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.