A patchy rabbit excuse (or a patchy excuse for a rabbit)

Long, long before I was even beginning to consider doing the RSN Certificate (well, several months ago, anyway) I started a crewel project cobbled together from two designs taken from two different books, to give my Heathway Milano crewel wools a nice work-out and get some practice in crewel work. Little did I know back in January that I’d be getting plenty of crewel practice this year!

Setting up the Rabbit and Carnations

Because of various other projects, and the fact that I am a fickle stitcher and will pick up and ditch projects at the slightest provocation, it wasn’t until March that I actually started stitching this, and even then it stalled for a long time after I’d stitched the larger of the two stems. But as I started the Certificate’s crewel module, I found that my little rabbit project was a perfect doodle cloth! Bayeux stitch, burden stitch, detached buttonhole, they all got practiced, and all the while I was building up a decorative picture rather than scattered stitch samples.

I said this last time, and I’ll say it again: I do not much like the look of block shading (even when done a lot better than my ragged first attempt). But as it is one of the required elements in the Certificate piece, I’ll have to learn to love it, or at least learn to do it correctly. Left to my own devices, the hillock on which the rabbit sits would have been done in long and short stitch, but as it’s the right sort of shape for block shading I thought I might as well have a go. Did I mention that my first attempt came out rather ragged? Stitch direction and edges definitely leaving something to be desired.

Starting on block shading

Oh well, we all have to start somewhere. For the water I could have used the stitch I’m considering for the Certificate piece (fly stitch couching), but I didn’t; I liked the chain stitch water I did on my little willow tree project, and anyway, I may use fly stitch couching for one of the hillocks, in which case the water may well be done in these flowing chain stitch lines.

Chain stitch water

Having thought of this as my rabbit project from the start, it was nice to finally get round to stitching the rabbit! In the picture above you can see the split stitch outline, and a satin-stitched ear. The instructions to the original design call for long and short stitch, but that one ear actually looks satin-stitched in the photograph, so I went with that. And then I hit a snag.

The rabbit is meant to be stitched in three browns plus off-white or ecru. Now the colour families in Heathway Milano wool all consist of nine shades from very very light to very very dark, but not having an endlessly elastic budget I opted to buy only numbers 2 4 6 and 8 of the colours I wanted, on the assumption that that would give me quite a nice range for shading. And so it does. Until you want to shade a rabbit.

The colour family I chose for the rabbit is Drab, which is a lot nicer-looking than it sounds. My darkest shade, #8, was far too dark to be usable, so I was left with the other three from that range plus off-white from a separate group. I filled in the furthest front paw in shade #6, which looked a bit dark but then it’s sort of in shadow, so it will do. Then the off-white chest and inside-of-ear. Then the outer part of the ear in the lightest of the Drabs. And this is where things went a bit pear-shaped. Drab #2 is simply not that much darker than off-white, and there wasn’t enough contrast. But using #4 would upset the shading pattern – I needed #4 to be my medium shade, a bridge between the very light #2 and the rather dark #6.

As Drab is not dissimilar to Appletons Chocolate, which I’m using in the Certificate piece, I put them together to see if I could pinch one of the Appletons threads to work as an in-between shade. I found one that was a bit darker than #2, and did the second ear in it. But was there enough difference between this borrowed shade and #4? I decided to use the Appletons in addition to the three Drabs, with Drab #2 used for the face and not much else.

Juggling browns to create a rabbit

The face, when finished, made the rabbit look as though pale with shock at meeting a fox (or perhaps with fear of that rather threatening carnation hanging over him). So I used the Appletons to add a bit of not-quite-so-pale shading to the contours of the face, and then as the lightest shade in the body, followed by Drab #4 with Drab #6 creating the shaded area of his belly.

A finished rabbit Close-up of the rabbit's shading

So there it is, the finished project. And on the whole I’m quite happy with it. But the shading is simply not subtle enough, and not just because of deficiencies in my long & short stitch.

You know what this means, don’t you?

I will have to buy all those in-between shades.

Oh dear…

Working with a late frame

No, that’s not a typo – it’ll become clear in a bit smiley.

Yesterday was my unexpectedly soon first day of the RSN Certificate’s Jacobean module. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but went armed with colour schemes, scribbles, sketches and a head full of ideas, as well as a pencil case with the recommended tape measure, ruler, pencil and notebook plus a thin paintbrush added on my own initiative and a mellor and tweezers (I was using the goldwork pencil case which they live in and thought they might come in handy; as it happens, it would have been better if I’d left in the screwdriver I use to tighten hoops – I’d taken it out as it’s quite heavy and I wasn’t expecting to be using a hoop. I was mistaken.)

There were six of us in total, three in the final stages of the Jacobean module, one in the middle of silk shading, one coming towards the end of her stumpwork, and me. Tutor for the day was Angela Bishop. As everyone was setting up I took the opportunity to have a look at some of the work in progress. I was particularly taken with Yin’s nearly completed crewel piece, especially her owl, which used bullion knots for the toes gripping the branch on which he sat – a clever idea which she was happy for me to file away for future reference.

Yin's owl's toes

As Angela prepared to get me started we hit a snag. The 18″ slate frame which I’d ordered had not arrived. Time for Plan B, which involved getting on with the design process instead. We talked through the colour schemes I was considering and the elements I wanted to include, and she answered a few questions I’d noted down about the twill fabric and some stitches; then I was provided with several books about crewelwork, a photo album of previous Certificate projects, tracing paper and a box with samples of the complete range of Appleton’s crewel wool. Angela told me to collect the various elements of my design together, trace and/or draw them and then play with size and placement. I set about doing this, but couldn’t resist having a go at the wool first. There was only one suitable turquoise series (helpfully called Turquoise), but several possible browns and pinks.

Finding Appleton's colours to match my DMC choices

Eventually I settled for Turquoise, a muted brown series called Chocolate, and accent colours from the Coral series. Then some serious drawing began, and also a conversation about copyright. As you know I try to be extremely careful about copyright, and so I was a little surprised when, having shown Angela a tulip motif from a design in the A-Z of Crewel Embroidery, I was told I needn’t actually change or adapt it, I could use the flower as it stood; in the final embroidery it would look different from the original because I’d be using different colours and stitches, and – the most important point – it would be used in a personal piece, stitched for educational purposes. I’m so used to looking at designs from the point of view of turning them into chart packs or workshops (i.e. using them commercially) that I hadn’t considered the different situation I am in as a Certificate student! So I traced the tulip to incorporate into the design, although one of my aims before my second class is to do an alternative version with an adapted “carpet flower” (from a carpet used in the church where we worship) just to see which I like best.

Sketch with wool colours

I put all the elements together, plus a few small additions, and then Angela came to have a look and commented on elements that were perhaps too small, or superfluous, or would be better placed slightly higher or lower. After taking in her comments and advice and making some alterations, it was time to produce a clean line drawing, done in drawing pen on tracing paper and reducing the detail in some of the elements to those lines that need to be transferred. This (apart from the possible change in flower) is the design I’ll be starting with – though not necessarily, as Angela warned me, what I will end up with!

The line drawing of my Jacobean design

What else did I do? Actually, it’s remarkable how long all this took, so there wasn’t a lot of time for other things. But we did look at a small crewel piece I started some time ago (the rabbit with carnations) so I could ask Angela’s opinion about some of the stitches; I was surprised to hear that not pre-outlining my fishbone leaf in split stitch was actually correct, and gratified that she thought most of the outline was very good (apart from one bumpy bit). We agreed that the shading was a bit too blocky and discussed ways of making the colour transitions gentler, as well as talking about the stitch direction in the leaf – she suggested using small “extra” stitches to smooth out the curve where necessary. I also learnt more about where to use a split stitch outline on long & short stitch and buttonhole shading, and equally importantly, where not to.

Crewel rabbit with carnations A fishbone leaf

We also went through the content of the bag that is part of the introductory kit – all the paperwork about the course, including the design brief and instructions on setting up the slate frame and mounting the finished work, and materials and tools needed for transferring and eventually mounting the design and preparing the frame (the bracing needle, that chunky curved piece of metal stuck in a cork, is stuck in a cork for a reason, as my husband found out when he took it out before I could say “be careful with that, it’s very sharp!” – it is used for taking the thick string with which the fabric is tensed through the webbing; I have as yet no idea what the extremely large piece of plastic is for, as I forgot to ask).

An intriguing purple bag Paperwork, some boring but important, some very interesting Materials for transferring the design, setting up the slate frame and mounting the work

My homework for next time (22nd May) is to produce two colour plans, a tonal plan (black & white, showing light and dark) and a stitch plan, and to try out trellis stitch and laid work on a doodle cloth. I’m also going to play with that large flower, possibly producing and alternative design (with its own colour plan etc.) and make changes to the rock the snail is sitting on (I’ll explain why in a future post). Angela assured me that I’m still on track – I’m just more or less reversing the first two classes, getting the design work done before learning how to set up the slate frame. So I’ve had fun playing with colours and ideas, and I’ve got a little longer to get used to the idea of using something that large to hold my fabric; I’m happy with that smiley.