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.

Baa-yeux Bartram

Awful pun by kind permission of Mr Figworthy. Yes, Bartram is back – in fact two Bartrams are back! Because last Friday my sheep-mad friend came over for a stitching session and made a start on hers. I’d had a brief go at mine earlier in the week at my Embroidery Group, and managed his legs (minus blue split stitch outline) and the start of his purple backside (because I’d forgotten that the red wool for his chest, which I had meant to start with, was still in my Hengest box).

Legs and a purple bottom

At first I wasn’t going to add the green hillocks, as they are not in the transfer pattern; they are, however, in Tanya Bentham’s stitched model and I rather liked the look of them. On the grounds that even the Bayeux Tapestry has some stem stitch in it, we decided to work them in that, in two blended greens. Then Trina said that the position of his head suggested he was about to eat something, so we added some blades of grass in straight stitch for him to munch.

Trina's start on Bartram Some grass and another fleece colour

By the way, in the original version the fleece stripes (seven instead of six) are very distinct – one ends, the other begins. I decided to use a bit of shading, not so much to blend everything together (the colours are too different for that) but just as an interesting transition. I like the effect!

Extra stripes in the fleece

Now I can’t get it to show up clearly in the photographs, but in real life that purple is very dark. Too dark. I contemplated taking it out, but decided to wait until the red was in to see whether it really needed changing; it was going to be a fiddly job, so I didn’t want to do it if I didn’t have to. But alas, it was necessary. With all the other fleece colours, where they shade into each other the transitional stripes are quite noticeable, whereas between the purple and the blue it was almost invisible. Normally an invisible transition is exactly what you want, but in this case I wanted the stripes! It was time for a bottomectomy.

The fleece complete A bottomectomy

The cutting looks a bit brutal, but it was the easiest way of getting the purple out, and it meant I couldn’t shilly-shally and change my mind half way through. I had to be careful though, because if at all possible I wanted to leave the blue in place and stitch the new purple in between. Fortunately that worked, and the lighter purple shows up the transition with the blue much better as I hoped it would, so I’m pleased I took the plunge and changed it.

Leaving the blue The new lighter purple bottom

Only now the red looks too dark…

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.

Grooming a horse

I’m practically neighing with excitement: after well over three years (I first mentioned him on FoF in November 2018) Hengest the Medieval Unicorn is finally nearing completion!

Hengest is getting there!

But there are, to employ a horsy metaphor, a few hurdles to overcome before we get to the finishing line, and I’m hoping they don’t turn into a full-blown steeple chase. One of these things is his horn. Since his conception Hengest has diverged fairly dramatically from the horse on the Steeple Aston cope which inspired him, not least by becoming a unicorn. The original, therefore, has no horn which I could use as a model. Now I had envisaged stitching the horn in two shades of dark golden yellow, in short lines curving around the horn; probably two or three lines of the lighter shade, then one of the darker shade, and so on.

The plan for Hengest's horn

When I got to the point of actually stitching the horn, however, I started to have my doubts. These would be very short lines, especially towards the tip. And would I be able to keep the curve even along the length of the horn? Wouldn’t it be very difficult to keep the edges neat? And wouldn’t it be better to have long lines along the horn to contrast with the stitch direction in the surrounding mane? I decided to do some sampling. One horn with the lighter shade stitched in long lines and the darker shade over the top, and one with both shades worked in curved lines across the horn, three light to one dark.

Two types of horn

What did I learn from this sampling? Well, the first thing was that unless I have very good light, I don’t see pencil outlines. One thing I liked about the right-hand horn is that it kept its pointy tip better. Closer inspection shows that this is because I didn’t fill the whole shape (purple arrow). So we’ll ignore the relative pointiness and concentrate on other things. In the left-hand horn, with dark stitches worked across the long lines of lighter ones, the first cross lines I did were too straight (blue arrow). I like the effect better when they are more diagonal (red arrow). In the right-hand horn, with both colours worked across, I found at first that my stitches were different lengths from one shade to the next (yellow arrow). That can be sorted with proper attention – I was stitching these samples while chatting and having tea at my embroidery group – and so is not a deal breaker. More difficult was to keep the edges straight (green arrows). And the colour difference between the two shades is not as clear as in the other one. On the other hand, I think it looks more natural when the stitch direction follows the spiralling pattern of the horn.

I’m undecided.

So shelving the dilemma of the horn for the time being, I concentrated on the eyes. You might wonder what the problem is there, as they have already been stitched. Well, the trouble is that they don’t look the way I meant them to. They evolved quite a bit from the first sketches: from big black eyes looking sideways, to smaller ones looking slightly up, to ones with blue irises (added when I noticed that the Steeple Aston horse had them) still with that slightly-up orientation.

The evolution of Hengest's eyes

But what I had actually stitched was this:

Hengest's eyes in wool

There are a couple of things there that I am not altogether happy with, neither of which is easy to change. His eyes are quite boldly outlined in dark grey (in my first attempt they were even more boldly outlined in black, but that was quickly knocked on the head). This is at least in part because the Steeple Aston horse has boldly outlined eyes – but quite a lot of the rest of him is too, whereas I opted to stitch Hengest without any outlines, so the eyes stand out more than I really intended. Stitching them in a grey one shade lighter would make a difference, but unfortunately the dark grey is so completely embedded in and connected with other stitches that unpicking it is a complete no-no. The other issue is the direction of his gaze: straight upwards, which I think makes him look rather goofy. Mind you, not as goofy as the original horse, whose uncoordinated eyes appear to be in some disagreement about direction.

The uncoordinated gaze of the original horse What direction am I looking in?

Still, goofy. Could this perhaps be changed with a few extra grey stitches? I tried to position a tiny bit of dark grey wool over some of the iris to see if that would look any better. It was very fiddly, but it was also immediately clear that trying to show the effect on one eye only wasn’t going to help!

Trying the effect on one eye only is no help

I tried it with bits of wool on both eyes – better, in the sense that he looked a little more sane, but I wasn’t sure I liked the effect. It makes the pupils an odd shape, and loses part of the irises.

Even with two eyes, the effect is not what I'm after

So what to do? Well, both before and after I expressed doubts about the eyes, stitching friends have described Hengest’s gaze as “expressive”, “regal”, “heavenward”, “noble” and “magic”, so I’m beginning to think I should accept that I am in a minority of one describing them as goofy, and leave well alone smiley.

Just so I didn’t feel all this had been a futile exercise, I added a little white to his eyes where I had previously left the fabric uncovered:

I can see the whites of his eyes!

And while I had the white in my needle, I also added two stitches to his body to improve the outline.

A slightly uneven outline A couple of remedial stitches

Now for a decision on that horn…

Double standards

Or rather, double stands. For what is this in the picture? That’s right, a Lowery clamp without felt in the jaws. And that can mean only one thing – I have succumbed to the temptation of a second Lowery stand… (Well, I suppose it could also mean that the felt had come off the jaws of my first Lowery stand, but you’re not going to buy that for a second, are you smiley?)

Getting ready to felt the jaws of the second Lowery

For some time now I’ve been considering getting another Lowery; for one thing it would be convenient to have one in both my stitching spots. Convenient, but not essential, as the one that is usually wedged under my comfy arm chair can be moved if necessary to be used at my stitching-spot-by-the-dining-room-window. So that in itself was not sufficient reason to succumb. However, if I go on to do the RSN Diploma after finishing the Certificate I will have to use the large slate frame for some of the modules, and two Lowerys could take the place of the Ikea trestles and make it easier for me to sit near my stitching (demonstrated here with the Millennium frame).

The two-Lowery set-up The two Lowerys in action

But before using this new Lowery for anything, it needed its jaws softening. I went into the craft room to get the same bits and pieces I used last time, but if you compare that occasion with the bits in the picture above, you will notice that the felt is a different colour. Originally I picked an off-white felt, thinking it was probably best to use a neutral colour as it would be clamped against my embroidery fabric. But besides the colour, I picked it because it was rather stiffer and thicker than my other felt. Well, I must have been using it for other things since then, because there was only a small scrap left, and the only other stiff felt I had was that lilac one.

I felt fairly sure it would be colourfast, and that it wouldn’t leave lilac smears on my fabric, but even so I’d be happier with something white or beige. Unfortunately the only white felt I have is relatively thin; fine for the pages in a needle book, but not what I wanted here, and trying to stick on two layers would be awkward. But then, as I rummaged through my “sticky stuff” drawer (double-sided tape, glue dots etc.) I came across a pack of adhesive felt in various sizes – mostly the sort of circles you stick to the underside of chair legs or coasters, but there was also a sheet of nice thick, stiff, off-white felt!

Serendipitous sticky felt

Some of the cutting guidelines on the back of the peel-off paper even happened to be just right for my purpose. So a few minutes later, the clamp was ready to use.

Felted jaws ready to be used

And a little after that, the whole thing was set up, with Hengest the Medieval Unicorn ready to be finished off (finally).

The second Lowery set up for non-Diploma stitching

Not quite yet, though – before Hengest can be finished, there are a few decisions to be made. But that’s a story for another FoF…

Hooked on mending

Most of my stitching, let’s face it, is decorative and of little practical use. Some of my stitching does get made into things that get used, like cards, coasters, thread boxes etc, but that has never been my aim. I enjoy embroidery, which I think is an excellent reason for doing it and really the only one needed. But sometimes my needle is plied in a more utilitarian fashion, mending, for example, the zip on one of my favourite boots or a torn sleeve or buttonhole on a dress (note: I would not generally recommend mending clothes while you’re in them; this was a just-about-to-leave-for-church emergency).

Mending a boot Mending a sleeve Mending a buttonhole - very carefully...

I have even been known to darn Mr Figworthy’s socks! But I’d never tried my hand at mending crochet before. Until my daughter-in-law asked me whether I could mend a crocheted blanket she’d inherited from my mother-in-law, which she would like to use as a table cloth but which unfortunately had got damaged (before she got it). She asked me this back in July 2021 – the very fact that I am writing about it in January 2022 will tell you how confident I felt about this undertaking. Still, a fresh new year calls for a fresh new challenge, so I went to the depths of the cupboard where my bag of crochet hooks and yarn is stored (and largely forgotten for long stretches of time). There I found, besides the yarn I was looking for, some small projects I did years ago, which reminded me that I do actually know how to crochet; a reassuring thought.

A crocheted heart A crocheted band of tulips A crocheted angel

Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the damage before I started on it, but what seems to have happened is that some of the threads had frayed, which had caused part of the stitching to come undone. My first task was to find out which frayed bits were still attached to something and which had come loose entirely; then I tried to work out whether the bits that were left could easily be re-attached to each other. But no, I found that some of the frayed and broken threads must actually have been lost before we got to it, and I was left with a hole covering three rows of crochet over a stretch of two to three inches. The original yarn was a variegated one, but luckily the missing bit was mostly in off-white, and I found one in my stash that was reasonably close in thickness and shade. I set to work adding in treble crochets (double in US terms). The trickiest bit, I found, was to match up the stitching where the existing row would originally have been worked around the row that I was adding in. It took a while, but then the gap was filled in and I breathed a sigh of relief.

First stage of mending

That would have been it, if it hadn’t been for two issues. The first one: another frayed thread. This hadn’t led to a hole yet, and I managed to knot the ends and pull them into the existing crochet.

Another frayed thread Safely knotted and the knot tucked away

The second issue was more one of aesthetics. The patch I mended looks very light. Because of the sometimes quickly changing colours of the yarn used, that’s what it would have looked like originally (there are parts where the lilac/pink shade clusters together in a similar way) but it looks like it is because of the mending! Could I perhaps work in some of the brown crewel wools from my Jacobean Certificate piece to make it blend in more?

Should I work in some brown?

Well, no. The colours looked close enough when placed on top of the blanket but when I tried working one of the shades into the crochet it looked awful (partly I think because the original brown has a pinkish shade to it) so I took it out again. This was one issue that couldn’t be solved.

There was a possible third issue, which was that the original crochet wasn’t always regular (something that makes me wonder whether it was in fact my mother-in-law’s own work). Sometimes there were four treble crochets where you would expect five, or the other way around; some stitches were worked around the previous row, some pierced the previous row – it made it difficult to decide sometimes how many stitches to put where! And in one place, that had led to a larger gap than I would have liked.

Even so I’d folded the piece away and let my daughter-in-law know it was done, when I realised I really couldn’t bear to give it back to her with that larger gap, so I brought out the hook and yarn and added two more treble crochets, blending them into the original stitches as much as possible. The two pictures below unfortunately don’t show the same side of the blanket, one is of the front and one of the back, but they do show the difference between the gap after my first go and with the added stitches. I’m happy with it now, or as happy as I’m ever going to be smiley, and it’s ready to go back to its home and be used. What more could I want?

The annoying gap No annoying gap!

Stitching a memory, part 2

First of all a very happy and healthy new year to you all! May there be joyful meetings with loved ones, plans which do not end up being cancelled or postponed, and oh yes, some stitching as well smiley.

Generally you look back on New Year’s Eve and forward on New Year’s Day, but I hope you won’t mind if I start with a memory, or rather, a memory bear. Having decided on prick-and-pen (like prick & pounce, only you make the dots by going through the holes with a fine drawing pen) as the transfer method most likely to succeed, I traced the signature printed at 5½cm wide, pricked it and tried it on the foot, only to find that it looked rather smaller there than I had expected. As it would be easier to stitch the larger it got, I tried several other sizes before settling on 7cm. The heart was there to be transferred later if I needed an extra bit in which to fasten on and off, but that turned out not to be necessary.

Five-and-a-half centimetres is too small Seven centimetres fits perfectly

Having carefully poked the drawing pen’s tip through all the holes, I then joined them up and fastened on.

A dotted transfer Joined-up writing Fastening on

In order to get comfortable using the sewing method rather than my usual stabbing style, I started with the lesser challenge of the underlining. Back stitch one way, whipping in the opposite direction, and then take the needle up to the writing itself. I had cut a ridiculously long thread so that I would only have to fasten on and off once, and had planned my route accordingly.

The line completed, I move on to the lettering

Fortunately the bear hadn’t been stuffed too firmly and the foot had plenty of give, so the sewing method presented no great problems. On top of that, the vintage Filoselle silk behaved beautifully (what a terrible shame it’s been discontinued!) even at this unprecedented length, so that my worries about whipping the backstitch soon dissolved. I’m glad they did, because it is the whipping that makes it look like one continuous line of writing rather than a line of dashes.

The lettering in backstitch only Whipping added

And here it is, finished. Not all the lines are as even as I would have liked, but it is recognisably Elizabeth’s handwriting, in Elizabeth’s silk, on Elizabeth’s jacket. A bear of many memories.

The writing finished The bear with its signed foot

Finishing off a robin

I am itching to start on the rainbow sheep, but the robin was to be completed first, for no other reason than that I had told myself it should and it would feel rather weak-willed to give in to ovine temptation, however colourful. So over the weekend I got to work, completed the shaded herringbone wing (also good practice for my Canvaswork module, as I hope to use the stitch there), and outlined the breast in medium red (left/top) and dark red (right/bottom) stem stitch.

The wing filled in, and the breast outlined

But what to do about the wing outline? I was hoping to find something feathery but inspiration failed to strike so in the end I just went with shaded stem stitch. Then on to the head. There I did want something feathery, and I decided to use fly stitch in one strand.

The wing outlined and the head feathers started

Now in my original version of the robin the head is entirely worked in brown. This works fine as a stylised outline, even though in real life the red of a robin’s breast extends into its head. But as this version is “coloured in” (even though it is still very stylised), I felt I ought to have some red going up the throat, which is why the light brown fly stitches only surround about two thirds of the eye. However, before thinking about how to get the red to flow reasonably naturally from the battlement couching, first I had to do the feathers. It wasn’t easy to get them to lie in the right direction, and in fact I ended up with a rather ruffled robin, but on the whole I was happy with the effect.

Working on the head feathers

Especially when I added in the other two shades of brown, and got the one-strand fly stitch head to blend into the two-strand herringbone wing. For the throat I went with straight stitches in blended light and medum red, with tiny seed stitches in one strand of dark red on top. The legs were done in black stem stitch, the beak in black straight stitch, and the eye in black Rhodes stitch. Finished, right?


But the eye didn’t look quite right. Nice and beady, and the Rhodes stitch gives it a bit of extra beadiness by being domed, but even so it needed a little something extra.

A beady eye that needs a a little something extra

That little something extra was a stem stitch outline in one strand of light beige (fortunately I decided against my first choice of bright white), and now he is finished. On to the sheep! (among one or two other things…)

The beady eye outlined