James goes bling

Some time ago someone suggested that James, the snail from my RSN Jacobean module, would make quite a nice little crewel kit. That is now on my To Do list, but as I was looking at his outline, I suddenly thought, “wouldn’t he look good in gold?” And because there’s always room for another project, I thought I’d have a go. First of all, bits of him needed padding. I wanted the shell raised in the centre, which was done with a rather pleasant-looking little comma of felt with two more layers over the top, and extra stitching to emphasise the spiral. The brick/stone he is sitting on got a single layer of felt as it would be filled in, although I didn’t yet know what with.

Several outlines, and some felt cut out A little felt comma A raised shell All the padding done

My idea was to stick as much as possible to the “layout” of the crewel version, which meant an open body with some dotted shading and a filled-in shell and brick. The best way to represent the shaded satin stitch on the original brick would be vertical cutwork, and I wanted that outlined first. Then there was a line indicating the curved ground the brick rests on, plus the outlining of James’ body. As I wanted to keep them all distinct I went with pearl purl for the sides of the brick, twist for the ground and double passing for the body. The twist was attached with stitches snuggling in between the plies so the couching is invisible.

All the outlining done

Time for the shell. I couldn’t see a way of reproducing the “spoke” effect of James’ raised backstitch crewel shell, so I chose to couch along the spiral instead. In order not to lose the spiral in one homogenous mass of circling couching I started with a double line of check thread, with the rest of the shell done in pairs of passing again. A lot more plunging than I’d like, but heigh-ho, it was needed to get the effect I wanted. (Oh, I also added a spangle eye and metallic thread feelers with little beads on the end. I know a snail doesn’t have an eye as such, but I prefer him with one.)

The spiral outlined in check thread A lot of plunging The shell complete

A few dotted bits of bright check in the body to represent the seed stitching in the crewel original, and then on to the brick! Vertical cutwork in one of the cylindrical purls and one of the angular ones, and because it seemed a good idea to have the brick relatively matte compared to James’ shiny shell I picked rough purl and wire check. As always, cutting the chips to exactly the right length was a, uhm, lengthy process – a chip is too long, so you take off a fraction of a smidgen and suddenly it’s too short. I have a fair few spare chips in a separate little bag now…

Cutting the chips

I decided to shade the chips a bit like the satin stitch in the original to add texture. And when, several hours later, I had covered about half of the brick, I realised I wasn’t sure I liked the look of it. Bother. I’m not even sure why I have second thoughts about it. I like the shading. I even like the look of that row of companionably snug vertical chips in itself. I’m just not sure it makes the brick look the way I want it.

Half a brick

So that’s where I am with Blingy James – he has been temporarily put away while I think about his brick and decide what I want to do with it. I’ll let you know when I know!

Fortunately there are two pieces of goldwork (or more accurately one piece of goldwork and one piece of silverwork) which did get finished, and indeed were finished some time ago. They were the Secret Project which can finally be revealed because the edition of Stitch magazine in which they appear is now in the shops. I present to you: Come Rain, Come Shine – two metalwork samplers in the shape of, respectively, an umbrella and a parasol. If you choose to stitch it, I’d love to see pictures of your finished projects! And as always, if you have any questions about the instructions, the materials or anything else, just drop me a line.

The two projects with the magazine they appear in Come Rain Come Shine

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.

Spangles, stash and students

It’s been a while since I last Foffed, but now I can burst in with a Hurray! Finally, the second of the two secret stitched models is finished (sneak peek of a tiny bit of it below) – but is it finished? Well, everything that is on my design plan is now on the fabric, but I keep thinking it may need a few more spangles before mounting…

A cutwork sneak peek

Which brings us nicely to the second part of this FoF. It’s always pleasant to get new stash, and although this doesn’t look particularly interesting it feels very nice: fluffy cotton wadding for mounting the models mentioned above (and probably the metalwork racehorse). It’s very much like the stuff the RSN gave me for mounting Bruce and is meant to compensate for all those lumps and bumps on the back of goldwork caused by the plunged and oversewn ends. By the way, having used lightweight, open-textured polyester wadding for years in cards and to put behind embroidery when mounting, and having seen pictures online of “batting” which looked more like this soft but more solid cotton (or wool), I thought they were two different things. Turns out they are all wadding if you’re in the UK, and all batting if you’re in the US. Ah, language, I love you smiley.

Cotton wadding for mounting the stitched models

As for students, I’ve been seeing nine of them for a few weeks now at the Percival Guildhouse in Rugby, and so far they seem to be enjoying themselves which is a good sign! They came to the course with varying levels of previous experience, from a lady who wants to brush up her embroidery skills after a lull of some years to one who has done mostly cross stitch until now and wants to “have a go” to some who have never done any stitching whatsoever. I was impressed with how dedicated they all are, working hard on the new stitches in class and then showing me what they’ve finished at home the next week. Here are some of the Little Wildflower Gardens (the Week 1 project) which they brought to class the week after, several of them complete with bullion knot bee – Well Done Students, is what I say!

Three students' Wildflower Gardens

Kits galore and fame for Bruce

Keeping on top of kit production in dribs and drabs is one thing, but with the Rugby 6-week course starting within a month from the Knitting & Stitching Show the process definitely needs ramping up – there are 70-odd kits to be made up! Fortunately it makes the whole production line so much easier when observed and supervised by a cat…

Cat observing the results of printing, cutting and ironing

That was cutting-and-ironing-fabric day, having printed the instructions and cover pictures the day before. Now I’m on to transferring. The Knitting & Stitching Show people choose from a selection of workshops I offer, and beyond the original proposal I have no say in what gets picked; this year one of them was Hardanger, which is worked from a chart, so those kits could be made up without any further work. However, for reasons unclear even to me I decided to make the Rugby course a freestyle one, which means all five projects need the design transferred to the kit fabric for each of the ten participants. Plus twelve for the other K&S workshop. That lightbox is going to get a lot of use in the next few days!

Getting ready to transfer designs

Meanwhile, as I was starting to stick the needles for the various designs into bits of calico, I thought it would be much more convenient for the course students to have one simple needle book in which to keep their needles throughout the course. They are quite quick to put together, and don’t they look nice and colourful? I just have to add the size 22 petite tapestry needles to complete the collection.

Needle books for the Rugby course All the needles needed (except one)

Change of subject although it is still show-related – the RSN always have a stand at the Knitting & Stitching Show and this year *modest cough* Bruce will be one of the exhibits at the London and Harrogate Shows! It was actually a very funny exchange of emails because the first one I received asked for my permission to display my stumpwork piece; flattering but surprising as I have done no RSN stumpwork at all as yet. But it turned out to be an error in terminology, and they did in fact mean my goldwork piece. Go Bruce!

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.

Not-so-flatworm

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

The final furlong

Last Wednesday I should have had my first official Canvaswork class. Unfortunately I have a chronic tum condition and it decided to flare up; not the best conditions for concentrating on what is essentially a new technique to me. But the RSN were very understanding and helpful (“oh you poor thing, just drop us a line and we’ll arrange something”) and cancelled it for me even though I let them know only a day in advance, with the money credited to my account for a future class. With the summer recess coming up that won’t be until September at the earliest, however, so I decided that my stitching time would be dedicated to getting the racehorse out of the way before moving on to the commissioned project.

The racehorse (or Queen’s Silks as it’s officially called) has had a few adaptations and alterations already, most notably the eye, and I’ve also substituted my own check thread for some of the rococco parts. But in one place I stuck with the rococco: the lower part of the gold hind leg. As the shading or detailing in the other, copper hind leg had already been done in rococco I decided it would look better to echo that in this leg.

Rococco detailing in the hind legs

My next stitching session was in bright sunshine, and you’d think that would make everything easier to see. Well, it did help with the stitching part, but it made the black design lines (never particularly clear on the dark green fabric) practically invisible – the thing that may look like a design line is actually the shadow of my couching thread! I resorted to working without my glasses with my nose all but touching the silk as I worked on the pearl purl outlines of the neck and front leg. I’m using the pearl purl that came with the kit, even though the gold is a bit yellow for my taste. On the other hand, it does provide extra contrast (you’ll see later just how much contrast with some of the other gold).

Invisible design lines Pearl purl outlining the neck and leg

That last picture also shows the swirly couching around the shoulder, which took quite a while to get right. The copper part going up to the neck had to be completely unpicked when I realised I’d once again entirely missed the outline. The second version came out much better – just as well, as I wasn’t going to unpick it again! While doing that part of the horse I’d forgotten to fill in the couching in the bottom of the swirl, so that was next. By the way, can you see the mellow gold pearl purl in the top right-hand corner? That came from my stash because I didn’t like using the yellow one for the head. Quite a colour difference.

The shoulder swirl finished

For the detailing in the front legs I ignored the stitched model; it used the large rococco in the gold leg and S-ing in the copper leg, but I didn’t think that worked very well going round the rather tight curves of the leg, so I opted for check thread in both. In bright light the gold check thread looks almost silver against the yellow pearl purl!

Check thread in the copper leg Check thread in the gold leg

Finally it was time for the last bit of the neck and the head. I took a bit of a shortcut in the copper cheek detailing by using a doubled thread starting with a loop; this meant the top lacked the subtle curve, but it did save on plunging and securing (easier with check thread than with rococco, but still to be avoided whenever possible, to my mind). The other parts were done pretty much as they were in the stitched model. And there he is, racing ahead in all his metallic glory, and I’m jolly pleased with how he’s turned out.

The neck and head The finished horse

Horsing around

Although I really need to get on with that secret goldwork project, I’m having such fun spending a bit more time with Helen McCook’s racehorse that I keep coming up with excuses – the latest one is that the hoop needed for the new project is currently in use holding my Canvaswork sample cloth, and I have to wait for the arrival of two 25cm Nurge hoops (my favourite brand), one 16mm and one 24mm deep. And then of course there will be a further delay until I’ve got round to binding it. So apart from doing some preparatory work for my first proper Canvas class next week, I’m enjoying an equine binge.

The first thing to do since the last update was to get rid of those pesky black outlines which I failed to cover when plunging the couching on the horse’s flank (feel free to let me know if that’s not the right term, I’m not a horse expert). There were a few options including a Jap outline, but in the end I decided to go for a solid filling of chips – for one thing that meant no plunging and oversewing! I chose the thinnest bright check, no.8, and tried to follow the lines as well as possible while still placing the chips in random directions. Chips are never going to make a truly sharp point, and in close-up you can see that the outlines are not smooth (you wouldn’t expect them to be), but when taking in the whole horse from a normal viewing distance I think it blends in well enough.

Visible lines The missed bit filled in with chipping The chipping in the context of the whole horse

On to the remaining bits of the back legs, worked (apart from a small length of pearl purl) in gold and copper rococco. Now the rococco that came with the class kit is big. I mean, really big. I have Very Fine, Fine and Medium rococco in my stash and Medium is as chunky as I would choose to go in any of my own projects. This looks a definite Large. It is an absolute pig to plunge, and I don’t even like the look of it very much because it is very difficult to “synchronise” the waves (the first picture shows it in the horse’s tail). I could have used a smaller size from my stash, but instead I went for check thread, rococco’s modest little sister. Much in the way that I prefer passing to Jap, I prefer check thread to rococco. It gives the same sort of effect, but it’s a lot easier to work with!

Large rococco in the tail Couched check thread The whole horse showing large rococco and check thread

The overview picture also shows my start on the grass. The kit came with bright green 471 thread, which is a bit like a fine passing thread available in lots of colours. Compared to the bottle green fabric that seemed rather too bright and too much towards the yellow end of green. In my stash I found a no. 1½ twist in Opal Green which is a lovely shade, but that was a bit too much towards teal/turquoise. Then, playing with them both at my Embroidery Group meeting (last one before the summer holiday, alas), I had a flash of inspiration: why not combine them? So I did, and I really like the effect of the blended colours and contrasting textures! When I started the second line of grass my first stitch happened to be exactly in line with the couching on the first line of grass, which looked odd, so I took it out and “bricked” it, even though the lines of couching are not directly next to each other, which I felt made for a more pleasing effect.

Two greens Combining two threads and bricking the stitches

By the way, finishing off the grass in the evening was possibly not the best decision. In spite of the floor to ceiling window in our dining room (where I like to stitch on larger and more complicated projects) the gloomy evening sky did nothing to help while couching two shades of green on dark green fabric using a green couching thread… Still, I managed, even if I did almost pull one bright green thread out completely when plunging its second end. Fortunately the unravelled first end consented to be gently persuaded back down the fabric, leaving the thread at the front acceptable if not pristine.

Working in the gloom The horse so far

So what’s left? I’d like to leave the head and neck till last, so the front legs first; they have a fair bit of work in them. I have quite a lot of copper passing left from the kit so I may put that in instead of the copper S-ing along the knee and foot. The angles of the leg are such that the S-ing looks a bit awkward there in the model photograph we were given, and rather loses its stem stitch look. We’ll see what suggests itself once I get to that point!

The model's front leg

Mounting tension

Following my alarming experience with the Jacobean piece going slack after mounting, you will understand I am taking no chances with Bruce – he is going to be stretched to within an inch of his life! (Without stretching any of the gold unduly, of course.) Goldwork classes no.7 and no.8 were scheduled one week apart, because once you’ve begun the mounting process there isn’t an awful lot of homework you can do.

First, however, there was the question of the tail. Would the tutor think the gaps near the tip warranted taking several chips out and re-doing them? Or would a small “prop chip” do the trick? Well, Angela advised me not to unpick any chips as the outlines were really nice and restitching might spoil them; but yes, to try an extra half-chip at the tip to see if that would push things up. I tried, it didn’t, and the line didn’t look as nice, so I took it out again.

The chip that got put in and then got taken out

Rather optimistically, I’d hoped to finish pretty much all the mounting apart from the sateen finish in class, with a bit of time left over to discuss my next module, Canvaswork. It was not to be, and not because of the time taken over that temporary chip. Mounting is slow work anyway, and getting it done as well as possible means taking your time and not rushing things. Canvaswork will still be there next week, or even next month. So I got started by working out what size I wanted the mounted piece to be, and how I wanted the work to be positioned on the mount board.

Marking size and position with pins

Generally in framing you are advised to have slightly more room at the bottom than at the top; apparently this makes it look more balanced when hung on the wall. You will notice that my placement has more room at the top. It felt more natural to have the extra space around the cloud and sun, wide-open skies as it were, and to have the line of grass closer to the edge as it is the ground the kangaroo stands on (well, is suspended above in mid-hop, but you know what I mean).

Next: cutting two identical pieces of mount board, to be glued together for extra strength.

Cutting two identical mount boards

Then calico gets glued to the double mount board, with the glue applied about an inch away from the edge – that is where you attach the embroidery to the calico with herringbone stitch. For goldwork, there is an extra layer, a rather strokable padding called, curiously, bumf. This compensates for all the lumps and bumps of secured plunged ends at the back of the work. The picture shows that layer before trimming it right to the edge of the board.

Gluing calico to the mount board Adding a layer of padding

Time to cut Bruce loose from the frame, with the helping hands of one of my fellow students because you don’t want the fabric to just slump off the frame with the risk of bending some of the gold when you’ve cut one side.

Bruce safely off the frame

The next step is pinning. This is not a one-time process: I ended up pulling and pinning three times before all the slack had been removed from the fabric (the pictures show the first and second round).

After the first round of pinning After the second round of pinning

On to the terrifying part, which is turning the work upside down to work the herringbone stitching. This is done exerting a lot of pull on the stitches, so the mounted piece often jitters around on its bubblewrap frame. Although it’s unlikely to jump off the frame altogether, it may shift enough for the stitching to get pressed against the bubblewrap – and two of the elements near the edges are the S-ing sunbeams and the cutwork tail. It’s the part where you occasionally forget to breathe.

The embroidery attached with herringbone stitch

Part of this herringboning is getting the fabric to fit snugly around the corners, and closing them up with ladder stitch which, ideally, is invisible once you’ve pulled it. On one corner I succeeded completely, on two partly, and on one a stitch is still quite visible however hard I pulled. Oh well.

A successful corner A not quite so successful corner

This was as much as I could manage in class, so the next step had to be done as homework: lacing. When I got Bruce home after class I thought I noticed a small patch of slackness, which I hoped I’d be able to correct with the lacing. But when I examined the fabric closely just before starting the lacing, in very unforgiving sunlight, it actually looked nice and evenly stretched – an encouraging way to start! It took me a few hours, but by the end of Monday afternoon Bruce was fully laced both ways.

The completed lacing

I don’t know if the work looked more evenly and tightly stretched when the lacing was complete – it’s hard to tell from photographs and impossible to tell from memory. But it looked good! This was on a Monday, so I figured that by Saturday it would be clear whether or not the fabric was beginning to slacken. I’d left one end of each direction of lacing unsecured so that it could be tightened if necessary before applying the sateen.

How it looked from the front after lacing the back

Saturday came, and my 8th Goldwork class, and although the silk hadn’t perceptibly slackened, the lacing had. My guess is that the fabric was still held taut by the pins, which Angela had told me not to remove until after attaching the sateen. So I tightened all the lacing (the long side twice) and securely fastened off the ends. Time for the sateen. This is cut to about 5cm larger all around than your board, and then ironed. It is then folded to approximately the right size, and pinned at the corners.

The sateen ironed and folded to size The sateen pinned at the corners

But before the pinning and attaching there was a small job that needed doing first: because of my small frame there wasn’t a lot of spare silk on all sides of the design, and in some places the stitches which originally attached the silk to the calico backing fabric would clearly show up in the edge around the sateen (what the RSN refer to as the rebate). However, the silk was now so securely attached to the mount board in other ways that I could snip away these offending stitches without risk to Bruce’s taut looks.

Stitches that would show up and have to be removed

The sateen is sewn on using ladder stitch, which attaches two pieces of fabric invisibly (ideally…) by scooping up a bit of one fabric, then taking the needle into the other fabric exactly opposite the exit point in the first fabric. Scoop up a bit of the second fabric, and go back into the first fabric exactly opposite the exit point from the second fabric. This forms a little ladder of parallel stitches which, when you pull the thread, miraculously pulls the fabrics together in such a way that the stitches completely disappear from sight, leaving just some discreet indentations. Well, that’s the theory, and I have applied it in previous cases with great success, but for some reason this time I found that when going from the silk into the sateen, the stitches looked skewed even when I’d gone in precisely opposite the exit point. If, on the other hand, I inserted the needle about a millimetre before where I should theoretically insert it, it looked fine. It’s a mystery, but it did make my stitches on the second half look a lot better (no, I didn’t unpick and re-do the first half).

Ladder stitch Ladder stitch partly pulled

When attaching the sateen the aim is to have a uniform rebate; in other words, the amount of silk visible between the edge of the board and the edge of the sateen is equally wide all around. This is clearly not the case in my finished piece, but the variations were within what I deemed acceptable. If you go for perfection on this point, you’re in for a long, long haul. By the way, see the two needles? One semi-circular, one with a much shallower curve. The shallower one is the one I’ve been using for oversewing plunged ends, herringboning and ladder stitching. It looked exactly like the other one when it came out of the packet some months ago. It is a testament to the quality of these particular needles that this one survived an entire module with no worse effect than being bent out of shape – the ones I used before this were either so chunky I could hardly navigate them through the fabric, or so thin that they broke at the slightest provocation. Take a bow, Creative Quilting of East Moseley!

The sateen completely attached, and two identical curved needles

Time to attach my name tape (salvaged from the Jacobean piece when I took the sateen off for lacing it) and (finally!) take the pins out. Then came another fairly labour-intensive part which I unfortunately forgot to photograph: firmly stroking all the edges with a mellor in order to remove the pin pricks. This removed them quite well on two sides, but on the sides where the weave ran the other way they were still quite visible. When you look closely at the silk, it is actually a combination of relatively chunky (and sometimes slubby) green threads and rather thin and fragile black threads – you can see this clearly in the pictures of the corners above. Where the pins had gone in, these black threads had bunched together. Angela suggested stroking them back into place with a very fine needle, which worked for almost all of them, except for a few where the black threads had actually frayed through – no help for that, unfortunately. I entered what I had done and what I couldn’t do in the Project Evaluation notes and prepared to look at the front, which I hadn’t seen since the beginning of class.

Name tape attached Pins taken out

A sigh of relief: nothing crushed, and no puckering or slackness. Hurray!

Proud Mabel posing with Bruce Bruce and Haasje all finished

Bruce was then packed into a well-padded box with all the sample cloths, drawings, source pictures, scribbles and notes, for Angela to take to Hampton Court Palace for assessment. Because of the lockdown backlog it will probably be a few months, but I’ll let you know what they think of Bruce and Haasje when I get the evaluation. And now on to Canvaswork…

Shading, rays and faces

In my enthusiasm to tell you about Bruce’s tail, I forgot to bring you up to date on other things I did at my 6th Goldwork class. Most of it wasn’t particularly exciting, but it does add a certain something – shading and with that, I hope, a bit of depth. In order to have as many different textures in the whole design as possible, I opted for smooth chipping in the far leg, and bright check chipping in the left-hand tuft of grass. Both are spread out with fabric visible between the chips, and they gradually get further apart to suggest shading.

Smooth purl chip shading on the far leg Bright check chip shading on the grass

Because I wasn’t quite happy with the way the long chips were lying, I also unpicked and restitched the “front” ear. With chips this short it’s difficult to keep them completely uncracked, but I think the overall effect looks good with the change in direction now more gradual and the gaps less noticeable.

The ear restitched

Next up in real time was the tail, but I’ve told you about that already, so on to the controversial S-ing sun rays. Just to show that I did consider an alternative, I sampled a rococco ray. It’s a bit too large but it shows what they would have looked like.

A sampled rococco ray

Then it was on to the real thing. Most of the instructions about S-ing advise you to cut the chips a third longer than the stitch length your aiming for. In other words, if you want your “stem” stitches to look about 4.5mm long, cut the chips to 6mm. When I sampled I found that that made my chips stand up too much, so I decided to go for 6mm chips with a 5mm stitch length. This still made the chips curve up far too much. Then, because the sewing thread automatically pulls the chip into a slight curve anyway, I tried bringing the needle up and taking it down the exact length of a chip apart. This worked much better. Unfortunately, the effect of 6mm chips was too elongated for my liking, so I trimmed all the pre-cut chips to 5mm, unpicked and started again.

Chips for S-ing Measuring the S-ing stitch 6mm chips look too elongated

Here you can see how the mellor is used to keep the sewing thread from tangling. It also guides the new chip into place by gently manipulating the one that it snuggles up to. As planned, the rays all have a compensating half chip at their base but not at the tip, because I wanted that to look pointy. It does mean the last chip doesn’t curve quite so nicely, but I think it’s worth it for the thinner point – if the tip looked like the base, it wouldn’t be nearly so ray-like.

Using a mellor to guide the sewing thread and chip The finished rays

And finally, the faces. It’s rather nice to end with the eyes and facial details instead of the tail actually – it’s what gives Bruce and Haasje their characters and completes the design. For the features (Bruce’s nostril and mouth and Haasjes nose), which are tiny, I sampled two types of gold threads: Madeira Metallic no. 12 (of which I used just 1 ply; orange arrow) and Kreinik’s #1 Jap (red arrow). Both frayed easily while trying to stem stitch a nostril, even when pulling the thread through very carefully from behind on every stitch, but in terms of looks I preferred the Kreinik Jap for it’s more yellowy-golden look. In the end, by the way, the nostril was done in fly stitch; my sampled stem stitch versions were rather too large, and fly stitch causes less fraying than stem stitch.

Madeira no.12 and Kreinik #1 Sampling nostrils

I went through a number of spangles to find the right shape for the eyes; spangles are flattened single coils of wire (hence the little gap/indentation) rather than stamped out of a sheet like sequins, so although you buy them in millimetre increments (2, 3, 4 and 5mm – but I also seem to have picked up some 4.5mm ones somewhere…) each one is a slightly different shape and size. When I found two that I was happy with I could get on with the eyes, Bruce’s the slightly more complicated of the two because of the surrounding chips which had to be very precisely cut and positioned. And now they can see where they’re going, which Haasje is obviously not too keen about (I do like the panicky effect of that big eye).

Bruce's eye Nostril and mouth added Haasje's look of panic

So I’m done, right? Well, no, there’s the mounting. And mounting goldwork is… interesting. You may remember from the Jacobean project that for quite a bit of the mounting process, the piece is lying stitched side down on the table. You can see where I’m going, can’t you smiley? I don’t want anyone to breathe anywhere near Bruce’s tail or the sun’s rays, let alone have these parts in close contact with a hard surface. The solution? A padded frame. That sounds really sophisticated until you realise it’s actually just four bits of rolled-up bubble wrap taped together. The foam core one we made as a back-up, because I won’t have an awful lot of room around the stitching to lean on the squashy bubble wrap, so I thought a more stable frame might be helpful. We’ll see tomorrow!

Two frames to help with mounting