Friday, July 3, 2020

Peacock & Dragon

Peacock & Dragon is one of many exquisite textiles designs by William Morris & Co. 

William Morris, Peacock & Dragon, 1878 

Inspiration for design is a fickle thing. It is not always easy to point a finger at exactly where inspiration comes from. For me, ideas for designs can linger for a long time at the back of my mind. They can be sparked by an experience, something that happens, sometimes just a feeling and often nature and art. 

I have started work on a new piece of crewel work and in my mind, I am referring to it as 'Peacock & Dragon'. At first glance, there is probably no resemblance at all, but it very much inspired by Morris's glorious design. I have had an idea of a Arts & Craft inspired design brewing for a while and naturally flicked through some of my many Morris references. 

I don't know why, but I had an idea of the main design element being 'roundish' and my eye fell on the pomegranate shape between the peacocks. From that, my design began to take some kind of shape. 
One of the many beautiful things about Morris's textiles is the layers and layers of elements - once you start looking for individual details, there is just endlessly much to look at. 

The other thing that really caught my eye in 'Peacocks & Dragons' is the way the rather prickly looking dragons graciously curve out and then towards each other. 
I find the combination of the elegant curves and the spiky shapes that form the feathers and scales? really fabulous. The foliage below the pomegranate shape in my sketch are a very far cry from dragons, but the two flowers curving towards the center and the use of pointy tips for the leaves bear a strong nod to Morris's dragons. 

I did show you the design a few weeks ago and I confess my main motivation to finish The Little Mermaid was because I needed my frame for my 'Peacock & Dragon'. (I really must think of a new name for it....) 
No sooner was the Mermaid off the frame before I got my linen framed up, ready to go. 
I have not felt this excited about stitching for some time.. it is a good feeling.... and yes, I have started but I will have more to show next week. 

Until then,
Stay safe & keep stitching.
Have a lovely weekend,

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Little Mermaid

I don't have loads to share today but really wanted to show you that it is finally finished!

Considering the change of direction this took part way through the stitching (completely of my own doing), I think, I probably like it better than the original version (which the more I looked at it reminded me of the tokens we used to get in Tivoli gardens to play on the various game machines when I was little). You can see the original at the bottom of this blog post HERE

To disguise the lettering marked in permanent ink above and below the mermaid, I ended up creating water, by stitching three 'layers' of waves around the little mermaid. 

Right Way Up
Usually when I work on larger pieces, I don't hesitate to rotate my frame whatever way it takes to make the stitching as comfortable as possible.I think that if I am comfortable and relaxed while I work, my stitches will be so too. 
Well, there seem to be an exception to everything and I found one such exception when stitching the outer ring of waves in Twisted Chain Stitch.
I like Twisted Chain Stitch because of the slightly bumpy texture and had chosen to use it for the outer waves and straight lines around the design. All was going well on the lower part of the design, but when I rotated the embroidery to stitch above the mermaid, it was not as straight forward. I simply could not get the stitches to twist and flow smoothly. To match the direction and twist of the lower rows, I had to stitch left to right, up-side and twist the thread in a way that felt completely awkward - so I gave up; rolled the fabric as much as I could onto the lower roller bar and had to stretch across the frame to work all the rows at the top. Uncomfortable, yes - but a lot less awkward.
I have put a tutorial Twisted Chain Stitch HERE

Now all that is left for me to do is make it up. I don't think I want to frame it and am thinking it will be made into a pillow for someone who I am pretty sure will appreciate it. Can't say who, because I am not sure if that person stops by the blog from time to time.

I am looking forward, as always, to start a new project....

Have a lovely weekend.
Stay Safe & Keep Stitching,
Anna X

Stitch Chat - Twisted Chain Stitch

I have been using Twisted Chain Stitch more and more lately - both for lines, but also as a filling stitch. 
It is a slight variation of the ordinary chain stitch. By twisting the thread for each stitch it forms a slightly  more narrow and raised line. 
What I love most about this Twisted Chain Stitch is the raised texture of the stitch, making it a nice contrast alongside smooth stitches, such as stem and satin stitch.

In my latest project The Little Mermaid, I used Twisted chain stitch for rows of rows of waves. The stitch itself is not difficult once you get into a rhythm to keep the direction of the twists consistent, but I did learn that this is one of the few stitches, where rotating your work, makes it near impossible to keep the twist and stitch direction the same. 
Being right handed, I tend to stitch from right to left, or from the top towards me. The important thing is to keep the twist of the stitches to the same side every time. 

Twisted Chain Stitch

1. Bring the thread to the front at the end of the line. Take needle to the back to one side of the emerging thread (here above).Add caption

2. Loop the thread around making sure it is crossing over itself. Bring the needle to the front on the marked line, inside the thread loop.

3. Pull the stitch to. This is a single twisted chin. It looks like a little fish, don't you think?

4. Take the needle to the back to one side of the twisted chain.
 This should be the same side as the first stitch (here above).

 5. Loop the thread around making sure it is crossing over itself as before.
      Bring the needle to the front on the marked line, inside the thread loop. 

6. Pull the second stitch to as before.
The stitches form a textured line. 
 The aim is to keep the twist and the the tension of    the stitches as consistent as possible. 

The interesting thing about Twisted Chain stitch is just how much the appearance of the stitches can change simply by altering the length of the stitch itself but also the width. 
The two photos below, show the very different look you get if the needle is taking to the back further out from the chain for example. Then it suddenly becomes spiky looking - ideal for prickly blackberry stems for instance.


I wonder how it would look if I stitched a second row in the opposite direction, so the 'spikes' fit into those of the first row???

Twisted Chain Stitch Filling
At first glance, Twisted Chain Stitch, is probably not one that you would pick as a filling stitch for a shape. I know, I didn't until a saw it done and is it beautiful for that purpose. 

The leaf to the right if a section of my Scarlet Glory crewel work design and the textured filling is Twisted Chain Stitch worked in wool. What I love about it, is the ridges it form across a shape.
To get a filling like on the leaf, all the rows must be stitched in the same direction.
  The first row is stitched like above

1. To start the next row, the first stitch should sit immediately next to the previous. 

2. Continue along the previous row, pushing the stitches close against the first row.
  You can stitch subsequent rows both above and below the first. The important thing is to work each row in the same direction and to align the stitches, to get the ridges across the shape the stitches.  

I hope you will have a bit of a play with this stitch. It is one that can easily be used instead of regular chain stitch to add a bit of texture to a piece. 
Have fun with it.

Stay Safe & Keep Stitching,
Anna X

PS - I am really not keen on the new way blogger works - aligning text and pictures is really difficult and I do apologize for rather messy look of this post.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Making Waves

I have made some progress on the mermaid.
You may remember, I was at a point where I needed to somehow cover the lettering marked in permanent ink above and below the mermaid. The letters were marked on the linen in permanent ink, so I was not even going to attempt to remove it. 
One thought was to think up something relevant to embroider as a partial border above an below, but I quickly decided that, that wasn't the way I wanted to go. I wanted to find a solution that would not crate a heavy, solid border. 

I started by continuing the existing rows of waves across the lettering. 

I then added more waves, midway between each of the first, this time using a slightly finer thread. Two strands of silk and twisted chain stitch to get a more textured line. At first I only stitched these waves in a band, the same width as the letters, so the whole design would have a circular outline. But a after few rows of waves, I decided to continue these waves as straight line from the edge of the circle the outer edge.

It was beginning to slightly mask the marked letters but not enough and I had to think up something else to add. My first thought was seeding with gold thread but after only stitching a little bit, it was clear it just made the work look 'dirty and messy'. You can see the seeding between the waves at the top of the picture below.

Then I found a skein of silk in my stash - exactly the same colour as the background fabric. 
With a single strand, I stitched rows of random running stitches (or random pattern darning - the same as filling the mermaid) back and forth across the area where the letters are. In the picture above, the pattern darning is between the waves towards the bottom of the picture above.

It doesn't completely cover the ink marks but I think it is enough to disguise the letters. The silk stitches blend into the background fabric, creating a bit of texture and a border but because the fabric is not completely covered, I don't think it look too heavy and solid. 

This is where it it as...


What do you think?

I really, really, really want to finish this now and move on to something different that is piled up on my worktable, waiting to get started. I had hoped to finish it before Monday, but we'll see.

I hope you are all having a good week. For those of you still in lock-down, I hope you are managing this strange situation the best you can.
Stay well, and keep stitching.
Anna X

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Stitching a rock

I just couldn't give up on my Little Mermaid after all.
After my initial disappointment of not sending it off to be part of the 'Lost Connections' project, I decided to finish it after all.
This is what happened:
First, I realised that I would need my slate frame for my new crewel design, since my second frame is not quite wide enough.

Secondly. When I brought out the Mermaid frame and was about to take the embroidery off the frame to scrap it, I knew that I really wanted to try out my idea for how to embroider the rock. If I took it off the frame, I was not going to put it back on and for what I had in mind for the rock a hoop would not work as it would damage the areas already completed. In the end, the idea for the rock won over the urge to scrap it.

It had puzzled me how I was going to stitch a rock in gold, without it looking well like a giant gold nugget. The Mermaid needed something to sit on, but I didn't want the rock to look heavy and lumpy which in reality is what rocks are.

I had chosen a fine Imitation Jap gold thread. It is very shiny, and this particular thread is softer and more fragile than what I often use so it damages very easily.
I started by couching it along the outline and then curling it into a coil at the base.

I continued coiling it until the circle was filled. 
As this was not planned from the beginning, I had to carefully draw a rough line to work to in pencil. You can the faintly see the line for the second coil to come in the picture above.

I repeated this for a second coil. This made the outline wider and 'finished' the lower edge of the rock.
By this stage I was starting to feel a little happier about the whole thing and slightly confident that it might just turn out the way I had envisaged.

 Since I didn't want to fill the rock in completely, I added just one more coil on the left... 

.. then repeated the process on the right hand side.

The rock may be finished or maybe not... I am not sure yet. It is getting there, but perhaps it will need 'something' else. I will ponder that for a bit.
Now back to the reasons why I have decided to finish...

... Thirdly, for some reason, it feels really wrong not to finish it. I regularly abandon things (or put them on prolonged hold) but for some reason I cannot explain, I just want to finish this one before I move on. Go figure....?

What I do know, is that I no longer want the wording 'Lost Connections' written as the main feature. It no longer makes sense.
My problem is that I have marked it in permanent ink! So now what? I think, I have a plan - but if it will work is another question....
I am hoping to have some time to stitch over the next few days and test it out, so I will show you soon.
If it does work, it will lead to my...

.... Last and most important reason to not abandon my Mermaid: I have thought of another use for it (no, it won't be a kit), but that too is a story for later.

Enjoy the rest of your week, stay safe and look after yourself and those around you.
Best Stitches,
Anna X

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Changing direction

A change is as good as a holiday as the saying goes. We were meant to be away on a three week bush trip in April but clearly that couldn't and didn't happen. 
Instead, I have been flitting between jobs like carting bricks, pruning vines, gardening and of course some stitching and my embroidery for the 'Lost Connections' project is finally well underway.

I started with all the little waves. Wanting them to blend into the background fabric, I stitched with a double length of Wildflowers cotton by Caron (034 Bouquet) - a beautifully shaded soft cotton, that blends perfectly with the colour of the background and shades into soft pink, lavender and green. To give the illusion of light shimmering on the waves, I blended a single strand of metallic gold with the cotton threads. Stitching with the three threads in the needle, I quickly remembered just why I dislike using metallic threads in the needle so much - it was tricky. 

I wanted the mermaid to be filled in, but at the same time, I didn't want her to look heavy or too solid.
I started by outlining her in stem stitch with two strands of Gloriana stranded silk (#071 Winter Brook). As for the waves, the choice was because the colour blends beautifully with the background so that it creates outlines and definition to the shape without standing out (if that makes sense).
How to fill a shape without filling it?
I have used a random version of pattern darning before. Basically rows of parallel running stitches, back and forth in a brick pattern. It allows for the stitches to partially cover the fabric to give colour and at the same time, the fabric is visible between the stitches.
By slightly varying the length and spacing of the stitches I was able to slightly vary the look of the tail, so it is covered more solidly.
Stitching on a fairly large weave linen made it relatively easy to follow the fabric weave for each row of stitches. The photo below shows a close-up but it might still be a little hard to see because of the defection of the metallic thread.

Again: Oh how I dislike stitching with metal - it breaks, wears, frays and when you have multiple strands in the needle it is impossible to keep the same tension on all of the strands.

Below are A few tips to make it easier to stitch with metallic thread: 
1) Of all the metallic threads I have tried, I find Butterfly thread (Au Papillon Fil d'Or) the easiest to work with. It can be divided into four very fine strands, but here I used all four together in the needle.

2) Use a big needle.
I think many of us tend to reach for little needles but when it comes to metal I find it is better to go big. The larger needle will prepare a larger hole in the fabric for the thread to follow through which means there is less wear on the thread.

3) Use a Sharps or Between needle.
These have a round eye (crewel/embroidery/chenille needles have elongated eyes) which seem to hold the metal better but more importantly, because the eye is round it doesn't kink the metal as quickly as the elongated eyes tend to do.
For the full thickness of the Papillion thread, I used a #3 between (which to me feels like a bit of a crowbar in this context).

4) Always work your stitches in a stabbing motion.
Trying to sew through the fabric will wear and damage the metal in two seconds flat. For each stitch, take the needle and thread all the way through (or very, very close to). Also, if you pull the thread at a right angle to the fabric, the friction is less and again will ease the wear on the thread.

After the tedious filling, I embroidered the hair in close rows of stem stitch, alternating between two different shades of stranded silk and fine gold metallic.
Below you can see where is at. Overall, it is coming along nicely, I think and I have a plan for the rock and the letters.
It was at this point, I sent an update to the organiser of the 'Lost Connections' project and ...

... it turns out, I had missed the bit in brackets that said the piece should be stitched onto off-white or cream fabric!
As a result, this little mermaid is not going anywhere. The way the different elements are integrated makes it impossible to cut her out and applique her onto a different fabric. I am not really in the mood to completely redesign it and if I did, I don't think I would be able to stitch a new design in time. It is now late April and she needs to be in the Netherlands by end of June (I think) so with shipping worldwide taking up to three times longer than normal, it is unlikely it would get there in time.

I might finish it one day, but I would want to find a way to do something different where the wording is and since the ink is permanent that will be a challenge. So, for now she is going to be shelved. These things happen. Note to self: 'Make sure you read ALL the specs properly including those in brackets!

I used to ride horses and when you fall off you get back on, but I am 'changing my horse'
I have had a couple of ideas, vague designs in my mind for some time and this morning I drew this one up.

I hope you are all keeping safe, are well and are managing this strange scenario we are finding ourselves in the very best way you can.

Best Stitches,
Anna X

Friday, March 27, 2020

Long overdue

I think, no, I know, I dropped the ball.
I have not stitched anything for weeks, nor have I visited the blogs I usually enjoy or engaged in any other social media stuff... I just dropped the ball and have not even tried to pick it up.
The things I have been doing, that are ever so slightly embroidery related, have not been things that offered anything remotely interesting to share.

Like the rest of you, we are adjusting to the same crazy and unnerving times, with plans now all 'unplanned' (is there even such a word?) and the simple way we do, or did, everything rapidly changing day by day. All my immediate workshops and trips have of course been cancelled or rather postponed for the time being. The new patterns are coming along and hopefully I will have them in the shop soon.
When I don't work on my embroidery, I work part-time in the call center of our emergency services. I had scaled that job right back, and was lucky to be able to do so, but with the current situation, I will be back on 'my perch' more regularly.

But some things don't, or can't, change (much) and we have been going through this years grape harvest for the past few weeks. Because we have several varieties of grapes, harvest is spread out of a several weeks, depending on the season. We finished this morning with the last little lot, leaving for the winery. Ideally the winemaker would have liked to leave them on the vines for another week but the winery where she presses closes its doors to external users this afternoon, so she had no choice. I don't mind - it always a welcoming feeling of relief when it is all done and we can relax on that front of a little bit.

So after what feels like weeks and weeks on no stitching, or to be honest, not really even feeling very inspired, I have picked up the needle again.
A friend of mine, Ansie ( alerted me to a call-out by textile artist, Ellis Schoonhoven named LOST CONNECTIONS. Ellis had started working on the project back in November, long before most of us even knew that Social Distancing was even a thing. She wants to create awareness to our lost connection with each other and the world around us while also connecting people. So she set out to find 50 stitchers from all over the world to stitch the words LOST CONNECTIONS in their own language in gold thread. The pieces will then be made into pillows what will surround a large veil she is creating from antique pieces of lace.
At first, I clicked past it. You can only get involved in so much, right? But this one wouldn't go away, so I went back for a closer look and decided it was something I would really like to be part of.
Although I have called Australia home for more that half of my life, I am still Danish, so I will be stitching the words MISTEDE FORBINDELSER.

The brief is pretty open, with just the size and the words stitched in gold threads. Ellis also suggested that the words be accompanied by something that signifies the country, something that is iconic either to the people as a whole or has an iconic meaning to the person stitching...????
I knew from the start,  I wanted to include water. Denmark is tiny and there is water everywhere. Historically it is a nation of seafarers and farmers (well roughly spoken). More importantly, I wanted water because water both separates and connects.
But water alone is not iconic to anywhere in particular, so I had to put my thinking cap on before settling on...

... The Little Mermaid.

1) I think, she is iconic to Copenhagen in particular. (And yes, she is really is very, very tiny)
2) She sits in the water, staring out to sea.
3) I grew up with Hans Christian Anderson stories and still love them.

After having the drawing pinned to my wall for a few day, I got it all ready last night. The pattern is traced onto a light sea-green/blue linen. I bought this piece in Thailand some years ago and the colour is just perfect. The weave however is a little too open to hold the embroidery, so I have had to back it with a calico.

It is now all framed up on my favorite rosewood slateframe and is ready to go. It feels really good to be doing something creative and positive again.

Stay well,
Anna X

Friday, February 28, 2020

Mother Hen & Periwinkel

It is finished...

I finished the larger, original version of Mother Hen some time last week. I did flick a quick photo onto other social media, but I figured it would be nice the share a bit more detail with you here.

This is where it was at: I had embroidered all the detached pieces; The flowers, the leaves and the hen's head and wing.

The head is embroidered mostly in chain stitch. For this piece I have worked all the rows in the same direction - first in a spiral kind of motion around the head and then in rows down the neck. The pattern on neck formed by filling the spaces left between the cream rows, with a slightly darker colour.

The wing is embroidered using just two stitches: Blanket stitch (buttonhole stitch)for the larger feathers, blanket stitch wheels for the scalloped feathers and detached chains (lazy daisy) placed in a brick-like pattern to fill the upper part.
No matter how long I have been embroidering for, it never stops to amaze me just how much the appearance of a stitch can be altered by the size and placement.

Before I could attach the head and wing, I needed to complete the embroidery for Mother Hen's tail and body.
I had been in such a rush to get the smaller needlebook version finished that I had taken very few (if any) notes. At the time I was sure I would just remember how I did everything since non of it is really complicated but it turned out that that was not the case.
At least I had taken quite a few - if not beautiful then at least helpful - photos which came in really handy second time around.

The tail feathers are embroidered mostly in fly stitch, just as you would a leaf. To get the grading of colour when changing from one shade to the next, I skip stitches and then bring in the next shade into those gaps to avoid it becoming stripy.

Although the body is mostly covered by the wing, it still needed to be 'coloured in'. I wanted to do something that represented feathers but without actually stitching individual feathers or repeating the detached chain feathers of the wing. I ended up first covering the shape with a mixture of satin stitch and sort of long and short stitch - stitching midway onto the shape and then filling the opposite side afterwards. Originally I was only going to cover the lower edge, since the upper part of the body is covered by the wing, but it didn't work for the needlebook, where the wing can be lifted up and the felt would show underneath.
To conserve thread, all of this stitching was done in a back and forth motion so there is really very little silk wasted on the back.

To get a 'feather-like pattern, I then placed a couched lattice over the top and then couched it down carefully, so I didn't flatten the body. So far so good.

The week chickens are stitched entirely in detached chains - tiny for the body and quite long for the head, so the chain forms a 'satin stitch' like face and the anchoring stitches the fluffy feathers on top of the head.

After the hens head and wing was stitched on, I could finally complete her face with black bead for the eye... this is when I realised I had missed tracing the beak! No other way than to just 'wing it'.

You may remember, I mentioned here that I had embroidered a spare flower because I anticipated having to attach them differently to what I have done in the past. The flowers are not wired, so I had thought I perhaps would need to catch the edges of the petals together near the centre to gently cup the flower. As it turned out, I had not need to worry. The petals were rigid enough without wire, to raise neatly from the fabric when I pulled the stitches tight in the centre.

I still need to frame this Mother Hen & Periwinkle. I had toyed with the idea of inserting it into a boxlid but I haven't decided yet. For now I am working on the pattern and I am really, really, really going to try and have the kit for both versions in my SHOP before Easter.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend.
Best Stitches,
Anna X