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! 

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