Tuesday 21 November 2023

Fanciful Story, Chapter Five, Wot No Knots!

Inspired by early embroidered book covers she had studied, Rachael added rosettes of Elizabethan Louped Fill to the spine. The originals may have been impressive but they do not photograph well and I was not overwhelmed by them. And maybe I have been influenced by the notion that they would be fiddly to stitch!

I considered substituting the rosettes with either a Josephina Knot or one of the Interlacing Stitches that I had learned on the Goldwork Sampler. But in the end, I decided to give the rosettes a go. I was right about them being fiddly but I was way more impressed with my little rosette than I imagined I would be even if my photograph does not do it justice.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

I decided to leave the second rosette until after all the other embroidery is complete and wish that I had done the same for this one because I KNOW that my thread is going to keep catching on those loops!

The spine is embellished by couching gilt rococo along each long edge and adding a few spangles above the letters and numerals.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

This is now ready for the final embellishment!

Happy Stitching

Thursday 9 November 2023

Fanciful Story, Chapter Four, Sumptuous Scarlet Silk Satin Stitches

The border and lettering on the spine of Fanciful Story are stitched in a padded satin stitch.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

When I put this image on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, a friend commented “Nothing Beats Silk” I totally agree! The silks in this project are by Au Ver à Soie who offer a good range of silk threads.

The padding is a row of teeny-tiny chain stitches worked in Soie Perlée, a 3-ply twisted filament silk. Filament silk is unwound from the cocoon in one long continuous strand that, when twisted, results in a soft smooth thread that is more lustrous than spun silk threads.

The satin stitches are worked in Soie Oval which is a low-twist filament silk that is very smooth and shiny! You can see in the image above that while these two products are made from the same raw material, the lower twist thread is much more lustrous than its twisted counterpart.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

Au Ver à Soie describe Soie Oval as flat silk but it is not the same as the Japanese flat silk I am used to which has absolutely no twist! In the image below you can see how the suga (filaments) of the Japanese flat silk (on the left) are separate and can spread. When stroked and laid correctly this gives the optimum shine.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

If you zoom in you can see how one strand coils around the Soie Oval (in the centre) preventing the filaments from spreading. This makes for a slightly more manageable thread but it also results in slightly less shine. The Soie Perlée is shown on the right, for comparison.

Happy Stitching

Thursday 5 October 2023

Fanciful Story, Chapter Three, So Long Ceylon Stitch – it’s a Wrap!

It seems to have taken me a very long time to do all of the wrapped Ceylon stitch. As with most techniques, I felt that it got easier and/or I got better at it with practice. I would even go so far as to say that I now quite like working wrapped Ceylon stitch but for now, I am happy to move on to something different.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

There are several factors to mastering a stitch or technique (not that I am claiming to be a master of anything).

The first is understanding the method. For me, the ideal way to learn a new stitch or technique is to have someone who knows it well demonstrate it. If that is not an option, I am able to manage with well-written instructions.

The second is practice, there really is no substitute. The more you practice, the better you get!

As mentioned in my previous post, the right tools can make a big difference and this can be something as simple as using a suitable needle.

Increasingly, I believe that understanding the thread you are using is fundamental.

The wrapped Ceylon stitch is worked in gilt passing thread In this design. Passing thread consists of a fine wire wrapped around a thread core. It feels like a wire but does not behave as a drawn wire would. We naturally twist the thread as we stitch adding or reducing overtwist to the thread which causes the thread to twist or buckle. I treat passing thread like any other twisted thread and twizzle the needle to maintain the correct overtwist throughout.

Passing threads are both expensive and delicate. For this reason, it is often couched to the surface of the fabric. When it is stitched, it is generally used for stitches that are predominantly on the surface. Wrapped Ceylon stitch is worked in two stages. First, the Ceylon stitch or ladder stitch is worked. This shows mostly on the surface with short parallel stitches on the reverse. The second step is to wrap the rungs of the ladder. Except for starting and fastening of the thread, this is worked entirely on the surface.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Monday 17 July 2023

Fanciful Story, Chapter Two, The Right Tools

They say a bad worker always blames their tools. It is meant as a rebuke for someone who does not take ownership of their shoddy work but when it comes to poor quality tools or the wrong tools for the job, the worker may have a point! Take the humble needle. It is usually the least expensive tool in an embroiderers’ workbox but arguably the most important. I have a vast selection of needles, but I did not always appreciate the importance of using the right needle for the job and I certainly did not know which to use when.

I say, “usually the least expensive”, my favourite needles, Japanese handmade needles, are not inexpensive but I think they ae a good investment. I bought my first set of needles 18 years ago. I have since acquired more, but I am still using my original set and cannot distinguish between those and newer needles. Stored and maintained correctly, I expect these to last my lifetime.

Japanese handmade needles are made of steel, have a strong core but are exceptionally smooth and flexible. The needles are polished length ways, resulting in near invisible fine lines running the length of the needle. This minimizes friction allowing the needle to pass through the fabric smoothly. The point of the needle is also designed to pass through the fabric smoothly. The eye of the needle is round, and hand finished to remove any burrs that might snag or abrade the thread. The eye end of the needle is flattened making it narrower than the shaft, so the thread is the same width as the shaft and passes through the fabric more smoothly. This design is particularly beneficial when stitching with flat silk, but it is also very gentle on metallic and fragile threads. These are my go-to needles for certain types of gold work.

The ribbons on Fanciful Story are worked in wrapped Ceylon Stitch in gold passing thread. The thread consists of a fine gold wire wrapped around a silk core. The gold is delicate and snaps easily. It requires delicate handling, so my immediate thought was to use one of my Japanese handmade needles. Now I would say that two of my strengths are patience and perseverance. These come in handy for some of the more challenging embroidery projects I favour. Ceylon stitch and its wrapper variations seriously tested my patience when I first encountered them on the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass. I barely remembered the lessons I had learnt from that experience, but I did recall that it was crucial to not apply too much tension to the Ceylon stitch ladder.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

I had little time for stitching the past two weeks but even so, my progress on the ribbons was painfully slow. I was really struggling to find any rhythm or flow with the stitch. I was doing reasonably well with the ladder foundation but wrapping the rungs was proving extremely difficult and this was the part that ought to have been easiest. It took some time for me to realise that the problem was my needle, specifically its sharp point! When I switched to a needle with a rounded tip the process went much more smoothly although the gold wire snapped more readily than with the Japanese needle. I do have a Japanese needle that I have ground away the point for working these types of stitches but that is currently employed in another project. There is no reason that I could not use it on both except I have some crazy and restrictive stitching rules that I cannot dismiss. That is a whole different post!

I would not say that I am flying along now, it is still a tricky and frustrating technique, but I am managing much better now that I am using the right tools.

Happy Stitching

Thursday 15 June 2023

Fanciful Story, Chapter One, In the beginning

Fanciful Story is one of a series of limited-edition Heirloom Embroidered Ornaments designed and sold by Rachael Kinnison of Diamond K Folk Art.

I first heard of Rachael through the Cabinet of Curiosities. Rachael is an incredibly talented artist who creates awe-inspiring historically based embroidered items. She generously shares her knowledge and designs through kits and courses. Rachael began producing the Christmas ornaments kits in 2016. I think I first became aware of them in 2018 when Rachael offered an amazing ornament called Peaceful Kingdom. Which I did not purchase at the time (why?) and is now sold out.

Fanciful Story was produced in 2020 and is the first that I purchased. I purchased the 2021 and 2022 ornaments when they were released and was able to obtain the 2017 and 2019 ornaments before they sold out. I would dearly like to add the 2016 Flemish Fantasy and 2018 Peaceful Kingdom ornaments to my collection.

Rachael designed Fanciful Story as a combination of an embroidered book cover and studies of her favourite embroidered jacket at the V&A museum. Because Rachael was curious to know how this jacket might have looked when new, how heavy it must have been, and how the fabric moved when covered with gold, I and a few other lucky embroiderers get to go on that journey with her.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

When finished, this miniature book will be encrusted with 1260 real gold spangles, each attached with an antique opal glass bead, surrounding bows and swags stitched with gilt smooth passing thread and a stunning central Tudor rose.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

I prepped and began stitching Fanciful Story in October 2020 soon after I received the kit but it went into hibernation when I began Kusudama. When I completed Kusudama in April, I brought Fanciful Story out of hibernation with the intention of resuming work straight away but, as often happens, I went into a post-project slump lasting over a month. Last week I could hear Fanciful Story calling to me from my sewing room and we have now enjoyed several mornings together. The passing thread felt unwieldy after 30 months of stitching with silk, but I am beginning to get my hand in and already feel my Ceylon stitch on the swags and bows is improving.
© Rachael Kinnison/Carol-Anne Conway

I think I have a great many more mornings to work on this before it is complete but I think I am going to enjoy them!

Happy Stitching

Sunday 1 January 2023

Happy New Year 2023

2022 has not been a bad year, certainly nothing (really) bad has happened and if you can get through a year and say that, it can’t be bad!

Stitching wise, it has been a great year! I have stitched nearly every day; I have stitched some wonderful projects; and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my stitching.

I was offered a place on Jenny Adin-Christie’s Workshop days. Actually, I was offered a place a few years ago did not then feel able to take up the offer. When the offer was renewed this year, I thought I would make it work, no matter what, and I am so pleased that I did. Jennyland is a little bit magical.

Workshops are held in at cabinat the end of her garden. The first time I went there I was filled with a sense of déjà vu. On my first trip to Japan, we went in search of the Misuyabari needle shop. Misuyabari is in a busy market, down an inconspicuous allay way that leads to a small Japanese garden. Leaving the suburban street where Jenny lives, walking through her garden, and arriving in Jennyland gave me the same sense of entering Narnia. And that is only the start of the magic! Jennyland is full of wonderous things to inspire any lover of needlework. And Jenny is the Fairy godmother of all stitchers, making our stitching dreams come true!

In blogging terms, I started well. It is a bit of a Catch 22. If I am not stitching, I have nothing to blog; if I am stitching a lot, I would rather be stitching than blogging! Having said that, I blog mainly to keep a record for myself, a diary of sorts, and would like to keep it more up to date.

At the very least, I thought that I would have posted more of the Techniques of Japanese Embroidery. Much of my stitching time has gone into Kusudama and I am really enjoying it. Something has happened in the last two years where I feel my stitching has reached new levels; I understand things that I did not totally get before; I feel the needle, the thread, the stitches, more than ever before. I think that sounds nuts but it that is how I feel when stitching. I think I know why but I don’t feel ready to say it. It is still too raw!

So, looking forward! What is install for 2023? My priority is to finish Kusudama. What then? That certainly is not the end of my Japanese embroidery journey. Where will it take me next? I have a few WIPs that I would like to complete and several items in my stash that I would also like to tackle but there are also many things outside of JE that I really want to explore. My interest in historic embroidery grows and a project that that I signed up for several years ago whispers very loudly in my ear now that Kusudama is nearing completion. The greatest question is how do I balance these very different areas of embroidery interest?

One priority is to reconnect literally with my Japanese embroidery family. We have stayed in contact virtually, but lockdowns and distance have kept us apart for too long.

Bring it on 2023, I am excited to see what you have for me!

Happy Stitching!

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Bacton Marigold

Every week of the Tudor Embroidery course we had a lecture, some of which were related to one of the five samples we stitched. One such was a lecture on the Bacton Altar Cloth by members of the BAC Research Group.

The Bacton Altar Cloth is a heavily embroidered cloth of silk and silver that is believed to have possibly once belonged to Queen Elizabeth I. At some point in its life, it was cut and pieced to form a cover for a small table or alter, most likely after it was donated to the parish church of St. Faith, Bacton. Prior to 2015, when the BAC was removed from display, it was hung in a frame on the north wall of the church for 106 years. After extensive conservation, the embroidery went on display at Hampton Court Palace. The BAC Research Group were able to view and photograph the cloth in detail while the cloth was undergoing conservation and on display.

By studying their own images and examining contemporary printed sources, the group aim to independently categorize and interpret the motifs. In the lecture, they shared their observations, unanswered questions, and evolving understanding of the cloth. Members of the group have also attempted to recreate some of the botanical motifs. Our fourth sample was based on a marigold on the cloth.

The fabric for this sample is a gorgeous ribbed silk called faille. While I loved the fabric, it did cause me some problems later on. Once again, the design was transferred using the prick and pounce method.

For all outlines, I used a combination of two colours, two strands of each. I started with stem stitch, i.e., a ‘/’ diagonal stitch and intended to use this throughout but switched to a ‘\’ diagonal stitch when stitching the lefthand side of the petals.

The stem, leaf, and flowers are filled with various seeding techniques.

For the stem, I used seed stitch with four strands of silk. I tried to keep the stitches as small and consistent in size with approximately a stitch size space between each. I tried to make placement and stitch direction random but found it difficult to ignore the obvious weft threads in the fabric. My ‘method’ for random seeding is to make one stitch in a space and then place six stitches around the first stitch in a vaguely hexagonal shape. For each pair of stitches in the hexagon, I place a third stitch to make a more or less equilateral triangle. I continue to make every pair of stitches into a triangle. I vary the angle of each stitch by angling them more or less towards the centre of the triangle. I use an additional filling stitch any time I think the spacing is increasing, or miss a stitch if I think they are becoming too close.
© Cynthia Jackson/Carol-Anne Conway

I used double seed stitch in the leaf, again four strands of silk. I stitched one stitch directly over the other. As this made each stitch slightly larger, I spaced the first slightly further apart than for the single seed stitches. I found this much more difficult to keep consistent than single seed stitch. If I do this again, I will try placing the second stitch at a slight angle to the first.
© Cynthia Jackson/Carol-Anne Conway

For the bud, I used seeded knots. I made a soft 'S' 4 -> 1 twist. Throughout, I have used a combination of two colours in the needle. For these twisted threads, I used 1 strand of each colour on each ply.
© Cynthia Jackson/Carol-Anne Conway

The calyx is also filled with seeded knots but here I twisted 2 ->1 using one ply of each colour. At first, I double-spaced the knots but I thought they were too far apart so I filled in a little.
© Cynthia Jackson/Carol-Anne Conway

The petals of the flower are worked in single seed stitch, eight strands of silk, four of each colour. I hoped eight strands, closely seeded would give more saturated colour to the petals, which it has. I think the larger, fuller stitches also have more shine on the silk, which I like.
© Cynthia Jackson/Carol-Anne Conway

This was great fun to stitch! It was somewhat time-consuming but once I got into the rhythm of stitching randomly, it required less precision than something like satin stitch. I enjoyed doing the seeded knots and like how they look but they were even more time-consuming. I wanted to try different options and see how each looked. It is interesting to see the different textures and effects of each.

Happy Stitching