do duty as a tambourine at a revival meeting – brilliant!

Handwoven, textured silk dupion The new powerwoven doodle cloth

Incidentally, just as the original soft pink doodle cloth bore no colour resemblance to the project fabrics, neither does this rather startlingly bright blue. I’m not quite sure why I got it in the first place; it’s a gorgeous colour, but I can’t imagine what I thought I’d use it for! Still, it comes in very handy now – even if the new colours I ordered take a while to arrive, I can sample some elements while I wait.

The other excitement this weekend was picking up my Jacobean Certificate piece from our local framer’s. It had taken me a while to decide how I wanted to have it framed, and in the end I went for a simple frame with no mount, with the dark brown picking up the darkest of the brown wool shades. I’m really pleased with it, and it is now adorning my craft room.

The Jacobean tree finally framed The framed Jacobean hanging in the craft room

One problem about framing more of my needlework (which I used to do quite rarely in the past) is that we’re running out of wall space (there are a fair number of paintings dotted around the house as well). I’ll have to impose a sort of seasonal rotation on what goes on the walls – oh well, at least I won’t get bored looking at the same embroideries year after year smiley.