Jane Morris Blackwork part 2: stitching a portrait

After researching and choosing my Pre-Raphaelite muse, The next job was to find a way of stitching a portrait that would be somewhere between a photograph and a painting – a sort of augmented reality – with shading and textures that added to the picture and did no become jumbled, blocky or busy.

Materials

I chose 36 count Edinburgh linen for the background, knowing that I was going to want to add a lot of fine detail.  It is backed with white cotton, which helps to give a neat overall appearance, and helps to keep fine threads from hiding themselves under the warp and weft of the linen.

Threads being tested for use

I did a lot of research to try to find the threads that would work best for this piece. I started with a large pack of mixed silk for blackwork from Mulberry silks along with Restore Products ultrafyne polyester but the lightest one of the Mulberry silks (marked 200) was still quite dark, and there was a big jump between that and the Ultrafyne.  I discovered the Pipers silks do ultra fine twisted filament silk in 6/20, 4/20 and 2/20 (2/20 being the finest) which was much better for the lighter shades.  There were three shades of black and nearly black that I used in 2/20 and 4/20, and that gave me a lot more control over the lighter areas, and allowed me more subtlety in shading.  Twisted silk is lovely to work with – soft and strong, with excellent definition.  For areas that were almost pure while but where I still wanted to suggest a texture or stop the linen from being too bright, I also had a very fine translucent black polyester monofilament, which is designed to be “invisible” on dark fabrics, but on white linen it is just visible enough to offer the subtlest of shading, and being polyester, will not become brittle over time (unlike nylon invisible thread).  Using broken up stitch patterns and this thread I was able to suggest texture and detail even at the lightest shades.  The drawback with this thread was that it was slightly glossy, and the colour was smoke rather than grey or black, so I used it with restraint.

Vertical darning stitch going in

I chose to use a vertical darning stitch for most of the dress, which allowed me to blend it with variations in the pattern to break up the texture where necessary, but keeping the flow and keeping the look of smooth plain silk.  On the sleeves, I used oblique slav as a variation, which helped me to follow what would have been the grain of the fabric down the sleeves by altering the angle. A lacy stitch pattern (rounded eyelet) was used to suggest the trim on the cuff and button band that is just visible on the photograph.

Interlocking Y pattern (half scale) used on hands

For the skin tones, I needed a pattern that would give a smooth appearance, and that was close textured so that I could obtain a continuous spectrum of shades with it.  I chose the interlocking Y pattern at half scale, and used my finest monofilament and pipers fine twisted silks to get a delicately shaded effect.

half scale long diamond, with variations, was used on the hair.

Janey’s striking head of thick, wavy hair is undoubtedly one of her defining features, so choosing a pattern to do it justice was quite tricky. in the margins I tried out several complex patterns that appeared to suggest curls or waves, but the effect was not what I needed. all patterns have a repeating unit, and the bigger and more complex the pattern, the more obvious the pattern repeats become, giving it a contrived, almost ’tiled’ look.  it was very difficult to find something that shows a natural wave, that can easily be broken up to produce highlights.  I decided to try something very simple – long diamond at half scale.  I thought it would be much too linear and expected to find it better suited to other parts of the design, but I was surprised by how very versatile it was, and how it could be used to suggest natural organic shapes.  I used different weights of thread and blended it with variations: adding and omitting internal vertical or horizontal stitches, or leaving out stitches to form hexagon shapes for the light frizz effect around the edges.  In some areas I repeated the pattern with a half drop, which made a very smooth shaded effect made up of tiny diamond shapes.

Many of the patterns I chose were selected deliberately so that they would flow in to one another.  I was keen to ensure that the shading would look naturalistic rather than blocky.

Eyesight

The first thing everyone asks me when they see Janey is “I bet you needed a magnifying glass to sew that!” To the uninitiated, 36 count linen is intimidatingly fine.  The number 36 refers to the number of warp/weft threads per inch, so the higher the number, the finer the weave.  Strangely enough, I didn’t use a magnifying glass.  I just got used to the weave.  As it happened, my eyesight gradually deteriorated during this project, but I didn’t actually notice until the very end.  I now have varifocal specs that I wear all the time, and now if I try to look at Edinburgh linen without them I realise I cannot focus. But while I was working on Janey, I just adapted to counting threads by touch…  I literally ran my needle over the weave and counted the ‘Ticks’ as it went over a thread!  It is a lot easier now I have spectacles and I can see again.  Looking back, it is something of a miracle that most of Janey was done when I couldn’t actually focus on the weave or the stitches.  But when something deteriorates gradually enough, you learn to accommodate the impairment, I just added it to the list of things I was accommodating!

It took several attempts to get this intense stare right, while my own eyesight required attention!

I surprised myself by really loving this module.  This was partly because of a connection to Janey which grew and developed over the months I spent working on her.  Janey herself was an artist and embroiderer, someone who took an interest in everything; we had interests in common, as well as, who knows? maybe even a shared disability.

I am dedicating this piece to my husband Dr Richard Frith, who is my main source of information about the Pre-Raphaelites, also to my friend and Janey’s namesake, Jayne Beadle.  thank you both for the endless encouragement.

Pomegranate detail

Jane Morris blackwork Part 1: Finding Janey, and musings on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

Blackwork is a counted thread technique that was popular in Elizabethan times.  It is traditionally worked with black threads over white linen, in detailed repeating patterns or textures.  it made a good adornment for collars and cuffs in times when lace was an expensive luxury.  however, the fashion caught on, and there is even a famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth herself wearing a garment with blackwork sleeves.

Queen Elizabeth with blackwork sleeves

Most often these days, blackwork is used on samplers and simple decorative designs; however, the patterns can be used as shading in more detailed designs – different effects can be obtained by varying stitch pattern and size, pattern complexity, and weight of thread.  I chose to depict Jane Morris (‘Janey’) because of an existing interest in pre-raphaelite art and Janey’s remarkable personal story and influence.

Who is Jane Morris (nee Burden)?

Jane was spotted by the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones in 1857, as they attended a performance at a theatre in Oxford.  Jane was from a poor background but she embodied the pre-Raphaelite concept of beauty, and Rossetti persuaded her to come and sit for him and William Morris as an artist’s model.  Morris fell for Janey, and in due course they got engaged, despite the fact that Janey was not in love herself.  The match was advantageous; Janey’s education was poor, as she had been destined to follow her mother in to domestic service. William Morris gave his new wife every possible opportunity to read and study, which she availed herself of eagerly, becoming an accomplished linguist, musician and embroiderer, with deportment and manners that allowed her to move in the highest circles of society.  Rossetti never lost interest in Janey, despite his own relationship and marriage to Lizzie Siddal.  In 1865, three years after Lizzie’s tragic early death from an overdose, Jane Morris began to pose for Rossetti again, and a deep emotional attachment kindled between them.  In 1871 Morris and Rossetti took out a joint tenancy on Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, ostensibly to use as a summer home, but in reality to become a secluded venue for the long running affair between Rossetti and Janey.  William would absent himself for long periods, on research trips to Iceland and other places, fully aware of the liaison  www.preraphaelitesisterhood.com/jane-morris-an-enigmatic-muse .

The photograph of Jane Morris, June 1865, John Robert Parsons
Photograph of Jane Morris, posed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his back garden, taken by John Robert Parsons in 1865

A photograph is like an instant freeze frame of a point in time. In 1865, Janey and William had been married for six years, and had two young daughters, Jenny and May.  Rossetti arranged for a series of photographs of Jane to be taken at his home in London, by John Robert Parsons.  Rossetti himself was involved in the posing of the photographs, and he used the finished results as the basis for some of his paintings.  (www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/sa140.raw.html ) Rossetti’s wife, Lizzie Siddal Rossetti had died three years previously, and Rossetti had sunk into despair.  Painting Janey was something that Rossetti found compelling; she “consumed and obsessed him in paint, poetry, and life” and it seems that his obsession with Janey helped to lift him out of his depression.  The photograph I chose for my black work is one that was taken in Rossetti’s back garden.

The light source and pose struck me as familiar, and while I was researching, I found similarities between the photograph and Rossetti’s later painting Proserpine (1874).  This is what gave me the idea for my embroidery.  I wanted to show the two sides of Janey, and her two relationships, married into the same image; The photograph of Mrs Jane Morris, wife and mother, and the painting of Janey as Proserpine, a beautiful young woman, swept away from her family, seduced and tempted.

The Proserpine myth and DGR’s painting

Proserpine (Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Persephone) is the mythical daughter of ceres (Greek: demeter), the goddesss of fertility, growth and the harvest.  Proserpine was abducted by Pluto and taken to his realm in the underworld.  Ceres tried desperately to get her daughter back, and by appealing to Jupiter and withholding the harvest, she finally secured proserpine’s return, on one condition: that she had not eaten or drunk of the food of the land of the dead. Either by her own accord, or because Pluto forced her, Proserpine was found to have eaten four seeds of a pomegranate.  She was allowed to return to her mother, but for four months of the year she was compelled to go back to the underworld, because of the four pips she had eaten.  The myth says that that Ceres, delighted at the return of her daughter, caused the trees to send forth blossom, and all of the crops to sprout green, the origin of spring time.  The yearly return of Proserpine to the underworld was marked by the fall of the leaves, and all of the crops seeming to wither and die for four months – winter time. (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proserpina )

Two of DGR’s versions of Proserpine, with Janey as model

Casting Janey as Proserpine must have seemed natural to Rossetti, remembering the long summers they spent together at Kelmscott, and the times they had to spend apart when she returned to her husband.  It is a theme he returned to many times, and worked on 8 separate canvases of proserpine.  By that time, he and Janey were seeing each other very little, the affair having ended, and Rossetti’s mental health was in a precarious state.  At this time, the series of photographs taken almost a decade previously must have been very precious to him, and no doubt very important as source images, just as they are to me today.

Combining the images

The main figure of Janey in the embroidery is taken directly from the JRP photo, cropped and enlarged.  In the black and white photograph, Janey is wearing what appears to be a silk dress.  Proserpine is painted wearing a very similar looking dress, and a portrait of Janey done by DGR has her wearing “the blue silk dress”.  It is tempting to assume that it is the same dress in all three images, and I have used some of the detailing from the paintings on my embroidery.  Around the central image, I have incorporated details found in the Proserpine paintings.  The square of reflected light on the wall behind her, the curl of ivy framing her face, and the bowl on the left of the picture.  In the painting, Proserpine holds the fateful half eaten pomegranate, but in the embroidery, the pomegranate is in the bowl, uneaten, and the future is undecided.

 Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – A connective tissue connection?

I have a disability called hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) that causes, pain, injury and multiple symptoms due to a genetic structural deformity of the connective tissue.  This affects me in a lot of quite debilitating ways; I use a wheelchair for mobility, and I have to structure my life around management of chronic pain and acute injuries such as dislocation or fracture. Whilst examining my images for this project, certain features of Janey leaped out at me straight away as indicating hypermobility, and it made me wonder if she had hEDS or another hypermobility spectrum disorder (HSD).

Jane Morris showing hypermobile traits in her hands and facial features, and details from DGR’s paintings showing his fascination for her long, graceful, and exceptionally bendy hands.

She has very long, slender fingers and wrists (arachnodactyly) and some facial features that are in common with myself and many people who have EDS (deep set eyes with lax eyelids that give the eyes an appearance of a downward slant).  Looking at all the photographs together, as well as DGRs paintings, some of the charismatic, graceful pre-raphaelite drape of her limbs seems to suggest hypermobility – an abnormally large range of movement in the joints.  Obviously, there is no way to prove categorically that she had a HSD, but it is known that she was often indisposed, suffering from undiagnosable illness that has been attributed in the literature to everything from a spinal condition to being entirely psychosomatic (www.ncgsjournal.com/issue42/parkins.htm ).  Her continual exhaustion, sciatica, pain in her back and limbs sound very familiar to me as symptoms of hEDS.  Even the lack of definitive diagnosis is, in itself, suggestive.  To this day hEDS and HSDs are often misdiagnosed, misunderstood, and in some unfortunate cases the patient is disbelieved entirely for years before a diagnosis is finally made.  hEDS and hypermobility spectrum disorders are genetic in origin, and are often inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern.  Again, it is pure speculation, but pictures of May Morris (Janey and William’s daughter) seem to show similar deep set eyes, laxity of eyelids, and long thin fingers.

One of the symptoms of my hEDS is hypermobility of joints.

Jane Morris was, like her husband, a bright and voracious polymath, she was an artist and embroiderer, she campaigned for social justice, she found fascination in everything, and she had to overcome pain and infirmity that was poorly understood by everyone. The more I researched Janey, the more attracted I became to her as a subject.  As I worked on my piece, I felt I was getting to know the woman behind the intense gaze.

Read more about stitching janey here…

Jane Morris by Emma Frith – detail

Dunstanburgh View project in pictures

Apology – and catching up!

The observant among you will have noticed that my posts have somewhat dried up of late.  There is a reason for that, or rather, lots of little reasons.  I have been working very hard at my RSN modules, and also at being a vicar’s wife and sunday school teacher, so when my blog mysteriously stopped working, I have had very little time to dedicate to fixing it.  Several times, I have sat down, dertermined to fix it, but it has out-foxed me.  The problem was that it could have been caused by any number of things from my web hosts to my plugins to my wordpress settings.  I won’t bore you all with the details, but I have finally managed to work my way through the entire set-up, updating, backing up and reinstalling as I went.  Of course, it would turn out to be the silliest thing – It was the theme I was using from wordpress.  So if my blog looks a little different, it is because I have had to switch themes.  I figured a change of colour scheme was preferable to having no pictures in a blog that is all about embroidered pictures!

Looking back a while to where I left off, I can see that I was just introducing you to my canvas work module.  Yikes, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then! Following on from this post, I will post several gallery style posts to catch you up to where I am now, so that those of you following my progress through the RSN certificate and diploma process can see where I have got to, and how I got here…  Once again, many apologies for the long absence!

A little word about facebook.  In addition to this blog, which is where I like to go in to detail about my projects, I also have a facebook page, which is regularly updated with snippets and photographs of my work.  If you use facebook, please do come along and like my page!

 

Introducing “Dunstanburgh view”: RSN Canvas stitches piece

Time and tide wait for no man.  My RSN certificate course progresses, and the next module is canvas stitches.  At this point in the syllabus, I technically get a choice between canvas stitches or black work.  But I fully intend to carry on after my certificate to do the diploma, and whichever module I choose at this stage I have to do the other as part of the diploma, so it doesn’t matter hugely.  And anyway, I was intrigued by the idea of using colours and textures to recreate a picture, and it was a technique I had never tried before.  My experience of canvas work is limited.  Really, up to this point, my idea of ‘canvas work’ fell into two categories: tent stitch hassocks (those solid rectangular kneeler cushions that hang from the pew in front in church, decorated all over in little diagonal stitches in tapestry wool by dedicated parishioners at some point over the last few decades) and modern bold, expressive textile art, loosely based on a theme and stitched with mildly frightening vigour in myriad colours of somewhat baffling threads, adorning the covers of 1970s books on the subject.  Neither of those two images particulary infused me with joy about the technique – prim and predictable, versus wildly exuberent and somewhat outdated. But the RSN brief asks us to steer a course through the middle way.  We are asked to choose a picture, and then interpret it in a variety of canvas stitches. So I was intrigued, and (I admit it) slightly sceptical.

Colour plates from Erica Wilson's Embroidery Book (top, Faber 1973) and Mary Rhodes Needlepoint - the art of canvas embroidery (bottom, 1974 Octopus Books)
Colour plates from Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book (top, Faber 1973) and Mary Rhodes Needlepoint – the art of canvas embroidery (bottom, 1974 Octopus Books)
Hassocks in churches all over the land are adorned with a simple form of canvas work ("Salisbury Cathedral, Hassocks" by Gaius Cornelius - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salisbury_Cathedral,_Hassocks.jpg#/media/File:Salisbury_Cathedral,_Hassocks.jpg)
Hassocks in churches all over the land are adorned with a simple form of canvas work (“Salisbury Cathedral, Hassocks” by Gaius Cornelius, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salisbury_Cathedral,_Hassocks.jpg#/media/File:Salisbury_Cathedral,_Hassocks.jpg)

Canvas stitches range from the simple small diagonal tent stitch (like a half cross stitch) through various versions of repeated diagonal or crossed stitches, finishing up with some quite involved or highly textured stitches that are arguably more like repeating motifs than a textured filling stitch.  The stitches are typically worked in wool, but stranded cotton, cotton a broder, silks, shiny rayon threads or mixtures of different threads work well.  The patterns or motifs are worked into open weave stiff canvas, which essentially forms a grid that you work into, counting warp and weft threads in order to form the shapes and patterns of the stitches.  The different stitch patterns all have exotic sounding names – ‘Algerian eye’, ‘Maltese cross’, ‘pineapple half drop’, ‘oblique Slav’ – not forgetting the endearingly enigmatic ‘John’.  They are recorded in various books, a lot of which are out of print and hard to find.  Although the RSN and various embroidery authors have published more recent works, I had a general sense that canvas work is a dwindling art.  That probably has a lot to do with today’s embroiderers having similar prejudices to myself, that is, that canvas work is either dull, or somewhat unfathomable and stuck in the 1970s,

One of the ways to work a simple tent stitch for canvas work ("Basketweavestitch" by Velvet-Glove at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basketweavestitch.png#/media/File:Basketweavestitch.png)
One of the ways to work a simple tent stitch for canvas work (“Basketweavestitch” by Velvet-Glove at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basketweavestitch.png#/media/File:Basketweavestitch.png)

So it was that I came to the first challenge – to find a design to interpret in canvas stitches.  Having invested in the RSN stitch guide, I had a slightly more up to date idea of the sorts of pictures that could be rendered in canvas stitches, and it was more varied than I had imagined.  The module brief was wide open – it just had to be an interpretation of an image.  They did say that having water in the picture usually gave good results, but that was about it for guidance!  I had an idea to use one of my holiday snaps from last year.  the Frith family is totally in love with the Northumberland coast, and it is our favourite holiday destination.  The big skies, vast sandy beaches and seabird-encrusted islands tick every box.  a friendly welcome, a place to get close to nature, a castle on every horizon, a place of pilgrimage, and unlimited beaches and rock pools. It is a place where we instantly feel happy, all three of us.  In particular, we love to pick a day with good weather and head off to Dunstanburgh Castle.  This is the place:

The Frithlet and me on the grassy approach to Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland.
The Frithlet and me on the grassy approach to Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland.

There is a mile-long grassy approach that slopes gently up to the castle gate, which is mostly manageable with my power-assist wheelchair wheels, with the revd dr helping.  A few places at the final approach are a little steep and rocky for a wheelchair, which requires me to bail out and scramble as best I can on crutches while the Revd Dr takes the chair up and the spry little Frithlet capers round like an excitable mountain goat.  By the time we get up to the castle, we are all flushed with windblown excitement and achievement.  Once inside, there are ruins to explore and a gorgeous wild flower meadow.  There are rock pipits dashing about, skylarks overhead, butterflies everywhere.  if you exit through one of the breaks in the curtain wall, you find yourself out on the cliffs of the headland.  at the right time of year, there is thrift and rock samphire, and the sound of nesting kittiwakes.  There is a particular spot, right on the very tip of the headland, that we make a bee-line for.  We call in the Frith family secret picnic spot, though it isn’t actually a secret (well, not any more!).  Here we can sit and eat our picnic surrounded by sea and castle and view.  It is high on the cliff to, and down below you can see razorbills bobbing on the sparkling sea, puffins flying past, kittiwakes everywhere.  to the left, you get a view of the pristine sands of embleton bay.  We last visited ‘our’ picnic spot almost exactly a year ago,  a truly beautiful sunny day in late May.  The pinks (sea thrift) were out and I set about trying to capture it all with my camera.  At the time, I was right in the middle of my Jacobean crewel work module down at Hampton Court, and I knew that the genie was out of the bottle, an that embroidery was going to be a big part of my life.  I had a strong feeling that I might one day want to try capture the essence of this place in embroidery, so I set about taking detailed photographs of colours and textures:

I came across the pictures whilst pondering my project, and I wondered if this could be the subject I was looking for.  I hesitated a little, for several reasons.  Firstly, it was very textured and detailed, and my idea of canvas work is that it would be blocky, flat, and almost pixellated.  Secondly, there were curves and diagonals  – surely canvas stitches were all rectilinear? how would that work? thirdly, this place is special to me, and the day I took these pictures was one of those shining golden days that stay forever in your memory, never tarnishing, just acquiring the patina of nostalgia.  I wasn’t sure how I would feel if I couldn’t do it justice.  Probably just very frustrated, but what if it somehow changed my relationship with the place? I decided that this last objection was me being silly and sentimental, and sent the pictures, along with another possibility, taken further up the coast at Holy Island, to Tracy for perusal.  She immediately picked up on the fondness I had for the Dunstanburgh image, and approved the content as appropriate for canvas work.  Just to be sure, I asked the other embroiderers in the studio for a quick vote as to which of the two they preferred.  the vote in favour of the Dunstanburgh image was unanimous.

It is unusual for me not to have a strong mental image of how I want the finished project to look, but since the technique was so new to me, and due to my somewhat underwhelming preconceived notions of canvas work, I honestly had no idea what I might be likely to be pull out of the bag for this one!

Blank canvas - no preconceived ideas, just an outline and a photograph.
Blank canvas – no preconceived ideas, just an outline and a source photograph.

Embleton bay from the secret picnic place

Wild Rose: the big reveal

I finished Wild Rose the silk shading piece last friday, and as I sit down to blog about it, I find myself reflecting on the timeline of a project, and how a design brief and a spark of an idea gradually develop and grow into a finished embroidery.  For me, a project falls into several recognisable stages.

The planning stage is luxurious and fun.  I usually poke around google and other internet sources (a week or so back I finally joined Pinterest), as well as my own photographs and memories.  Amorphous ideas bubble up to the surface and coalesce, usually far too many at once.  Luckily, I have the Royal School of Needlework design briefs for the various modules, which stop me getting too carried away.  The key to ideas gathering and planning is to lightly graze on things that interest you, trying to notice the common factors that connect the ‘hits’, gradually narrowing down and honing the idea.  When the source image presents itself or the idea comes together, it is like all the lights go on.  After that, I tend to fixate on the design, daydreaming, sketching and generally wearing it in like a pair of new shoes.  By the time I am ready to start stitching, the design is already an old friend.

 

Working up the wild rose image
November 2014: Working up the wild rose image

Beginning to stitch is a time of impatience.  It takes a while for the first elements of the design to come together.  It is also a time of hope.  The design obsession carries through to this stage as I start to put some of the ideas in train, and there is a little nervousness- always wondering if I will be able to pull it off.

Getting started: the split stitch outline of the leaves, and the beginnings of long and short shading.
December 2014: Getting started: the split stitch outline of the leaves, and the beginnings of long and short shading.

The tipping point comes about two thirds of the way through, when the thing under your needle reflects, mirror-like, the idea in your head, and you realise that it is coming together, there is more of it already worked than there is work left to do.  Rather than feel this to be liberating, I start to feel a weight of responsibility.  Hours of work have gone in to it, and so far, the piece looks good.  Don’t stuff it up now, Emma.  Every spare second goes into stitching now.

5th February 2015: Oh! It looks like a rose is happening here... Don't mess up now!
5th February 2015: Oh! It looks like a rose is happening here… Don’t mess up now!

The end sneaks up on me.  The very last job is to add a tiny circle of felt padding and cover it tightly with a lot of tiny, single strand french knots in various shades of beige and khaki, which had to be found in the stash, and shaded carefully to give the impression of it being a rather lumpy dome shape, rather than a slightly raised disc.

27th February 2015: The final moments of the rose project tick by
27th February 2015: The final moments of the rose project tick by

It is absorbing work, but suddenly I run out of places to put french knots.  I put off the end for a minute or two, fiddling, tidying, fixing up, but there is no getting around it, Rose is finished.  I open up the protective tissue paper to get a proper look, turn it around, and look from all the angles.  Yes, definitely finished… Oh dear.  Because there is no denying it, the first feeling is one of loss. This time around, I was prepared for this.  With my last piece, I had a big rush to finish before moving house, and the end of the project marked the end of my time with my tutors and and my friends at Hampton Court.  The sense of loss was quite intense and took me totally by surprise.  With Rose, I finished on time with no great drama, a happy new studio with many modules ahead of me, but I still had that twinge of loss.  It wasn’t until after I shared some photos and the congratulations started coming in that I started to think about the rose with a degree of satisfaction.  This is my first go at silk shading, my first flower, my first attempt at some form of realism, my first module with Tracy in Durham, and my first piece since moving here and making the step towards serious embroidery.  It still needs to be properly assessed for quality (as does the bird) by the RSN people who know their onions.  But however she fares in the marking process, I am pleased with Rose, and she has taught me a vast amount.

27th February 2015: Wild rose project completed
27th February 2015: Wild rose project completed (click image for a larger version)

 

Thorn detail (click image for a larger version)
Thorn detail (click image for a larger version)

 

More thorn detail (click inage for a larger version)
More thorn detail (click image for a larger version)
Stamen detail. This is a straightforward crop of the bigger image, with no added camera effects, yet for some reason it looks like a painting not an embroidery.  Even to me, and I embroidered it!
Stamen detail. This is a crop of the bigger image to get more of the stamen detail, there are no added camera effects, but the loss of resolution is making it look like a painting instead of an embroidery – even to me, and I embroidered it! Oh well.

 

Bullions, hundreds of bullions!

The final part of the rose to be completed was the very centre, worked in bullion knots and french knots.  These turned out to be a really important element in the whole design, because once the bullions were lined up with their corresponding shadows I had previously shaded on to the petals, the whole thing seemed to be thrown into relief, even though the design itself is flat, save for the bullions themselves, and a tiny circle of felt padding right under the centre circle.  Quite a few people, on seeing the bullion knots, told me that they found bullion knots to be complicated and difficult, and voiced a certain awe at my plans to do all the anthers in bullion knots.  But I really enjoy a bullion knot, and have never found them to be a particular hassle.  There are loads of stitching resources out there, and I am sure there are plenty of excellent pictorial instructions for bullions, but I thought it might be nice, before I do the “big reveal” of Rose (and yes, she is finished!) to step through the construction of bullion knots.   Please note, I am a LEFT HANDED EMBROIDERER, so I usually work with my left hand underneath and my right hand on top.  Trying to hold my phone, take in-focus pictiures and do bullion knots one handed was enough of a challenge, and I really didn’t feel up to doing it wrong handed.  If left handed embroidery is likely to confuse you, look away now!

I drew out a little stamen on the calico edging of my piece, for illustrative purposes only.  I wouldn’t normally use pencil lines for something as delicate as a stamen, because there is too much chance of it showing, and anyway, mine were being laid on top of petals already worked in long and short shading.  I picked up two skeins of stranded cotton pretty much at random from my stash, so they aren’t colours I have been using on Rose.

1. Setting up for the bullion

Setting up the foundation for a bullion knot
Setting up the foundation for a bullion knot

Thread a small embroidery needle (a size 9 or 10) with two strands of cotton and cast on with a waste knot and three stab stitches.  The strands can be both the same colour or two closely related shades of a colour, depending on the effect you want to achieve.  Bring the needle up at one end of where you want the bullion to be, then take it down again at the other end.  Don’t pull all the thread through, leave a loop on the surface like in the picture.  Finally poke the point of the needle back up at the original starting point, leaving it sitting there, pointing up, without pulling it all the way through to the front of the fabric, and you are all set up.

2. Winding it up

Winding the thread around the needle
Winding the thread around the needle

Hold the needle steady with one hand at the back of the work, and with the other hand, pick up  the thread that you left lying on the surface in step one. At the end closest to the needle, start to wind the tread around the needle.  From this point on, you need to hold the thread so it doesn’t unwind, but without yanking too hard on it.  The number of times you wind the thread around the needle depends on how long and fat you want your bullion to be.  Go round and round as if you were constructing a little spring on the needle, starting at the bottom near where it emerges from the fabric and working your way up slowly in the direction of the point.  You don’t want to be piling all the coils up on top of each other, so much as wrapping the needle neatly. I went round ten times in the example above.  When you think you have enough, take up any slack on the end in your hand, and push the loops down the needle so that they are neatly stacked together, looking a little bit like what you want the finished bullion to look like.  This is your opportunity to check the length.  Flatten the needle to the surface of the the fabric, where you want the bullion to lie, keeping the coils compressed.  If it it too long or too short, then wind or unwind loops as required.  In this case, ten was just right.

3. Pulling through

Slowly pulling the slack through the bullion
Slowly pulling the slack through the bullion

With the needle back in its vertical position, you are now ready to pull everything through.  You still have hold of the end of the thread, don’t you? just slacken the tension a tad.  When you pull the needle through, the eye end and the double width of thread it carries need to work their way through every single loop on your needle, and if you are holding the tension too tight, you are going to have a battle on your hands.  Don’t let go of the end, but shift your grip a little so that the finger and thumb are softly holding the needle shaft with the loops around it, preventing them from coming unraveled.

Bring your other hand to the front of the work and use it to slowly draw the needle fully through the fabric and the little tunnel that is formed by the loops on the needle, just as if you were threading a bead.  Don’t panic if the loops get pulled about a bit, become spread out or a bit bunched up, that is normal, and you have your finger and thumb stopping any unraveling.  just draw the thread through slowly, taking up the slack under the fabric, then the excess from the working loop, until you feel it start to come tight.  At that point, you can let go of the loops. You will probably have a slightly untidy selection of loops on your stitch.  Again, this is no cause for alarm.  pull the thread down and  in the direction of the stitch, and use your fingernail or a needle to push the loops together.  If they are still a bit bunchy, hold the loops and give the end a good tug.  That should sort them out and bring them in to line.

4. Finishing off

Finishing the bullion
Finishing the bullion

If some of the loops overlap, you will see a slight thickening at the base of the stitch, which might be exactly the effect you are after.  But if, say, I wanted a sausage and got a pear, then I can usually sort it out by sliding a needle under the bullion and stroking the loops in the direction I want them to go, whilst keeping a gentle tension on the free end, until the bullion is the shape I want. Then the final job is to send the needle down through the fabric right near the end of the bullion to finish off the stitch.

5. Variations

Bullions, it turns out, are very versatile.  The one above is simple and straight, but they also do lovely curves, just by varying where the needle goes own at the very last step.  A tiny step to the left or right will help the bullion sweep a curve.  if you make the bullion a couple of loops longer than the length required, then tuck the needle underneath the end to tie it off, the bullion will stand up, making a little arc.

A curved bullion
A curved bullion

In the picture above, I have made the brown bullion slightly longer so that I can curve it around the yellow one.  putting the needle through a fraction to one side helps it to curve.

As well as being short and fat, bullions can be long and thin.  On the rose, most of the filaments of the stamens were worked in stem stitch, but for some of the front-most filaments, My tutor tracy had the idea that I could do some very long, thin bullions, to give the area some depth.

A long, thin, single strand bulion
A long, thin, single strand bullion

The thin bullions are worked with a single strand, but otherwise the technique is the same.  I and careful not to add too many loops, because if they end up overlapping in the finished knot, the stamen would look a bit lumpy!

Bullion knots can feature in all sorts of ways, not just stamens.  In my jacobean piece I used rows of parallel bullions to shade a petal turnover.  A few big bullions formed the thorax of a butterfly, and tapered, curved bullions were the claws of the bird of paradise.  I think their reputation for being fiddly and fussy is somewhat undeserved.  I suppose they do involve a few steps, but they are very pretty and quite satisfying.  Just as well, because there were hundreds of them on the rose project!

The Wild Rose Project: stashes, shading and… superglue?

In my last entry, I wrote about how Wild Rose came about, the research, the sketching and the framing up.  Now it is time to catch up to the present day.

The greens!
The greens!

Once Tracy had rearranged her studio for me (so that I could sit comfortably and so my wheelchair wasn’t blocking the door etc) and helped me frame up, we set about choosing the colours of stranded cotton.  Note that I am using ordinary cotton embroidery thread for this – ‘silk shading’ as in shading on a piece of silk, not shading with silk thread.  Colour-wise, you will remember that Wild Rose is a kind of mid-pink, with dark purply-pink shadows and very delicate cool pink highlights.  the stamens are yellow and orange and the very centre is greenish yellow.  The stems and leaves are a good range of different greens.  We started with the leaves to get my eye in with the technique, so we picked out those colours first.  We had no trouble there, both DMC and Anchor have extensive ranges of greens, so we were able to go straight to the ones we wanted.  I was even able to use some of my own extensive stash of skeins that I have built up over the last few years.  I have discovered that when people learn you have a passion for embroidery, it sometimes happens that their eyes light up and they say “my mum/grandmother/aunt was a very keen embroiderer, I have all of their threads at home, I don’t embroider myself but I cannot bring myself to throw them away – would you be able to use them?” I love to take in orphaned stashes.  It feels like it connects me to a previous generation of embroiderers.  When you open box after box of carefully curated threads, you can feel the love and care that has been lavished there.  I know that sometimes, I can spend whole evenings just arranging my materials, soaking in the colours and the textures, and feeling all the potential stored up in them.  With inherited stashes, I am sure generations of embroiderers have been just the same, and with inherited stashes, it is like they come pre-loaded with love.  The sad thing is that cotton is an organic substance, and believe it or not, it has a shelf life.  At some point, it will inevitably lose its lustre and become fragile, although this can be delayed with careful handling.  Most of the “heritage” stashes I have been given have been packed and stored with the utmost care, and are therefore suitable to be incorporated into my working stocks.  Some skeins are not usable, but because of what they mean to the donor, I usually keep them too.  This means that my stash of stranded cotton is pretty enormous, and periodically growing (NB – if you are reading this thinking “I have a stash I don’t know what to do with”, the RSN accepts donations, and it might be worth asking at your local arts college or school if they need any).

Just part of my stash!
Just part of my stash!

I digress.  My thread stash has that effect on me.  Where was I?  Yes.  we chose the greens without too much bother, and I got started, going around the outline of each leaf in split stitch, then, from the tip downwards, I established my foundation row of long and short stitch.  Tracy kept a close eye on my stitch spacing and the angle of my stitches.  For L&S, you need to establish your angle according to the contours of your design, for simple leaves, the stitches usually form a V out from the central vein, and the angle is maintained all of the way down in order to get realistic shading.

Getting started: the split stitch outline of the leaves, and the beginnings of long and short shading.
Getting started: the split stitch outline of the leaves, and the beginnings of long and short shading.

For more complicated shapes, the angle changes with the contours.  Long and short shading is truly a fundamental technique of embroidery, and it is extremely easy to get wrong.  For this reason, I have historically regarded it with a degree of trepidation.  I did some long and short shading on Birdie, which allayed the worst of my fears, but I still knew I needed to have my wits about me.  At no point when doing L&S stitch should you neglect any one of the following:

Stitch length: as the name suggests, the idea of long and short stitch is that the stitch length is varied, to facilitate a merging and blending of the rows as it builds up.  You end up with a row of parallel stitches with a sharp edge where it goes over the split stitch edging at the edge of the shape, and a sort of feathery edge on the inside of the shape.  the next row in is worked into the feathery edge, and that row is feathery on both edges.  Apart from the edges of the shape and down the vein line, there should be no solid joins where the shading happens.  If the stitches are too short, blending is hard.  if they are too long then they wriggle about, the surface gets lumpy and the contours and shading look wrong.

Angle: as mentioned, the angle needs to be consistent, and to follow the contours if necessary.  contouring angles needs lots of concentration so that the stitches don’t pile up at one aen and spread too thinly on the other.  Surprisingly, even keeping the angle the same also requires concentration – angles have a habit of drifting.

Colour: shading happens in two directions.  not only does the shade vary as you travel into the shape – i.e. row upon row, but it also varies as you travel along a row.  so you have to plan each row and introduce new shades gradually as you go.

Spacing: like satin stitch, the stitches need to lie down parallel to one another, with no gaps between them.  To begin with, mine were a little too far apart and the fabric showed through.  This was because I was trying very hard not to get them too close together – if you do this, they all pile up and your surface and edging becomes lumpy.

Points:  the points of the design (leaf tips etc) must be pointy.  This is not as easy to achieve as it sounds.  The final stitch of a point needs to stick out further than you think it does to make the points pointy.  This only works if you have your stitch angle spot on, I discovered.

Edges: this mainly involves being very precise over exactly where your needle goes down, and spending time inspecting your work from all angles.  It is easy for edges to become a bit “nibbled”

Big picture: when you are eyes-down, it is easy to concentrate only on the current square millimetre.  I soon realised that by doing this, you can lose track of the design – the angle of the incident light, the position of a shadow etc. and if you make the shading too fiddly, you run the risk of not actually achieving your goal.  Sometimes, I thought I had changed a colour too rapidly, but when I stepped back I realised that was what was needed at that point in the design.  I found there was a great urge to obsessively blend and use lots of different colours to make transitions gentle, only to find that when I stepped back, all my careful shading averaged out into one fairly standard mid green leaf.  Once I started being more confident with my colour changes, things became a lot better.

Once we established that I was OK on the leaves, we started trying to find a set of pinks.  This was considerably more challenging.  You see, there are two kinds of pinks going on here.  There is a rosy pink, the kind of pink that starts off as pale red and gets paler and paler.  then there is what I call a “cool pink” – it starts off as a kind of lilac-pink and fades from there.  The source image I chose fits neatly RIGHT BETWEEN those two ranges of pinks, and we had a bit of a job finding what we needed.  we had to pick out a real hotch-potch of Anchor and DMC strands.  The shadows were another headache – we couldn’t match them excatly, and had to plump in the end for a set of purply-greys and some darker pinks.   They seem to be working OK though.

Starting with the pinks
Starting with the pinks

All in all, long and short shading for the beginner can be quite taxing.  Having said that, once you get going, it becomes much easier.  I think it is safe to say I am no longer scared of it.  My tutor says that it seems to come quite naturally to me – that is very nice to hear, if I could choose one technique to be a natural in, silk shading would definitely be that one.  And I am certainly enjoying myself! I can happily manage an entire day just trundling along (it really isn’t a quick technique) and have to be quite strict with myself as regards taking breaks and looking after my ergonomics.  Not to mention the fact that even the eye end of a size 10 needle is really quite sharp enough to make holes in me.  I tried a thimble, but it made me clumsy.  So I borrowed a technique from another blog and put tiny patches of superglue on the side of each middle finger where the needle rests.  It seals up the holes beautifully, and protects my finger tip without loss of dexterity.

Superglue: essential embroidery tool!
Superglue: essential embroidery tool!

So far, I have got as far as doing most of the leaves, the stems (in stem stitch), and three petals, including one with a petal turnover on. That brings us to here:

Wild Rose in her present state (early Feb 2012)
Wild Rose in her present state (early Feb 2012)

A new home, a new tutor, and a new project!

Let me get this out of the way straight away: I am really sorry for the long radio silence.  Last summer we upped sticks, and moved from our little curatage in Oxford to a new parish in West Yorkshire.  With all the packing, moving, unpacking, settling in, transferring my RSN certificate course from Hampton Court to the Durham satellite,  etc. etc., the blogging has taken a back seat.  But my needle has not been idle – far from it! More on that later.

One of the major changes to my life has been work.  Back in Oxford, I was working four days a week and squeezing the embroidery in around the edges.  After the move, I have continued working for my old employer, but I have decreased my hours, and very soon I will be stopping altogether to focus entirely on embroidery.  As well as having more stitching time, the shift in my lifestyle has had a profound effect on almost every aspect of my life: better management of my disability, seeing more of the family, and getting involved at church.   Reader, I am very pleased to be able to tell you that I am profoundly happy.

My corner of creative chaos!
My corner of creative chaos!

Another big change for us has been moving from our “bijou” terraced curate’s house in north Oxford to a vicarage.  As vicarages go, this one isn’t huge, but for us, and compared to anywhere else we have ever lived, it seems jolly spacious.  I even have my own studio, of sorts – it is actually the dining room, but it is just big enough to accommodate a desk, a sewing machine and my embroidery trestles. Never before have I had the luxury of my own little domain, where embroidery things can stay out all the time instead of having to be squirrelled away into plastic boxes and stacked up in the corners of rooms so that other people can use the house for non-embroidery-related purposes.  And what is more, this dining room – which henceforth shall be known (somewhat pretentiously) as “my studio” has a big south-facing window that floods the room with natural light and gives me a view of the garden, my bird feeders, and beyond – the Calderdale hills.  The studio is smallish, untidy, rather cobbled together as regards fixtures and furniture, and – in my humble opinion – utterly perfect.

The view from the studio in sunnier times
The view from the studio in sunnier times
A visitor in the snow
A visitor in the snow

Since moving up north, I have had to change the arrangements for my Royal School of Needlework certificate/diploma course.  Until then, I had been very happily installed at Hampton court, with wonderful tutors and a fabulous setting.  My particular part of West Yorkshire is pretty much as far away as it is possible to get from an RSN base in England, except perhaps if I lived somewhere down at the end of Cornwall or way out on the coast of East Anglia.  But nowhere is too far away in this little country of ours, and the Durham studio, run by Tracy Franklin, is about 2 and a half hours’ drive away.  Luckily, I was able to get started before Christmas by dint of a bit of ducking and weaving, pouncing on studio spaces here and there.   Since the new year, however, I have become an established Thursday girl, travelling up every other week for my fix of tuition, inspiration and fellowship with the other students.  I had been so deliriously happy at Hampton Court, I found it a real wrench to leave.  But the welcome from everyone in Durham has been very warm, and it soon became clear why Tracy’s students are so devoted. Once again I have found a place where encouragement and inspiration flows freely, and it seems to me that Tracy’s students have a deep seated trust – I think we all feel she will go the extra mile for us.  So, you see, I have well and truly landed on my feet.

I mentioned that my needle has been busy, and it is my great pleasure to introduce you to my beginner silk shading project – Wild Rose.  This is module 2 of my RSN certificate.  At certificate level, the silk shading brief is to produce a still life type design, with some form of botannical theme – flower, fruit or vegetable.  I spent a good deal of time clicking through the internet gathering inspiration.  As I went, I got a fairly good idea of what I didn’t want to do, as well as what I did.  to start off, I was pretty set on finding a British wild flower, ideally not pink, and not a cliche. I bet everyone does a wild rose, I thought.  For a long while I was pretty keen on doing a delicate blue flax flower, but I needed to get a petal turnover in (part of the brief), and flax flowers are too neat to really do that convincingly.  I really don’t know how I ended up looking at wild roses after having originally set out not to, but howe’er it was, they turned up in my Google image search, and all of a sudden my homing instinct clicked in.  Petal turnovers? check. opportunity for delicate shading? check. light and dark? check. Some larger areas of colour, check. Design that means something to me? well, actually, as it happens, yes.  The wild rose, or dog rose, was/is the favourite flower of several people who mean a lot to me, some of whom are no longer with us.  Maybe that is what made it feel so right — who knows.  Wild roses are generally white or pink, and although I am really not one for pink things, I knew that I really, REALLY did not want to spend weeks stitching with white, almost white, almost-almost white, white-going-on-cream, white-going-on-silver, apple white, not-quite-ecru, and tending-towards-lemon-yellow.  I am happy to save white for the white work module in the diploma!  So that left me with pink.  But the source image I settled on in the end was actually a free desktop wallpaper image that was offered at www.wallpoper.com (the rose is found here), and it was a nice definite pink, with a lot of light and shade, not a feeble pastel affair.

Working up the wild rose image
Working up the wild rose image – late drafts.  Not shown is the recycling basket full of distinctly mediocre attempts.

As ever (for me, anyway), the first step was to sketch it a lot.  I am not one of those quick and clever artist types who seem to be able to instantly distill out the essence of an image and effortlessly achieve correct dimensions, perspective, shading etc.  To get really familiar with the shapes, relative dimensions and shading I need to draw over and over, gradually exploring and refining the design.  The sketching and colouring in helps me to properly look at the subject.  Also, I didn’t just want to do a straight copy of the photograph, in order to fit the brief (and to satisfy my need to tinker) I added to the image in places, and simplified in others.  I made the leaf outlines simpler, changed the petal turnover, added a second turnover.  I also widened the stems and added thorns, and finished off the leaves that were cut off in the photo.  I worked feverishly on all of this before my first trip to Durham, in order to make a good impression on my new tutor.  I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I packed it all carefully into my portfolio the night before.

Ha.  Hahahaha.

What did I do? I bloomin’ well forgot to take the portfolio with me to Durham.  I remembered my slate frame, my lunch, my needle book, my wheelchair, my favourite scissors, my pretty glass-topped pins and a whole array of haberdashery.  But not the flipping design! So much for first impressions.  I am lucky that my tutor and the Revd Dr bailed me out.  As I trawled up the M1 in terrible traffic towards Durham, I was on the hands-free to my husband, who was rapidly learning to use the scanner function on my computer, and scanning and emailing all of my work to Tracy.  So when I finally arrived, late and rather flustered, Wild Rose was there, ready and waiting for me, as was a much needed cup of coffee! I was able to get her (Rose is a she, naturally) transferred on to a pretty piece of pale beige silk and frame up.

Framing up Wild Rose
Framing up Wild Rose

All that hat has brought us up to approximately mid November, 2014, approximately three months ago as I type this.  Since then, my relationship with Rose has, shall we say, blossomed (sorry).  There is lots to tell about my first foray into long and short shading, and really, it deserves a post all of its own.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait months this time! 

Jacobean birdy is finished!

In my imagination, there are literally hundreds of blog readers out there, waiting with bated breath, all asking themselves “But what has happened to Emma’s embroidery? Why hasn’t she sent an update?”  To answer the second question first, I have been incredibly, breathlessly busy.  I ended up having to finish birdy in an almighty rush to get it finished before the end of the summer term, because it became apparent that we were going to be moving house to West Yorkshire in August, and that would mean that I would need to transfer my studies from Hampton Court Palace to the Durham RSN satellite.  I couldn’t bear the idea of getting so close but not finishing, and having to move to a different venue and new tutor with a nearly finished piece, and my tutors at HCP not being able to see the finished article.  That required some serious hard graft, including several very late nights.  On the last night, I was determined to stay up until it was finished.

At 1am, disaster struck.  My bobbin of the palest green ran out.  When I went to replace it with a new skein, there wasn’t one… And I realised that I had actually used two whole appletons skeins of it, and that was all I had.  I could have cried – how could I have got this far only to run out of a colour so close to the end? But then my eye fell on my orts pot (orts = leftovers).  I have a little pot made out of the bottom half of a plastic bottle, and it is attached to my trestle so that I can pop the little odds and ends in there so they don’t get tangled up with the working thread.  Sifting through the leftovers, I found a few lengths that were not too fluffy, frayed or short.  Thank goodness I hadn’t emptied the thing!

The orts pot that saved my bacon!
The orts pot that saved my bacon!

I made it as far as 3am before my poor hands could no longer hold a needle and my spine would no longer hold me up (you will remember I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, that causes constant pain and fatigue, and injury is extremely easy).  To my disappointment, I still had the hillock outlines to do, and of course serendipitous butterfly to insert.

The night before my last day at Hampton Court Palace.  Working to 3am got the fillings into those hillocks, but the outlines were still to do, and still a paint splodge to be turned into a butterfly!
The night before my last day at Hampton Court Palace. Working to 3am got the fillings into the hillocks, but the outlines were still to do, and still a paint splodge to be turned into a butterfly!

I got to Hampton Court early, and sat down knowing I was going to have to stitch very concertedly if I was going to finish.  I knew I wasn’t going to get it completely mounted, it takes a full day to do that.  I would have to be content with just finishing the actual design… but even that was going to be a struggle.  This isn’t a blog about Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, or I could write a comprehensive essay on the things that were aching, burning, creaking, popping and swelling. To add to my woes, it was a hot June day.  One of the things that often happens with EDS is that the autonomic nervous system misbehaves, and this leaves us with the rather baffling ability to get heat stroke if the temperature goes above the level our bodies are accustomed to, even if objectively speaking, that is ‘only’ 23 celsius.  So there I was, three hours sleep and in a bad way, locked into a battle to subdue a bird.  First, the borders of the hillocks went in – raised chain band.  I did all the ones in the background, but when I got to the long one along the front I had to change plan.  The weaving in and out required for raised chain was not easy with worked areas either side to snag the needle, and fingers that felt like they didn’t belong to me.  It felt like I was battling every stitch.  And anyway, I felt like the foreground needed a little something different.  It would need to be raised and textural to go with the raised chain band on the other borders, and it needed to be QUICK!  Everyone else had gone for lunch at this point (not I – oh no!).  The answer was french knots, worked in two or three strands, with different colours of green mixed in the needle to give dimension and shading.  I also added some little groups of five light blue knots, like flowers strewn in a grassy meadow.  I don’t know how many french knots there are in that front foreground border – hundreds.  I certainly got good at doing french knots!  When the tutors got back from lunch they were amazed by how quickly I had done them.  French knots are often seen as fiddly, but really, compared with the raised chain band and the needle weaving that had gone before, they were refreshingly simple!

2pm, and the planned work was finished.  But what about the unplanned bit? do you remember back when I was pouncing and painting the design, I splodged my paint?  I named my splodge serendipitous butterfly, and determined that the splodge would become the body of a butterfly.  Wearily (and with trepdation) I took up my pencil to draw a freehand butterfly on my canvas.  Under normal circumstances, it is not a good idea to draw straight on to your canvas when you are incredibly tired and your hands are swollen and unresponsive.  Yet that is what I did, not having a whole lot of choice available at the time.  Then I threaded up some blue and improvised a stitch plan.  I based it on a gold work butterfly I did for something else… I think it came out all right, considering!

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After casting off serendipitous butterfly, I fussed and fretted over some details before finally realising…. It was finished.  You might think my first reaction would be relief, or joy, or pride… no, my first reaction was loss. I actually cried.  Birdy had become such a friend, a guide through my first attempt at “real” embroidery.  I had loved every second spent with him, even the painful ones.  But after some gentle words from my tutors, and some lovely admiration from my student colleagues (all of whom are talented embroideres whom i respect enormously) all of those other feelings came along as well.  I am proud of my jacobean birdy, as well as being very grateful to all who encouraged and supported me.

2014-06-19 15.25.08

Finished - both birdy and me!
Finished – both birdy and me!