Getting started with ‘Jacobean Birdy’ – design, colour choice and framing up

On 6th March I had my first day at the RSN, kicking off for my first module in the Certificate.  You will remember that the first module is Jacobean Crewel Work, something I haven’t really done before.  The first day of the course is given over to design work, framing up, and colour selection.  I arrived bright and early on a sunny day, with the Hampton Court bulbs in glorious colour – a beautiful spring scene. I had a folder full of sketches I had made of some possible design elements.  I didn’t design the whole thing ahead of time, because it is important for the tutors to be involved, to ensure that the design is well balanced, not too complex or too bland, and to make sure there is plenty of scope to demonstrate technical ability on a good range of stitches.  But I did make sure I put in a lot of research, and sketched out a number of different ideas in different shapes and sizes so that we could pick things out that would work.  You may remember the birdy that I came up with a few weeks ago.  After Birdy  came Strange Fruit.  Strange Fruit caused a bit of hassle.  I was after something pomegranate-like (the stylised pomegranate is a very common feature in Jacobean work), but all the pomegranates I saw on my Google images search left me feeling rather diffident.  Pomegranates, I felt, should be swollen, ripe, bursting with seeds and juice and be somehow sensual.  I pulled off a load of pictures of real pomegranates to act as inspiration, and I found myself fascinated by the way the fruit develops, and the lovely shapes it makes.  But I still couldn’t actually seem to draw what I wanted until about 2 days before my course was due to start, until one afternoon at work it suddenly hit me and  I sketched this on a piece of printer paper:


It is part flower and part fruit, and it appears to be wearing a corset. there are deep slashes to reveal the juice-filled interior – it feels almost indecent, though it is only a fruit!  finally I had something that ticked all my “pomegranate” boxes.   Anyway, that’s enough about pomegranates, I have got off topic.  My first job on arrival at the RSN was to assemble everything into a suitable design.  My tutors were wonderfully supportive and encouraging, and it didn’t take very long to come up with a design that included both Birdy and Strange Fruit.  I am very keen to put my design up here, but before I do so – a gentle word on copyright.  I have drawn these designs myself, and I may want to re-use them in the future.  Please respect my work and property, and don’t use my designs without consent.  Also, if you see anyone else using my designs, please do tell me.  With that little bit of housekeeping out of the way, here is a little sneak preview of my stitch plan:

Stitch Plan for "Jacobean Birdy with Strange Fruit" [working title!]
Stitch Plan for “Jacobean Birdy with Strange Fruit” [working title!]

With the design finalised, I traced it neatly on to heavy tracing paper ready to make my pricking (more on design transfer next time) and started on framing up my linen twill.  To keep the fabric stretched taut in all directions, we are using a slate frame.  This is a very traditional heavy wooden frame (Mary Corbet has a photo tutorial about them here on needle ‘n’ thread if you are interested).  Sewing and stretching the fabric took most of the afternoon, but I did have a quick break to peruse the collection of Appletons Crewel wool with my tutors to choose a colour scheme. I wanted the accent colour to be orange, which left me the two other main colours to pick.  The design brief told me I needed to pick two main colours in five intensities/shades and one accent colour.  Appleton’s wool has a two digit  colour number, followed by a third digit that denotes the dye concentration used.  So for example, my three oranges are 866, 865 and 864, with 866 being the darkest and 864 being the lightest. After pulling out various hanks in lovely colours, we found a combination that really attracted and interested me, and seemed to set each other off nicely – that is them on the top of this post.  I hope you like them as much as I do.  Jack the degu would have quite liked them to make a nest out of, but I didn’t let him get his paws on them!

"Mum says that wool is cruel; it had better not try anything on her or I will shred it and make a nest out of it!"
“Mum says that wool is cruel; it had better not try anything on her or I will shred it and make a nest out of it!”

By the end of the day at Hampton Court I was totally exhausted, but even though I hadn’t got as far as casting on, I had achieved loads.  A design, a stitch plan, a colour scheme and some framed up fabric.  The other students and the tutors made kind remarks about my design, which I found very touching, although the design is about A3 size and quite complex – it is going to be a tough job getting it all done! I was sent away with instructions to finish my pricking, transfer the design and practice my stitches – I look forward to showing you what I have been doing on that score.  But we’ll leave that for another blog.

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