Friday, 27 September 2019

Sayōnara Warrior


My Shibori Samurai has lain down to rest. He battled long and hard, maybe all of his life; his battle is over.

He was many things; he was my father.

He caused me many conflicting feelings; I loved him.

He is gone; I am empty.

He will never be gone; I am him and he is me!


Brian Roland Conway.
18 August 1934 – 27 September 2019.
Sleep well – you earned it!

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Dressing Up

Growing up, by no stretch of the imagination, was there a lion in my life but there was a witch (a good one – think Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz) and a wardrobe!

The witch was my Grandmother, Gladys, whom I adored. I used to go and stay with my nan most school holidays and was truly happy whenever I was with her. I don’t really know what first made me suspect she and other females in the family might be witches. She certainly was not like the archetype witch with a pointy black hat and broomstick and I don’t think she could cast spells but she certainly had a sixth-sense. Someone once sought to insult me by pointing to warts on my face and saying, “You must be a witch!”. I smiled; that’s a compliment in my books.

The wardrobe was in my Grandmother’s home. There was no secret door in Nan’s wardrobe but, none-the-less, it contained a magical portal. Three, in fact! My mother’s wedding dress and two bridesmaids’ dresses that, when worn, transported the wearer to fanciful kingdoms where adventures happened. I had a travelling companion for these adventures. Nan lived in a small hamlet; there were few children living there except two obnoxious boys who lived in the big house next door, and Gill who lived two doors’ away in the opposite direction. During the school holidays, Gill was somewhat isolated so she looked forward to my frequent sojourns with Nan as much as I did. Gill and I imagined that we were princesses being raised in secrecy to protect our true identities.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I know that I went to stay with Nan during the winter months and I can remember things like laying the open fire and sitting around it in the evening, or toasting slices of bread on a fork held over the Rayburn, but I don’t remember it ever being cold or raining. I only remember halcyon days of sunshine, butterflies, and laughter. Occasionally, Gill and I played inside the house but mostly our adventures took place outside. When we were young, we were confined to the garden wrapped around Nan’s semidetached cottage. When we were older we were allowed along the road to play in a field that Nan owned. Here, she and my grandfather had once kept pigs and chickens and grown vegetables to feed themselves and their six children. By the time Gill and I were galloping imaginary horses around overgrown paths, the pig pens no longer housed pigs and had fallen into disrepair. Nan still cultivated a small patch of vegetables but much of the field had become a wilderness of self-set flowers, hence the clouds of butterflies that lifted into the air wherever we passed.

After leaving school, my stays with Nan were shorter and less frequent. Gill married and moved to another part of the country and we lost touch. We had long since stopped putting on the dresses in the wardrobe and pretending to be princesses but my love of dressing never left me and I still relish any occasion that merits a posh frock and, better still, a hat!

We were afforded one such occasion at the beginning of July when my eldest stepson and his fiancé were married at Billesley Manor, near Stratford-upon-Avon. The Elizabethan Manor House, where Shakespeare is said to have written “As You Like It” in 1599, provided a stunning setting for their enchanting wedding.

© AJTImages

Excited about the day ahead, I woke early so I took a solitary stroll in the grounds, enjoying the peace and stillness of the morning. After breakfast, I joined the bride and her bridesmaids in the Shakespeare Suite. The photographer was already there and soon the hairdresser and make-up artist arrived. Despite being a spacious room, it was becoming rather crowded. It was a joy to be with these lovely young women as they started prepared for the day but when the hairdresser had finished me I returned to our room to finish my own preparations.

It was lucky that our own room was also spacious. Just as I had finished dressing and Jon and I were about to repair to the terrace to greet the arriving guests, the groom and his groom’s men descended upon us to get changed. The next 10 minutes were joyous pandemonium as new shirts were ripped from their packaging and handed over for ironing along with pocket handkerchiefs to be pressed and folded. While young men showered in rotation, Jon pre-tied ties and I stuffed handkerchiefs into breast pockets and pinned buttonholes to lapels. As Jon fastened their cufflinks, I left them teasing the groom and returned to the Shakespeare Suite to collect confetti cones.

There, the calm of earlier had turned to a flurry of activity as the bridesmaids tried to get into their dresses without disrupting their hair. Fortunately, the hairdresser was still on hand to do last minute fixes (and help me put on my hat securely just before she left). In the midst stood our beautiful bride, patiently waiting for someone to tie the ribbon fastening on her dress. She looked radiant and much calmer than the groom. When every dress was fastened, I made my way down to the terrace to join my husband.

© AJTImages

The ceremony took place in the 100-year-old topiary garden. I had not realised that it was to be the first wedding ceremony held in the garden; no wonder the Manor staff worked so hard to ensure it took place outside despite the threat of rain! I enjoyed every moment of the day but I was especially pleased to be involved in the ‘dressing up’ part of the day with both the bride and the groom. I had chosen my own outfit several weeks earlier; address and hat that I had been looking forward to wearing. And I loved wearing them; at the end of the day, I did not want to take them off!

© AJTImages

We had a fabulous day filled with smiles and laughter and the rain, when it did fall, did nothing to dampen our spirits.

Many thanks to Alex for his kind permission to use his photographs. You can see more pictures of Stephanié and Adam's special day on his blog.

© AJTImages

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Sake Boxes - Wisteria, a Learning Curve

As I progress through the phases, I find that I have previously learnt some aspects of each new piece at an earlier phase. I try to stitch these in advance so that, when in class, I can use my time learning the techniques or variations that I have not encountered previously.

Although I was not at the point where I was ready to stitch the wisteria design on the ladle, I wanted to make sure that I learnt the technique during class. I had previously done the stitch transfer and removed the tissue paper.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

On the sake box, I had used different coloured couching threads to demark different elements; red couching thread for the red cords, gold couching thread for the gold work. I repeated this on the ladle. As the whole of the outside of the ladle is superimposed with goldwork, I did the stitch transfer in yellow couching thread.

When I had finished the goldwork on the sake box and came to remove the stitch transfer, the task was made much easier by the simple (and accidental) fact that I had done the stitch transfer with yellow couching thread but had used red couching thread to couch the gold with.

On the ladle I used gold couching thread to couch the gold threads but I had also used the gold couching thread to do the stitch transfer. Distinguishing, and removing, the stitch transfer after doing the superimposed goldwork would prove to be neigh on impossible! But it would be a long time before I discovered this!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy stitching

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Sake Boxes - Short Stitch Holding

In Japanese embroidery we make a lot of use of what we call foundation stitches. These are essentially what are commonly known as satin stitch. Satin stitch is generally used to fill relatively small areas; if a stitch length of more than about 1cm is needed to span an area, another filling stitch would be more likely be used. Japanese foundation stitches can be used to fill an area of any size but if the stitch length is more than 1 cm some form of holding stitch is needed to prevent the stitches from moving or sagging.

On the sake box and the outside of the ladle, the superimposed gold work serves to ‘hold’ the foundation in all but a few small areas. The inside of the ladle has no superimposed work so the long foundation stitches need to be secured with short stitch holding.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Short stitch holding (SSH) is the main focus of Phase six; a phase that I had really looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed. On Mr Duck, the SSH is mostly used as a decorative effect. In most cases, as in this case, it is intended to be invisible!

There is more than one factor involved in achieving invisible SSH. SSH is very often applied to a foundation of twisted threads. The holding stitches have to align with the twist, otherwise they clearly show against the foundation.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

When correctly aligned, the holding thread vanishes like magic! But, for it to vanish completely, the twisting of your foundation thread needs to be consistent.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Some of this I had begun to realise prior to doing the SSH on the ladle; some of it I had not really grasped before twisting and stitching the foundation. This, for me, is the paradox of the JEC course. Each Phase is intended as a teaching piece; I aspire to stitching each phase perfectly, forgetting that this is the first time that I have attempted these new techniques. I am trying to adjust my perspective and see the imperfections, not as mistakes, but as part of the process.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy stitching!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

ALfA - My Frist Sewing Machine

Some sixty–something years ago, my father gave my mother a sewing machine for her birthday. Throughout their married life, Dad has shown a distinct preference for giving practical gifts but none of the household appliances given in later years were as well received nor well used as the sewing machine.


Of course Mum used the machine but she was never a prolific sewer; I did not get my love of needle work from her. I don’t recall the first time I used the machine or what I made with it but I vaguely remember Mum showing me how to wind the bobbin and install it, and how to thread the machine. It is indicative of how much more I used the machine that I always threaded it for Mum in later years.

In my very first blog I wrote “I don’t know how old I was when I started to stitch. I don’t know who taught me. As far as I know, I was born with a needle in my hand. It is simply something that I have always done. I don't do it exceptionally well but I love doing it. I’ve made clothes, I’ve knitted jumpers (very badly) and I’ve crocheted cushion covers. I have done many things that involve needles and thread but most of all, I’ve embroidered.”

Latterly, that is true but when I was younger I loved making my own clothes. Many a garment was made on this unsophisticated, hand operated, sewing machine.

Mum obviously recognised my love of sewing as one day I came home to find she had purchased a second hand electric machine for me. I too was unsophisticated; I don’t think I ever told mum but I actually preferred her hand machine.

When I left school and started work, one of the first things I ever purchased was a New Home electric machine; I loved it and made many, many things on that machine. Later, when I thought I wanted to master free machine embroidery, I traded my New Home in for a Bernina. While it has not seen the use it should have, and FME turned out not to be my thing, I love the Bernina – but I wish that I had not parted with my New Home. I think it is a bit like cars, however much better they are, no car will ever ‘better’ your first!

Recently, Mum asked me what she should do with her sewing machine. Neither of us wanted this machine to end its day on the rubbish heap so I looked into charities that collect unwanted tools, refurbish them, and redistribute them to individuals or communities for livelihood creation.

Mum has not been too well recently and our trips out together have almost entirely been trips to medical professionals or of a utility nature. Yesterday, we went together to deliver ‘our’ sewing machine to the next chapter in its life. And then we went to have a cup of coffee and slice of cake in a café. We chatted about trivia instead of the medical and day to day problems of living that have dominated our conversations for the past year. It was a very special final chapter in our journey with this sewing machine. We can only imagine what will happen next in its journey but we are both very pleased that there is another chapter; that its life will not end on the scrap heap.

Happy Stitching, ALfA and your new owner

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Sake Boxes - Legs

Like the fabric, the instructions that came with my design were quite old. While the fundamental techniques remain the same, some elements of the instructions do occasionally change. My instructions said that foundation for the sake box should not cover the legs. When I visited my tutor to discuss my colour scheme, we reviewed alternative instructions for Sake Boxes and noted that some suggested stitching the whole foundation in one piece, covering the legs. This is the method I used.

The first step in stitching the legs is a silk diagonal layer of flat silk. My main concern was that the black foundation would show through the yellow silk, so I took care not to allow any gapping between the stitches.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

As with the instructions, the designs themselves are sometimes altered. On my design sheet, the gold features on the legs were quite simple. I had seen more decorative features on other designs. I copied these features from another design sheet. Stitching these elaborate shapes, I understood why some might have chosen to simplify them.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The whole of the box and lid are outlined with one and a half pairs of #4 gold (here, I have only done one pair; I realised that I had missed the additional half pair and added it later) and short stitch hold was used to secure any visible foundation stitches longer than 1cm.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Sake Boxes – Reverse Stitch Transfer

There are two vessels on Sake Boxes with ladle. The round box with Cherry Blossoms is the actual sake box. There are a lot of different elements and techniques on this vessel. As long as you stick to the rule of stitching foreground elements first, you can chop and change between cords, tassels, cherry blossoms and curlicues.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Each time I stitched, I could do whatever I felt in the mood to do and things moved along at a reasonable pace. I really enjoyed stitching this vessel.

The stitch transfer was invaluable in providing a guide line for all of the different elements but now the superimposed work was complete, some of the stitch transfer was still visible.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

From a ‘normal’ viewing distance, it was not as evident as it was up close but it still ‘blurred’ the edges of the cherry blossoms and curlicues.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Putting the stitch transfer in is time consuming and laborious; removing the stitch transfer when the superimposed work is complete is very time consuming and tedious. It has to be done slowly and carefully so as not to dislodge any stitching.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

It helped greatly to have done the stitch transfer in a different colour from the couching threads used for the gold work. Something I wish I had known before I did the stitch transfer on the ladle.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy stitching