Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back in business

I am a little bit excited...

 ...Paternayan is back in business!
So what is the big deal, you might ask. - Well, firstly, as you may already be aware, I have a bit of a love affair happening when it comes to working with wool in general, and secondly, and more importantly - Paternayan is an amazingly beautiful yarn that I used for a couple of blankets and other smaller projects a few years ago before the company sadly had to close.

When it comes to sumptuous, fat embroidery wool there is not a great deal to choose from (that I know of), so I was pretty disappointed when the yarns were no longer available. The only yarn I found that came close is Stand Mohair Embroidery Yarn from New Zealand. It is a beautiful yarn (I used it for the Tote bag I did recently) with a lovely sheen due to it being part mohair, but it is more expensive, the colour range is smaller and it is more difficult to come by than Paternayan - And it is back!

What I love about Paternayan (apart from the 400+ colours!) is that it has a lot more body than other woollen yarns and therefore such good coverage that you can work up quite sizable designs in no time.

Paternayan comes as a loosely twisted three stranded yarn and you separate the stands the same way you would stranded cotton and silk.I am not sure how it would go on linen but it is my absolutely preferred yarn on blanketing and it is so lovely to handle - soft and smooth, and no where nearly as 'hairy' as Appleton crewel yarn. It is also firmer twisted than Appleton crewel wool (the one below in the picture to the right) so the stitches don't sink into the fabric as much, which gives the designs much more body. I guess you could compare it to the difference between stranded and perle thread.

So I have been in stitch heaven this weekend 'whipping up' a new project, but I can't tell you just yet what it is. Sorry.

I hope you too had a lovely weekend.
Anna x

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Woolly Winter

The weather has been terrible all weekend... which is great, because then I don't feel I have to go and do things outside (though my poor garden is in terrible need of some TLC).

The boys are away this weekend riding motorbikes so I have the house to myself. I like being home on my own from time to time. There is something about a quiet house that I find strangely comforting. So, yesterday I  had a monster embroidery day. I think I stitched for a good 12 hours while working my way through a pile of old CDs. I haven't done that in ages and it was just so, so nice.
I rarely work on a project for more than a few hours at a time so everything seems to take forever to complete, but it is really amazing what can be achieved when I can concentrate on something for decent amount of time.
I finished my last project for Beating Around the Bush next year. I won't show you the whole thing yet - that would be cheating since the programme is not out until November but here is a little teaser....

It is a piece of crewel work, a smaller version of Meadow Bloom, which I feel was too involved for a two day class. I prefer that students at end of my classes are so close to finishing a project that it doesn't end up at the bottom of a drawer. I think this one will be perfect and I can't wait to show you whole piece and tell you more about it. 

I am particularly happy about the upper edge of this leaf - the photo doesn't quite show the texture well enough. 

Wool does take a bit of getting used to and I didn't like it at first but you may have guessed that I am long converted. I love working with wool - Yes it is hairy and I do love the smoothness of silk and cotton too, but there is something cosy and warm about woollen yarns that you simply cannot get from any other fibre. And it is SO forgiving and fills areas beautifully - it kind of flattens out on the fabrics.

If you don't like the feel of wool here are a few TIPS that I find make it easier:
1. Needle 
Make sure you needle is big enough, especially if you are working on linen. as this fabric is really 'hard' on your thread. The job of your needle is to prepare a hole big enough for the thread to pass through. This will lessen the wear on the thread. 
I use a crewel (embroidery) needle No 3 for Appleton and a no. 4 for slightly finer yarns.
2. Tension
Try not to pull your stitches too tight. Wool is much more 'springy' than other threads so if you pull it tight it stretches and become thin. When you pull the thread through, pull until the stitch just 'hugs' the fabric - it should be nice and relaxed, not taut.
3. Stab stitch
Working in a sewing motion (needle in and out of the fabric in one movement) simply doesn't work with crewel embroidery. (It is ok if you are stitching on wool). Your thread will wear fare too quickly and become even more hairy than it already is. Work in a stabbing motion and if possible pull the thread through at a right angle to the fabric.
4. Hoop or frame
I admit, I am a bit of a hoop nut - I use hoops and frames for almost everything, but I do believe they are essential for a good result for crewel embroidery. If you are not using one, chances are you will pull the stitches too tight because the elasticity of the yarn is deceiving on fabric that is not taut, and you will end up with some unsightly puckering.   

Hope this helps,

Happy Stitching,
Anna x

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thinking of embroidery

I have been really busy lately with things that (sadly) has not involved having a needle in my hand. That doesn't stop me from thinking about embroidery though and this time it is not about a new design ...

Embroidery and Stitching - What is the difference? Have you ever thought about it?
I am not talking about the definitions of dictionaries so much as the way in which the two interests are perceived and Stitching describing a more basic style of Embroidery.

At first I thought this would be a fun and quick little question put out there, but the more I think about it and discus the topic with others, the more I am realising that there is not an easy quick answer. So let's call this post...

Embroidery vs Stitching - TAKE ONE
Both Embroidery and Stitching is the practise of adding threads to cloth by the means of a needle. When I look to other needlecrafts such as knitting, crochet and quilting - they don't seem to have different terms like that. If you are a knitter, you knit. So why does decorating fabric with needle and thread? And why are people happy to take up Stitching but run away the minute you mention Embroidery?

When I asked a few friends around the blogs, their responses (other than being greatly appreciated) confirmed for me that this is not at all a silly question, that there are many takes on it and that it is worth pondering and talking about. Why? 
Primarily because, in my humble opinion, Embroidery has SO much to offer in the way of textile creativity. It saddens me that people may shy away simply because they think it is too difficult and perhaps old fashioned (?) before they even try. I, myself once thought of Embroidery as a pursuit for older women in grey suits and tight buns on their heads - but my conversion is a story for another day...

"stitching is something that is done as a hobby, for enjoyment, whereas embroidery can definitely be approached as an art form, with many accompanying rules and expectations..." -  Floresita, editor of Feeling Stitchy
Like you, I follow a number of blogs, social media forums, read books and magazines about Stitching and Embroidery, and across all these media the two words are largely used to describe two rather different things, or approaches if you like.

Based on the current use of the terms, Stitching and Embroidery, to describe images created with a threaded needle, it seems to me that Embroidery generally is presented and perceived as being more refined and in a way superior to Stitching. If that is the case, when does Stitching become Embroidery?
Is it when your stitch vocabulary exceeds a certain number of different stitches - or when you become completely and happily absorbed by techniques and execution?
I think there is more to it than that.

'Sacred Kingfisher' by Trish Burr
"People are intimidated by the name Embroidery whereas the name Stitching implies something simpler - it is a state of mind. I am more intimidated by the word Stitches than embroidery as it conjures up thoughts of learning a multitude of different stitches which I can't do!" Trish Burr
Stitching it seems, is light hearted and a lot of fun. There seems to be a fabulous 'let's have a go' approach to Stitching, which I really, really like. It makes me want to pick up my needle.
Embroidery is generally presented in a much more serious and structured way - it has to be 'properly' taut and there is a lot of history and tradition attached. I find the story and styles of Embroidery fascinating and interesting, primarily as a source of inspiration but not for re-creation. I can see how this might easily be off-putting if you just want to 'kick back' and create something with your hands. Don't get me wrong, I think there is a lot to be learned from tradition, skill and knowledge built up over centuries, but let's not get stuck in tradition and rules just for the sake of it, please!
"...the word embroidery has taken on a meaning that makes it seem inaccessible unless you have been taught how to do it. Rubbish of course." - Kathy Andrews, The Unbroken Thread 
I love to embroider but I think that the word and what it means sadly has ended up with a bit of a bad reputation. I come across so many people who tell me they stitch, but 'no they could never embroider..!'. Really it is not hard: needle in and needle out... simple. 
"Embroidery definitely can be easy-going, and there's a lot of people making patterns, and embroidery art, which feels a lot more approachable. But it does take time to change people's perceptions, I guess." - Carina Envoldsen-Harris Polka & Bloom 
Are you a stitcher or an embroiderer and what makes you think of yourself as such?
As for me, I am an embroiderer who loves to stitch, then again... perhaps a stitcher, who can't get enough of embroidery?

Most importantly, whatever you do - just keep stitching...
... which is exactly what I am going to do this coming weekend.

Have a lovely weekend where ever you are,
Anna x

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I am inspired...

... by the art of Cindy Hickok. It makes me smile!

'Tea with good friends' by Cindy Hickok

"I paint with thread.  I “paint” each day, with thread as my medium, the needle as my paintbrush, the sewing machine an extension of my arm.  With foot on the pedal and tongue in the cheek, I create works that satisfy my desire to express life as I see it. " 

What a fabulous life that is, don't you agree?

'Breakfast at the National Gallery' by Cindy Hickok
Most of the pieces give a humorous twist to well known artworks and I can't help but smile when looking at the embroideries and discovering Mona Lisa at the table listening to the conversation between the noble ladies by Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet.

"I like to think that figures from paintings step out of their backgrounds as well,  I imagine what they might do--enjoy a meal, have a rest, or engage in conversation with their peers."
'Tea Bag' by Cindy Hickok
...she never speaks, Mona Lisa, of course - just sits there, listening quietly.

'Cafe de Musee' (detail) by Cindy Hickok
The embroideries are worked entirely on the sewing machine and the shading and blending of colours is amazing. And see the drop shadows? I love the dimension they add to the pieces. 
These works are done on water-soluble fabric, which once dissolved, leaves these beautiful little artworks of thread. 

If these few pieces have sparked you curiosity for more - hop over to Cindy's website and look through the gallery. I am sure it will make you smile, after all that is the point of beautiful embroidered things - and besides, what is not to love about an embroidered telephone... ?

'A Conversation Piece' by Cindy Hickok

I hope you are having a wonderful weekend.

Anna x

Monday, August 5, 2013

Keeping busy

While the sheep have been busy with their new little lambs...

...the past few weeks for me have been really busy with work-stuff, none of which has been very 'share-able'.

But on the weekend, things got a lot more fun and exciting when I made the trip to Bordertown to teach a crewel embroidery class. I find there is something rather soothing about spending a couple of hours or three in the car, just watching the world go by while getting from A to B. What is not to like about a trip out of town? - I was of course met with true country hospitality and after a morning 'cuppa' everyone set to work.

The girls had chosen to do 'Blue Elegance' - as an introduction to crewel embroidery (sorry the kits are sold out in the shop at the moment, but the patterns are there).

So what is so special about crewel embroidery? As one of the ladies said midway through day two:

"I have never tried crewel embroidery because I thought it was all different stitches 
- but it is not the case at all is it?" 

No, not at all - for those not familiar with the style, crewel work is basically surface embroidery stitched with crewel wool, a two ply yarn, usually onto a firmly woven linen. Designs will often incorporate lots of different stitches for texture and I guess the only stitch or technique that is rarely seen in other types of embroidery is the laid fillings, like the ones you can see on the leaves. From the classes I have taught, I think the main hurdle for most stitchers is getting used to stitching with the wool.

Heads down and full of concentration everyone did a really great job of their pieces - some of which had some exciting colour and stitch variations to the original! I like it when people add their own twist and personality to my design - whether it is deliberate or not.
It was a fabulous two days spent with a lovely group of welcoming women and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Thank you Bev, Catherine, Linda, Nadine (my sweet host), Denise, Joan, Rhonda and Yvonne (and Chris) for the invitation - I hope to see you around some time.

Wishing everyone a happy Monday,
Anna x