Jacobean birdy is finished!

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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.

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

Author: emmafrith76

I am an embroiderer, learning to craft my art with the Royal School of Needlework in the studio of my tutor, Tracy Franklin. I am a vicar's wife and children's church volunteer., and yes, I really do bake and make jam. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. My wheelchairs and my scooter are my freedom and I love them.

5 thoughts on “Jacobean birdy is finished!”

  1. Hurrah! Well done Emma – birdy looks absolutely wonderful!! Hope you are now catching up on some sleep …

  2. Congratulations, Emma! The finished product is amazing, and I had no idea the amount of single-minded concentration and study required to achieve it. Bravo 🙂

  3. Dear Emma,

    I just fell on your website and have much enjoyed catching up with your enthusiasm and talent. I have just enrolled at the RSN after a couple of years on internal debate, I am sure you know the one I mean, to start in October as an oversea’s student. So excited and happy to be finally doing this but a little overwhelmed when I see your skill and your beautiful bird. Congratulations on completing your project. I am just looking a different ideas but is it difficult to be original when there is so much material out there? Did you do much practise before you started and how is the course structured in terms of work time in the studio and outside? As you can see, I haven’t yet had my course notes. Please keep up your blog, you see it is not only family and friends who read it. Best regards, Veronica

    1. Hello veronica, thank you for your comment. I am so glad you found my blog, and congrats on enrolling! I hope you are enjoying it. I am sorry it has taken so long to respond to your comment, shortly after my last post I moved house, and now I am rather belatedly getting back to blogging! As regards practising – definitely not. The bird you see is my first ever crewel work project! and like you I spent ages trawling for ideas, before deciding I wanted to do a bird. After that I just sat down with a pencil and a pile of paper, and started doodling birds. When I had a bird shape i was happy with, I started on fruit and stems and leaves. to assemble the finished design I found it helpful to copy elements, then cut them out and arrange them on a blank sheet of paper, before tracing the finished arrangement. I actually really enjoy designing and drawing, but I found it reassuring to note that the certificate is judged on the technical execution rather than design ability, and I know that others who started after me came to their first session without firm ideas about their design, and the tutors helped them to draft something actually in the first session.

      Thank you for your kind words about my bird – I hope by now you have settled in to RSN life, and you know that the tutors are so friendly and supportive, and anything but intimidating. I found they were very good at building my confidence. Like you I was nervous when I started, and I had seen other people’s work and I was quite sure I could never be that good. But when you are in the studio, you are surrounded by like-minded embroiderers, the creativity flows, and I found myself producing embroidery that was streets ahead of anything I had ever done before. It is exactly the same now I am settled in Durham with Tracy Franklin. I really hope you are enjoying your course as much as I am!

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