Post written 27th march – sorry, I wrote it but got behind!
My trip to Hampton court last week saw me packed up as if I was planning to move in. Slate frames are not small! Fortunately, I had been given a giant plastic bag for it, which also contained my A3 portfolio with my stitch plan, colour plan, and my completed pricking. then there was a rucksack containing my seat frame with practice stitches on it, my wools and needles and scissors and bits and bats… and my lunch. I have a fold down luggage rack on the front of my chair which took the frame bag, the rucksack went on the back, and my handbag on my lap. and tentatively and precariously, I wheeled myself over to the apartment looking like a variety of pack animal.
The pricking of JB. I will keep it safe, because it can be used again, if I want to recycle any part of the design
When I got there, we pounced my pricking. I realize this jargon sounds a bit weird, so here is the explanation for the uninitiated! From the last update, you will remember that I had got as far as finishing the design on paper. So the next thing to do is to transfer the design. To do this, first I traced it on to some strong tracing paper. then I went around all of the lines with a kind of mounted needle, pricking evenly-spaced holes around all of the outline. when that is done, the pricking is pinned into position on the framed up fabric. next, a fine grey powder made of ground charcoal and (I think) cuttlefish bone is applied to the pricking. The powder is called “pounce”, and by varying the proportions of the ingredients, it can be nearly black to pure white. With a rolled up pad of felt (a “pouncer”), you gently move the pounce over the smooth top surface of the pricking with a circular movement. it only takes a tiny bit of pounce to do a big pricking. When you have pounced the whole design, you remove the pricking, and lo! you have a lovely “join-the-dots” version of your design. The next job is to find a very fine brush and some tubes of watercolour. You need to mix a colour that is similar to the background, that contrasts just enough to be seen. For my linen twill, yellow ochre and a spot of ultramarine made a dull taupe colour that did the trick. It needs to be the consistency of single cream – not too watery that it splodges everywhere (more on splodges later!) and not so thick that it won’t go on. Then you join the pounced dots with a very thin line of paint. Once the paint is dry, you turn the frame over and give your (drum tight!) fabric a couple of smart taps to get rid of the pounce. a baby brush on the front surface sees to any remaining bits. you are left with a painted version of your design.
This is the version of events that is blithely trotted out at the beginning of all the RSN stitch guide books, and it is very definitely best practice. But there are drawbacks. The first is that you will almost certainly have to make your own pounce, unless you are good friends with a professional needleworker who has a secret supplier. Once you have mastered pounce alchemy with your pestle and mortar, you have to make yourself a pouncer (tightly rolled felt sewed into a cylinder) and mount a needle somehow (this can be as simple as sticking a crewel needle in a cork, though you can buy purpose made pricker needle mounts). so much for the prick and pounce. But what about the painting? well. Even if you are an experienced painter, you will soon find that painting on linen twill is a bit of a pain in the behind. It is ridged in texture, and it seems to dislike the paint. I wasn’t able to achieve a lovely thin, even line. Even the floor boards in the work room were conspiring against me – every time someone walked past, they bounced and I blobbed. Then for some inexplicable reason, I did a REALLY big blob, where a really big blob should not be! Ooops. Not much to be done about it, except turn it into a “feature”. so Jacobean Birdy looks set to gain a Serendipitous Butterfly for a friend!
After the painting was done, we were ready for real stitching. as with all projects, you start with the rear-most elements, and for Jacobean Birdy (Shall we call him JB?) that means the main stems and the hillocks. The main stems are going to be worked in a stem band, so that means that the first job is to lay down a foundation like a ladder all the way up, with the stitches evenly spaced 2-3 mm apart. the stem band will be woven around these stitches. The large infills for the hillocks will be a good place to show off the textured stitches, so I have started with laying down a lattice in one and burden stitch in another. Burden stitch is not something I have tried before and it was a surprise headache. all the stitches have to be so even, so well spaced, so vertical… It took 3 attempts to get this far and I am still not sure about it!