Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spring Daisies

I took the morning off - I know, shock - horror!!!!
Al-Ru Farm where we regularly go to do photography for Inspirations magazine had their beautiful garden open to the public today. I always come home full of gardening enthusiasm after a photo-shoot at Al-Ru and have long wanted to show Adrian this stunning garden. So off we went, picking his parents up on the way. The gardens were just amazing - as always. I simply love that place.....

As always when I teach, my fingers were itching to pick up a needle myself when I got home after the Or Nué workshop yesterday. Before I could, there was no way out of taking Tess for a walk. I am convinced our darling dog knows when it is the weekend and she simply won't leave me alone until we have been out - so sadly I went to bed with itching fingers and pile of sketches. Looking at them today I was glad I didn't start stitching anything - they are all a bit too intricate for Or Nué - well at least I think I need more practise before attempting any of them.  

While out yesterday, I picked a beautifully, simple white daisy. This perfect model is now sitting next to me while I get my new piece under way - completely and happily ignoring the mile long 'to-do' list on my desk. Sometimes designing takes a long time and lots of 'tweeking', but this one kind of just fell into place. It is going to be clean and fresh, just like spring.

I padded the flower centre with a single layer of wool felt which I have cut a little bit smaller than the marked centre because I want to create a bit of a void between the flower centre and the start of the laid gold. For what I am planning to do, it just needs a little bit. The felt is held in place with just a few stitches around the edge and then I edged it with blanket stitch. These stitches are worked along the marked centre line and onto the felt, giving me a little ridge to lay the gold up against as well as pulling the edge of the felt down smoothly.
 Before I start the gold, I decided to cover the felt with a soft green. The centre will later be filled with metal, but I am planning to let the underlying stitches show through just a little bit. Normally I would work the satin stitch over the edge of the blanket stitch, but today I chose not to. I want to retain the purl edge of the blanket stitch to support some stitching I have planned for later. For this kind of underlying satin stitch, I will usually choose surface satin stitch - where the needle goes to the back and emerge on the same side of the area so that only a tiny stitch is formed on the back. Why? Firstly this method uses half the amount of thread, and secondly; these stitches will be largely covered with stitching later so it doesn't matter if the felt is not perfectly covered and the twist of the silk is going back and forth so the sheen not a crisp as it would otherwise be.

I was really in two minds about the metal thread to use. The lighter colour of my #6 passing thread is the light and bright colour I am after, but I really don't like this particular thread as it is rather stiff and rigid.  I much prefer to work with 371 couching thread, which I only have in extra dark gold at the moment.....choices, choices.
Being totally impatient today, I have decided to compromise on colour and use the the 371 - if I don't like it I can always unpick and start again, can't I?
I am using some silks I have had since college years for the couching. I have no idea what they are but wish I can find something similar one day.  They are really fine, four strands and the closest I have found since are Pearsalls fine silk. It is very fine and doesn't catch and fray as easily as filament silk. I am using a crisp white and and a pale putty colour. Traditionally pastels were not used in Or Nué but I think if the colouring if fairly dense it could work really well to achieve a more delicate effect. Time will tell if I am right.

If you would like to join me on this little experiment, let me know and I can send you the design - or you can just draw you own. It could be fun having someone else stitching along. 

I usually don't attempt metal thread work at night - the glare on the metal from the light is too hard on the eyes and I often end up unpicking in the morning..... might just make an exception tonight though since my fingers are still itching.

Have a lovely week,

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Coloured Gold

Yesterday was a somewhat productive day - well as productive as it can get with something as beautifully slow as Or Nué fitted in between loads of washing and the other usual weekend stuff. Looking at the three little samples on my desk, it is doesn't really look like two solid days of stitching.

I am preparing for a workshop at the Embroiderers' Guild of South Australia at the end of the month which is part of their Certificate Course and I am really looking forward to it. I have decided not to prepare kits for the workshop but will instead encourage the participants to stitch their own designs. I have done some Or Nué in the past, but not for a little while, so it is a fantastic opportunity for me to brush up on a really beautiful technique. Though I am not preparing a set design, I will be giving out notes to help get everyone on the right track and hopefully inspire them to practise and experiment with this beautiful type of embroidery.

In essence Or Nué, or shaded gold, is a style of embroidery where the ground fabric is completely covered in metallic thread (traditionally gold). The design itself is picked out by using coloured silks to couch the metal threads in place. It sounds simple enough and in many ways it is, it just takes lots of practise to get a really good result.

Hood of cope worked in Or Nue. ca.1900, depicting Pentecost. Owned by St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Philidelpia. Image by Davis D'Ambly. (wikimedia)

When I started flicking through my books, it quickly struck me how little is written about Or Nué. The most comprehensive piece I found was two pages in Ecclesiastical Embroidery  by Beryl Dean, in which she writes: "It [Or Nué] is the quintessence of all that is lovely in gold work. Colour and gold merge into each other with a unique richness. Unfortunately this technique is seldom practised now, partly because it is not only one of the most difficult, but the slowest of all methods; also its uses are limited and it calls for an exceptional creative and artistic understanding in the execution".
Apart from the bit about it beauty, it is hardly the kind of introduction that makes you think "yes, I really want to try that".
Large lily worked on the back of a chasuble.
Design by HM Queen Magarethe II. Design by Lilian Christiansen. Danish 1992.

This stunning lily was the first piece of Or Nué I ever saw - talk about inspiring and contemporary. Isn't it just amazing? Lilian Christiansen was my boss when I worked at the Society for Ecclesiastical Arts and Craft in Copenhagen while I was studying and her skills as an embroiderer, as you can see, are amazing.

In traditional Or Nué the gold threads are laid down in pairs in straight lines, back and forth across the shape as you can see in the Mary's robes in the depiction of the Pentecost. The shading and movement is achieved by the use of the coloured threads. What I find really interesting is what happens when you change the direction of the laid threads, like the lily above. Suddenly there is the additional dimension created by the reflection of the coloured threads.

For the workshop I have prepared the same little motif - a small leaf, all stitched with a single colour in three different ways: One with the metal laid in straight lines, one worked in a circle and finally following the contours of the shape. All three are embroidered in a similar way, with densely coloured lines along design lines and spaced stitches within the shape for shading. Because the motif is so small (2.5cm or 1"), I chose to couch over one thread only instead of a pair of threads as is more common in larger pieces. Pairing the threads would have caused too much detail to get lost in such a small design.
As you can see, the contoured method does not work well at all on such a small shape - the one worked in rows certainly results in the clearest motif.

I like working in circles and it is by fare the quickest (nothing quick about Or Nué at all) so just for fun and because I was enjoying the calm of working with metal I stitched the little swirly pattern and made it into a small brooch. It is a little wonky around the edges, and would need more couching stitches on the final round if I was to do it again.

I hope that by the end of next Saturday I have managed to spark the Or Nué curiosity in a few more dedicated stitchers. If you would like to read more about this technique and have a look at a multi coloured piece in pregress, have a go, have a look at Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread.

I have to run, need to help with the sheep. After that - I just had an idea for a larger piece of, yes your guessed it.... Or Nué, something a little more demanding.

Until next time.. happy stitching,
Anna x

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Good things take time

I do love Sundays, such a pity that there aren’t two of them in any given week! 

Wandering through the vineyard this morning, the vines are just starting to bud. Looking at them at this time of year it is hard to imagine that in a few months they will again be as lush as they were when they inspired me to draw this piece of crewelwork.

It is such a good feeling to finish a piece, especially one that has been in the making for a long time and this one is no exception. I don't dare say just how long these cheeky parrots have been in the frame for – let’s just say that along the way, they spent 3 ½ years packed up in a box while my ’workroom’ was set up in the old caravan.
When I at long last did get them unpacked, I started by unpicking most of the leaves. I guess my ideas of what works had changed and the original leaves, embroidered with trellis fillings, were just too busy once the parrots were added. I often do a lot of ’reverse stitching’, so despite the slight setback it usually is well worth the effort at the end.

The parrots were such fun to stitch. I am particularly pleased with the texture on their blue heads and green backs. The heads was an accidental discovery when I was trying to find a short-cut. I wanted to fill them with rows of chain stitch, all worked in the same direction. After the first row I was debating whether to finish off the thread or drag it across the back – it wasn't that long a distance, so if I anchored it part way it would be ok. Then I wondered what it would look like if I worked a row of stem stitch on the return…really, really happy with the result.
The backs are embroidered in burden stitch. Most people, myself included find this stitch a ’burden’ when they first try it. It is now one of my favourite stitches and it somehow manages to find its way into all of my latest crewelwork designs. I find that the trick is to begin the short overlaying stitches across the widest part of a shape and make sure there is a generous needle’s width between the overlaying stitches.

So now that the cheeky parrots are finished and blocked, I just need to tidy up the yarns and then what? ….Crewel? Stumpwork? Perhaps gold?
Happy stitching,
Anna x

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hello World

So I am taking a deep breath and dive into my first post with lots of excitement and anticipation. Blogging is a new adventure for me and it seems like the perfect place to record and keep track of where my embroidery is taking me, what I am up and where I am heading. This going to be my space for taking notes of what I am working on and what I achieve. I want to celebrate what I do, and share what I know and learn along the way. I invite you to follow my journey if you like.

My little space in the blogging world will mostly be about embroidery or stitching or needlecraft - whichever description fits best on the day, but it will also be about the important things in my life that keeps me from stitching; my family, my home and my garden. After all, that is the universe in which I design and embroider.

Since I was a little girl, I have been playing and making things with thread, yarn and fabrics. Over the years embroidery has become the most important, and at times all consuming part of what I do every day. It has taken me to places I never had thought possible, I have met the most amazing people, even royalty and made great friendships. I know this incredible journey is not about to stop any time soon. I have some pretty exciting plans and am certain that what comes next in my stitching journey is going to be rather special to me. 

I have been teaching around the place for quite some time now and when I recently moved into my new work space, I discovered that the pile of workshop projects in my cupboard was quite large. It seems such a pity to have them all stashed away like that, so one of the things high on my To-do list is to get the most popular projects as well as some brand new designs ready as kits and downloadable patterns. They will be available from my shop Anna Scott Embroidery.

Jacobean Leaves is one such design. It was designed as a crewelwork stitch sampler for the Embroiderers' Guild of South Australia, so there is plenty of fun and exciting stitches to try. The original notes did not have all the stitch diagrams included so that is what I am currently adding to the instructions. As soon as it is ready I will let you know. 

But now I must go. I have a workshop on Or Nué to prepare and I am really looking forward to the methodical pace of metal thread embroidery. 

Until next time...

Anna x