Birds everywhere


Today has been my day off, so I got to play with the bird some more. As I feared, the bird has become a Friend.  He even looks a bit less angry/griffin-like now, and more bird-of-paradise-y and affable. I’m going to have to watch out, he might not be suitable, or might need significant editing to fit within the scope of the assignment.  I need to resist the urge to give him a name and fixate upon him…

But I have scanned him in, and made lots of copies in different sizes and “mirror imaged” him in case I need him to face the other way. I’m planning to colour in and play with textures and patterns. The re-sizing has highlighted a potential problem: birdy is quite big. The original birdy is on A4, and takes up most of it. I knew as I drew him he would be too big, because the entire project with all the other elements is supposed to be A4.  But I couldn’t resist adding detail, and now I have shrunk him to a suitable size, the detail looks too small to work in crewel wool. Hmm. He may have to be simplified. Poor birdy. I think I need to move away from him for a bit and do some leaves and fruit before I get any more attached to him!

Immersing myself in Jacobean crewel work

A sketch of  a bird of paradise
A sketch of a bird of paradise

I have made a start on my research for the first module of my RSN certificate.  The topic for this module is Jacobean crewel work – not something I have done a lot of, except for the little robin sampler that is my current “work in progress”

Crewel work robin from a Nicola Jarvis kit
Crewel work robin from a Nicola Jarvis kit

As you can see, that is not a vast amount of experience….

Crewel work is very Venerable.  It makes it clear in the course notes that the project should have a traditional flavour – we aren’t looking for anything too creatively contemporary.  And that’s quite good for a first assignment, because Jacobean work tends to draw heavily on some staple themes, an there is a huge amount of inspiration easily available via a quick “Google image” search.  The central  part of a traditional crewel work project is a stem with large and fanciful leaves, called a “tree of life”.  The idea is that these leaves are shaded and filled with lots of different intricate patterns and textures, worked in wool (the term “crewel” seems to derive from an old English word for wool)  The colours are very important too – you often see the same sorts of khaki greens, saffron yellow, duck-egg blues and rusty reds cropping up – I guess that reflects the sort of dyes commonly available for wool in days gone by.  You use a palette of very closely matched shades to achieve depth and shading.  All of this is really very new to me, so I am reading and surfing and gathering ideas.  Three things leap out at me from my quick skim.  Obviously, the tree of life and some foliage.  Then another common thing is fruit  – often a stylized split-open pomegranate, which gives a good opportunity for textured lattice type fillings.  But the one that really made me quite excited was the bird of paradise.  I am a real nature lover, and I love taking photos of birds, so it isn’t surprising I am drawn to the birds.  Tonight I have spent a very pleasant evening sketching my own bird of paradise.  It has a way to go yet – it think it might need to go a bit more “stylized” (read:”wacky”) yet, and I need to work it in to a complete design.  I think I might try to get birdy looking at a pomegranate on a tree.  But the other thing I must not do is get too carried away!  I need to hand over my ideas to my tutors, and they will have suggestions for how to make it into a “proper” jacobean design.  There is no point rocking up with a completed design – just something to work with.  So I need to work through some elements, think about colour balance etc.  That is my project for a little while, I thought you might like to see it from scratch.

The Royal School of Needlework – and me!

Something rather exciting happened this week.  On Thursday, I went to Hampton Court Palace. Not to go and see this wonderful, grand and historic playground of King Henry VIII, but for something entirely different.  You see, tucked away in an upstairs apartment off the Fountain Court resides the headquarters of the Royal School of Needlework.  Anyone can visit, by prior arrangement, and they frequently have exhibitions of embroidered work from their huge collection of archived and donated work.  But my visit was for more personal reasons.  For a while now I have been pondering the question “how do I make the leap from enthusiastic amateur to professional level embroiderer?”  Many people have been very kind about my work and my designs, but I know I need to step it up a gear so that I can set about designing (and taking commissions!) with more confidence.  over two years ago at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, I found myself at the stall of the RSN, and the lovely lady there gave me a leaflet about their courses, and showed me some of the exquisite work of their certificate and diploma students.  My first thought was “too expensive” followed by “I could never be that good”.  I bought a book from them and went on my way.  In the year that followed, I got increasingly itchy-fingered as regards the embroidery vocation idea.  I tried out different ways of honing my skills, with books and practice and workshops, not to mention other people’s blogs (like Mary Corbet over on Needle n Thread) and YouTube tutorials, but it was very slow going.  Without some sort of structure or critical assessment it feels a bit like stumbling around in the dark.

In search of the perfect techniqe: satin stitch
In search of the perfect technique: satin stitch

The following October found me at the knitting and stitching show again, and yes, there I was again, looking wistfully at the RSN brochure.  But somehow, this time, the cost didn’t put me off quite so much, to the point I was wondering if it could be somehow managed. Also looking at the work on display made me think “I want to stitch like that” instead of “I could never stitch like that”.

So that is how I came to be visiting the RSN last Thursday, with a head full of questions and ideas and the inevitable self-doubt.  After surmounting the inevitable challenges of accessing a second floor apartment in a historic royal palace with my thoroughly 21st century wheelchair, I was shown into a smallish room where around 10 people were sitting around the walls facing into the room, each one in their own little work space pod of embroidery heaven.  All of them were embroidering amazing projects, all completely different.  Two tutors moved between them, and there was a quietly productive, friendly sort of a atmosphere.  The tutors assured me that they would help me with everything step by step, so that I could start producing the work that I wanted to be able to achieve.  The course is four modules : Jacobean crewel work, silk shading, gold work (yay!), and a choice of canvas stitches or blackwork.  Each module includes 8 teaching days that can be booked as convenient, so it is completely flexible, and will fit with my current job and family commitments.

Did I sign up? Of course I did – there and then!  My first teaching days are booked in early March, and I will soon be totally immersed in Jacobean crewel work, very busy, and hatching schemes to fund my next module.  Excited just doesn’t cover it!

2014-01-25 15.01.03


This excited post is dedicated to mum, who not only encouraged me to go for it, but also put up actual cash to help with the cost.  Thanks mum!


Emerging into the blogosphere

Goodness me. I am writing a blog.

If you are reading this, my first ever blog post, it probably means that you are either a friend or family member who has received a link, or you have entered a keyword like “embroidery” or even “clergy wife” and clicked through to my blog to see whether I’ve got anything useful or interesting to say.  At this moment in time, I have to say your guess is as good as mine! I’m waiting to see where this takes me as well.

From a Hazel Everett Workshop
From a Hazel Everett Workshop

I never saw myself as a blogger. Why would anyone want to read my ramblings, and anyway, what would I ramble about? But recently, a few things have conspired together to change my mind.  Casting my eye around me, I can see a part worked crewel work robin, various completed gold work and surface embroidery projects, new-to-me second hand sewing/embroidery machine, and a burgeoning stash of silk, stranded cotton, metal threads, art and craft materials, source books, yarns, needles… and it is all calling to me. My enjoyable pastime is getting serious.  I love my job (I’m a clinical trial manager four days a week), and being with my husband and six year old son.  Being a clergy wife is also something I am deeply committed to, things like fund-raising and leading children’s church come with the territory. Then there is this disability thing too.  I have a genetic malformation of my connective tissue, which renders the tissues of my body stretchy and fragile. The most obvious problem is that it affects my mobility, and I can be seen stumbling about with sticks or being rather more elegant and using my wheelchair, but there are more subtle and more debilitating affects that sap my energy, steal my time, and put limits on what I can do on any given day. I will probably write about Ehlers Danlos Syndrome separately and in more detail at some point.  But the point is this: I am really quite a busy person, and a lot of what I do is fulfilling and rather  lovely.  So why do I find myself plotting and scheming to find five minutes together to practise my satin stitch? and why is it becoming more and more urgent to me that I get to a professional level in design and execution?  The thing is, I’ve seen this pattern before.  I’m married to a priest, remember? I ought to know a vocation when I see one.

Ordination stole
Ordination stole

The blog is partly about admitting to myself that my creative hobbies, particularly embroidery, need to be taken seriously.  I need to organise thoughts and inspiration, and figure out how to move towards making it a profession.  I’ve been keeping little notes here and there for a while now, maybe it is time to get organised. there’s also an element of hope: maybe blogging will be a source of more inspiration, and maybe even some encouragement.  But I do have to admit, amongst these high ideals, that a big part of what finally launched me into the blogosphere was Alice, who sat here and insisted that I open a wordpress account RIGHT NOW, and just “get on with it”.  Alice, it’s all your fault.

Vine leaves, ordination stole