The home straight

Last week I had my sixth class for the Jacobean module of the RSN Certificate, which means that we’re on the home straight. In fact, my homework is to finish the Tree before coming to my seventh class!

As usual, not an awful lot of stitching got done at the class, but there was plenty of learning and information-gathering going on. One student doing her Silk Shading module was trying out colours by cutting a print of the flower petal she was stitching in half, attaching it to her doodle cloth, and stitching the other half to match the photograph – a great idea, which I promptly appropriated (with her permission, I hasten to add) even though it’ll be a couple of years before I need it. Two others were working on silk shading and I picked up some good tips from listening to tutor Helen McCook’s advice to them. It’s never too early to start learning.

A way to match thread colours to reality

I did manage to finish the last row of the block shading on the right-hand hillock (had to start a new thread for the last five stitches or so – annoying!) and Helen said the lines are nice and crisp, so happy with that.

Running out of thread at an annoying moment The finished rows

Going through my notes with her I decided I won’t outline the gap in the tree trunk (it’s neat enough as it is and doesn’t really need it), and that I will add extra padding to ball of wool – Helen suggested using full satin padding instead of the usual surface satin, as the bulk at the back would help create more lift at the front when mounted. I’m all for a more ball-like ball of wool so I’ll give that a go.

Helen also asked me to sample the cat with broader stripes, as the narrow stripes didn’t look very smooth. I said that Lexi’s stripes were narrow and I didn’t want to lose the tabby look (for one thing Lexi would never forgive me); I’ve shown I can do smooth long & short shading in the sepals on the tulip so surely this can just be a bit more, well, furry? She said it wasn’t so much about the shading as the smoothness of the stitching. I agreed to sample some broad stripes. When I showed them to Helen she said, “That’s much smoother. And it looks all wrong, like she’s wearing a striped jumper.” Lexi is back to narrow stripes smiley.

Broad stripes on Lexi

Next was the left-hand floral thingy (not sure what it is, really). I’d intended to start on the Bayeux part but fortunately Helen reminded me that you work back to front so first came the seeding in the back petal. Officially this should be followed by the Palestrina outline, but time was getting on and I wanted to start the laid work on the scalloped part of the front petal. As I was working on this Helen said, “Are you shading from light to dark?” To my mind I was shading from dark to light because I looked at it top to bottom, but she meant looking at it from the base. Apparently (although no-one had thought to tell me this before) traditionally the darker shade is at the base of the flower/plant/petal/leaf, as indeed it is in the tulip sepals. I explained I’d never heard of this and I’d just chosen what looked pleasing to me, and she said that was fine.

Shading on plant parts

I got on with trying to fill very curved scallops with very straight laid stitches, making sure that the edges were crisp and no outline was visible. A challenge. So challenging, in fact, that I unpicked my first five stitches or so three times. It was then that I had a light-bulb moment. One of the reasons why it was extremely difficult to get the edge to look neat and crisp and so on was that my dark thread contrasted very strongly with the fabric. What if I used Helen’s traditional shade order and started with the lightest of my shades? The scalloped edge would probably be no neater, but it would look neater, and the dark shades would be used at the bottom of the shape where there were no nasty curves to navigate. I’m afraid I didn’t take pictures of the top-dark version, but take it from me, the top-light version does indeed look a lot better!

Seeding on the back petal, and the start of Bayeux stitch

That’s where I got to at the end of the class. With my next class not until late April I now needed to put this away for a while and concentrate on the Tree of Life SAL, but I did just want to finish the left-hand flower and the little diamond that connects it to the branch. First, the Palestrina stitch outline of the back petal; on my various colour plans this was sometimes dark orange, sometimes light orange, and on the last one two oranges and a light brown, which was never a good idea. In the end I went with the light direction as shown by the trunk, so the right-facing parts are done in light orange and the others in dark.

Palestrina stitch outline in two colours

On to my Bayeux petal, and time for some shading. I’m very pleased with how that’s come out, and the outline isn’t too shabby either – no need to cover it up. (I’d intially included a decorative outline stitch in the design, but both Helen and Angela said that an extra border stitch around laid work immediately makes the assessors think there is something messy to hide.)

Shading and outline on the laid work

Next was the long couching lines, and an interesting challenge – where to fasten on and off? There is no outline to sneak stitches under, no area that will be covered later… In the end I very gently pushed aside the laid stitches and hid the anchoring stitches underneath.

Where to fasten on?

It was only when I’d completed the two stages of couching (long dark brown lines across the laid foundation held down themselves with tiny beige stitches) that I noticed not all the long lines were the same thickness (Appleton’s – grrrr). Well, I’m not going to take them out; I’m happy with their placement and I don’t want to do it again (pictures in a future FoF will explain why)!

Uneven lines will have to do

Finally, the little orange diamond at the base of the flower, consisting of alternating light and dark bullion knots. It’s not a perfect diamond but it is a little less elongated than the doodle version I did some time ago, and the design lines don’t show on the real project, so I call that progress.

The bullion knot diamond The doodled bullion knot diamond

By the way, what a difference lighting makes – here’s the Tree as it is lit when I’m working on it (light coming from the top and the work nearly horizontal), and photographed with my husband holding it up (facing the window with the work nearly vertical, and at a 45-degree angle towards the window but still vertical).

The Tree, photographed horizontally The Tree, photographed vertically, facing the window The Tree, photographed vertically, angled towards the window

Now on to mounting (a challenge in itself) and then canvaswork – and to encourage the creative process I’ve treated myself to some inspirational threads!

Rainbow Gallery threads from eBay Rainbow Gallery threads plus one other from West End Embroidery

Further twill (and twilling) adventures

It’s been very interesting working on the two twill samples which Barbara at Tristan Brooks sent me last month. The final verdict? I like them both! But that’s not particularly helpful, is it?

So let’s look at them in a bit more detail. I described in an earlier post how the different twills took micron pen transfers differently; now to find out whether they take stitching in crewel wool differently too. First up was the Scottish oatmeal twill. It’s quite a heavy fabric compared to anything I’ve ever stitched on – Lizzie at Laurelin Embroidery described it to me as “a heavy cloth suitable for soft furnishings” and it definitely feels stiffer and a bit coarser than evenweave or plainweave linen. In order to minimize wear on the crewel wool (Appleton’s, which happened to be the only type in my stash) I used a size 22 chenille needle, which feels quite big but works well. The fabric has a nice close weave, closer than the Normandie, and it was easy to pierce it exactly where I wanted to, which makes for accurate stitching (well, as accurate as the stitcher…). I’m not sure I’d use this with silks or goldwork, but I do like it with wool; even using wool that I don’t particularly like!

You may ask why I’m stitching with wools I don’t much like. Good question. It’s because when I wanted to buy some crewel wools to experiment with, several years ago, Appleton’s was all I could find. It also comes in lots of colours, which is convenient, and it isn’t too expensive. But it suffers from varying thickness, getting quite worryingly thin sometimes, and it pills, bunching up when you come to the end of a thread. I have good hopes that the Pearsall’s wool I treated myself to the other day will be nicer to work with.

Back to the project for a moment, and to the non-fabric elements. The design is Kelly Fletcher’s Bloomin’ Marvellous 11, and I used stem stitch (the stem), padded satin stitch (the green bit under the flower), buttonhole stitch (light yellow), chain stitch (the petals), and finally, because the petals looked a bit empty, I added dark yellow lines of Palestrina stitch. I varied the distance between the knots to see which I liked best, but I think they’d all work depending on the effect you want.

Bloomin' Marvellous 11 on Scottish twill - does it need anything more? Bloomin' Marvellous with a few more lines added

The next project was Bloomin’ Marvellous 4. I’ll get the stitches out of the way first: stem stitch (the stem and the outline of the leaf), loop stitch (inside of the leaf), two shades of buttonhole stitch “slotted” into each other (green ring), French knots (yellow centre), chain stitch and lattice work. The chain stitch and the buttonhole stitch, by the way, show how varying in thickness the wool is.

As for the fabric, it’s Legacy Linen twill as used and recommended by Mary Corbet. It’s a much lighter fabric than the Scottish twill, both in weight and in colour. It also feels smoother and more pliable. But like the Scottish twill it is a close weave which makes it easy to place stitches exactly where they should go, and in spite of being lighter it has enough body to take the stitching well without distorting or puckering. (Both fabrics take unpicking well, too.) Because of its smoother, lighter look I can see myself using this with other threads besides wool, making it a bit more versatile than the Scottish twill. But as I said at the beginning, I like them both and will hopefully use them both again.

Bloomin' Marvellous 4 on Legacy Linen Twill, half done Bloomin' Marvellous 4 completed

Incidentally, have you heard of “twilling”? Nothing to do with twill, which is what I first thought, but a type of stitching used mainly by quilters, apparently. It consists of outlines stitched in Palestrina stitch, originally white on white or at least tone on tone (much like Hardanger), but now also worked in colour. As the outline stitch used is knotted I’m not sure it would work for very detailed pictorial designs, but perhaps a Celtic knot pattern or something similarly abstract? Mary Corbet does beautiful things with it on an ecclesiastical linen pouch, outlining a cross. Definitely a stitch to play with!