Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Gold Leaf Foundation

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I was up a little earlier today, so instead of fritter my time away on frivolous housework, I put in a little stitching time. I was really keen to see how the boroyori thread would look stitched, so I made a start on the second weft foundation. I am really please with the effect. The gold twisted into the thread shows up randomly along each thread so the foundation appears to be flecked with gold.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

This green is the colour that least grabbed me when I first saw the threads. I am very fond of green in many varieties. There are a few shades that I am not overly keen on, probably because I don’t know how to deal with them. I’ve said before, I am not very confident about selecting and coordinating colour. I have a colour wheel and try to follow colour wheel principles but I still feel uncertain. Anyway, back to this green. It is a very blue green, in fact in some light it looks blue to me. It is located close to the blue foundation that I stitched on Sunday, which makes that area very dark. Both of these foundations will have other stitches superimposed on top, which will alter the balance, so I am still trying to reserve judgement. That said, it is a lovely shade and looks really good twisted with the gold.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Twisted Silk

I've mentioned twisted silks a few times now, but I don't think that I have mentioned that all the silk thread comes to me as reels of flat silk, as seen in the previous post.

When the instructions call for twisted silk, it has to be twisted before it can be stitched. All the twisted foundations I have done so far call for a 4-1 twist, that is 4 strands of flat silk twisted into one stitchable thread. Two lots of 2 strands of silk are under-twisted before they are over-twisted together. When the quantity of thread in each under-twist is balanced (eg 2+2), the thread is called karayori. The blue foundation in the previous post is a 4-1 karayori.

The next foundation I will stitch is also a twisted silk foundation but this time in a twist called boroyori. This is similar to a 4-1 twist, but for this thread half a strand of silk is replaced with a strand of #1 gold (2 silk + 3.5 silk and #1 gold). This is the first time I have done this twist, it took me a couple of attempts to get the tension correct. I am too tired to stitch the foundation tonight, but I am looking forward to seeing how this will look as a stitched foundation.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Phase III - Venerable Friends with Chrysanthemum

My Phase III project arrived in the post last Saturday. Although I had finished all the stitching on Suehiro, I had a little finishing to do on her before I could remove her from the frame and begin preping Venerable Friends. The lovely design is already printed onto the silk. The Japanese Embroidery Center describe Venerable Friends as the way that we observe the knowledge and experience of our predecessors and associates through their books. Also, our favorite books, those that we read and reread, those that shape our personalities and outlook on life, come to be dear old friends.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Also in the package are the reels of flat silk for the embroidery. I’m not sure yet what I think of the colours. I don’t dislike them but they are not colours that I would have chosen myself, mainly because they seem rather dark. The 3 shades of pink for the plum blossoms are beautiful, as is the red for the chrysathemum. The other colours may grow on my but for now, I reserve judgement.

First job is to attach cotton ends to the silk so that it can be mounted in the frame. Then the silk is stretched drum tight on the frame. The cotton ends are trapped between split rods which are rotated to tighten the silk along the warp. The selvedge edges are then laced to the frame to stretch the weft. Once on the frame some elements of the design are outlined using a fine couching cotton and finally I am ready to start the real stitching (hooray).

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Before I go to Bournemouth next Sunday, I want to get the foundations laid, then I can devote class time to learning new techniques. I did the first of 3 foundations today. This weft foundation in twisted silk will later have a design superimposed over it.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Monday, 19 February 2007

Cords and Tassels

For me the cords on Suehiro where the most challenging element. I find it more difficult to get shorter stitches parallel and evenly spaced. To add to the difficultly, the cords are curved and the angle of the stitches gradually rotates to follow the centre line.

There are two different cord effects here. The "imitation wicker" is worked in two steps. First a diagonal foundation is worked in twisted silk, and then a pair of gold thread is used to stitch the cord effect on top of the foundation.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The other cord is called "single central cord". You first make four diagonal stitches across the cord and then work four stitches across these in the opposite direction. Continuing in this way for the length of the cord creates a woven effect. The placement of these stitches is critical otherwise the effect is off centre. Equally important is spacing the stitches evenly so that the bands are a similar width each time. It took me several attempts to get this to a point that I was satisfied with.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

By comparison, the tassels were simple to stitch. Each has a flat silk horizontal foundation. A tightly twisted thread is couched into place to create the tassels.

Although it can be frustrating when things don’t go right immediately, I do enjoy stitching something more challenging and it is very satisfying when you know that you have pushed yourself to achieve more.

On this Phase, I have learnt new techniques and I have concentrated on improving my stitching. I can see where I need to make further improvement and will work on that in Phase III, but I can see an improvement on my Phase I work and that pleases me.

As I said to begin with, I enjoyed every moment of this project and I think the design is very attractive. I will be pleased to have this framed and hanging on the wall.

Happy Stitching


© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The final vein is filled entirely with gold thread. This technique is called round and round couching, with is self explainitary. The gold thread is couched in pairs with red couching thread. I enjoyed doing this technique; the gold looks so good. I have a few gaps between my threads which I did not notice until I stood up and looked at the work straight on. When I do this technique again, I will try harder to ensure that the pairs of thread are tight against the previous pair.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Novel Effects

One aspect of stitching Suehiro that I particularly enjoyed was learning the novel effects on three of the veins. Each effect is created in two or three stages. For each, the first stage is to stitch a weft foundation.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Flax-leaf effect (asanoha- gake) has a foundation of twisted silk. A single strand of flat silk in the same colouras the foundation is then used to mark out a grid of equilateral triangles. These serve as a guide to stitch the star like design of the flax-leaf. These are predominately stitched with a single strand of green flat silk, but a few are stitched with a pair of gold threads.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Sayagata is a geometric design. Actually, I don’t think this is true Sayagata, I believe it has been adjusted to remove the ‘swastika’ shape that is formed by Sayagata. Although the swastika is a controversial symbol in the western world since WWII, that is not so in many parts of Asia and both left-handed and right-handed swastikas are seen. The design is stitched with a pair of twisted silver threads over a lovely soft mauve flat silk foundation. The silver is couched with the same mauve silk, twisted into a fine thread.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The third effect is call tie-die (hitta- gake). The foundation is white flat silk. You sometimes find that different colours of the same thread hand differently. I think this may have something to do with the properties of the dye used. I have found this to be particularly true with silk. Some colours are soft and supple; others have a degree of stiffness about them. The white used for this foundation was the softest silk I have come across and, during stitching it spread beautifully to give an even, glossy foundation. I was really pleased with the result. When the tutor showed me the design that I would stitch into it, I could hardly bear to ‘mess up’ my beautiful foundation. First a lattice pattern is created with twisted silk, then the same twisted silk is used to tie the intersection with three straight stitches. The stitches separate the foundation threads and create gaps. Still with the same twisted thread, two short stitches are made into the center of each lattice again, separating the silk foundation. This design is particularly effective when stitched on a coloured background that shows through the tiny spaces created by the stitching. Although I had not wanted to mess up my foundation, it was very pleasing to watch the pattern reveal itself with each subsequent step. It is stitching a even foundation that allows the pattern to form, if the stitches had not been parallel, the gaps created by the tying stitches would be hickledee pickledee.

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 17 February 2007


The Phase II design builds on the techniques used in Phase I and introduces new techniques. The design, Suehiro is a cypress fan. Sue means "end" and hiro means "expand." Fans open from the pivot outward; the design symbolizes expanding on the skills already learnt.

I really enjoyed stitching this design. From the moment I opened the package and saw her for the first time, to the very last stitch. The back ground fabric and the colours were selected by my tutor. The fabric is beautiful and the photograph does not do it justice. Those flecks are woven into the silk; they are textured and very slightly raised. They really shine when the light catches them.

The cypress fan was used by court nobles, and symbolizes elegance and opulence and I think that Suehiro reflects that elegance.

On three of the veins are designs that I learnt on Hanayama; cherry, plum and maple. The stitching methods are the same but some of the petals are padded before the foundation layer is stitched. Compare the top right cherry blossom to the bottom left one and you can see that the petals look plumper. The same it true for the maple leaves. Look at the edges of the top leaf and you can see a shadow around the edge.

Although it doesn’t show well here, the plum bud (the circle at the top) is particularly padded and is truly luscious.

I found it useful to stitch elements that I had done before. Comparing these to their counterparts on Hanayama, I can see how my stitching has come on. The edges of the shapes are sharper and the placement of the stitches has improved.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 15 February 2007

TAST Eyelet Stitch

Eyelet is a dear little stitch, but I found it difficult to find inspiration for this sampler. I don't know if that is to do with the stitch or because I have been full of cold for over a week now.

I started with the border. This is a varigated thread that I have had for ten years or more. I bought it at a local craft fair and have been saving it ever since. I never knew what I was saving it for until it told me that it would like to be an eyelet stitch border!

The rest of the stitching is in DMC linen. The first two blocks where experimenting using eyelets as a filling stitch. For the third block, I chopped up the stitch and put it back in a different order. My cold was taking hold by then and I was feeling a bit nasty! This left large spaces between the stitches which I could not leave empty.

More disection for the fourth row, this time cut in half and place tip to toe. I resisted the urge to fill these spaces and allowed them to 'be' in their own right.

A couple of rows of two-tone eyelets followed by a wave of simicircular eyelets. A really could not think of anything more to do in the space remaining so I scattered a few sequins and attached them with freeform eyelets.

What does it take for me to stop stitching neat lines and attempt something vaguely random? A slight fever.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 12 February 2007


© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The final flower mountain represents the Cosmos and does not contain flowers but a design called Kikko. Kikko is a stylised representation of the tortoise. The tortoise is associated with longevity because it lives for so long. The tortoise can be embroidered in a realistic way, sometimes with streaming moss growing from its shell to depict its great age but it is also represented as individual or grouped hexagons or, as here, by an overall pattern.

For me, this was the most challenging design to stitch. I found it difficult to keep the short stitches parallel and to keep a crisp straight outline. It is all stitched in twisted silk. I very much like the design and will probably try it again, when my stitching has improved.

Each mountain is outlined with a pair of gold threads couched with red couching thread.

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 10 February 2007

The Stitching Marathon

Today I determined to finish my Phase II design. I started stitching at 1.00pm and stopped at a little past 11.00pm. I have had a couple of breaks but mostly I have stitched, stitched, stitched. If I had run a marathon, you could say that I am now in the stadium doing the last lap. But suddenly, fatigue set in a I could not manage one more stitch. So, with the finish line barely beyond my reach, I have to stop.

I always hate to give in, but I have to accept that I cannot do good work when I am so tired.

Maple leaves

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Maple leaves (momiji), of course, represent autumn. This is the time of year when leaves take center stage and become the belle of the ball. Before the arrival of winter the Maple puts on one last display the glorious colours.

The leaves are stitched in separated foundation with twisted silk. Notice how the angle of the stitches alters to follow the shape of the leaf.

Friday, 9 February 2007

TAST Cretan Stitch

I am trying to finish my Phase II Japanese Embroidery so that I can start to prep my Phase II before March. I have devoted every minute of stitching time I can to it. As a consequence, TAST has taken a back seat recently but I take it most places with me and whenever I have 5 minutes, I do a little stitching. One result of TAST that has pleased me greatly is that I have done some stitching every day since this challenge began, even if it is only a few minutes. I hope to keep that up.

Chevron Stitch is another new stitch for me. In some ways, I found myself freer with this stitch than the ones that I already knew. I think that may be because I have no preconceived ideas of what can be done with the stitch. Usually I don’t look at what SharonB or anyone else is doing with the stitch until I have at least started my own piece so that I try to explore the stitch in my own way. As chevron was knew to me, I glanced at Sharon’s sample to get some impression of how the stitch looked and then when to her Stitch Dictionary to find out how to do it!

Working on 18 count canvas, I used DMC perle cotton 5. My initial impression of the stitch was that it had a lot of potential for making patterns, so that is what I decided to explore. I worked four rows of Chevrons stacked back to back. I then worked a row of Chevron and a row of Half Chevron over the first two rows and mirrored this on rows three and four.

Below that I worked four rows of Chevron one on top of the other and mirrored these four rows below them. I liked the squares Sharon had created in her sample and gave them a go. The first ones were very large and looked rather empty so I filled each with two more squares. I wove the needle under of over the existing stitches so the squares look interlocked.

I liked the effect of filling the shape with more stitches so experimented some with that idea. The small pink ones are just one square inside another; for the larger pale pink ones, I rotated the filling squares by 45 degrees each time.

I liked the Half Chevron that I had used on rows two and three, so wanted to explore this some more. First I worked the green row pointing up. Again, they were very large and crying out for something more, so I worked the two rows in pink and cream between the original stitches. I liked this effect and worked another row of overlapping Half Chevron, arranged slightly differently.

In the space between these two patterns I worked a row of what I would call ‘Closed Chevron’ in yellow, through which I wove a row of green Chevron. I just had a small space left at the bottom in which I wanted to experiment with making the stitches cross each other in a single row. It taxed my brain working it out, especially how to start the row, but I eventually got there. I call this ‘Crossed Chevron’.

Great stitch, I enjoyed using it and have some ideas of how I’d like to use it in a design.

Sharon, this is a super challenge, it really has me thinking and stitching.

Happy Stitching


© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

A sacred flower of Japan, the chrysanthemum (kiku) is the symbol of Royalty. The multi-petalled yellow chrysanthemums are valued because they represent gold. Many petals equals lots of gold.

Each petal is embroidered with a diagonal foundation, that is diagonal to the area being stitched, not the foundation fabric. Again this stitch is very much like satin stitch. The yellow blooms are stitched with flat silk and have Japanese Knots of pale yellow silk twisted with a single strand of gold. Twisted silk is used for the orange blooms. I found it quite difficult to get the correct angle on the petals and made several attempts before I was satisfied with my stitching.

The leaves are worked with a horizontal foundation in flat silk, again horizontal to the area being stitched. Some of the stitches are very long but the veins of couched gold serve to hold them in place.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Cherry and Plum Blossoms

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Cherry blossoms (sakura) are synonymous with Spring. They symbolise new beginnings. The cherry, which falls at the height of its beauty without withering, is one of the symbols of the samurai warrior, who had to be ready to give his life instantly.

Each petal has a vertical foundation, stitched with softly twisted silk. The vertical foundation is similar to satin stitch. Each stitch is the whole length of the area to be filled, lying parallel to the vertical axis of the petal. The stamens are a pair of fine gold treads couched with red couching thread. The pollen is two short straight stitches in pale yellow silk.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The plum (ume) blooms while snow is still on the branches and symbolises new hope. The old bent tree, still producing a profusion of blossoms, stands for longevity. Plum seems to be associated with both winter and spring. As I mentioned yesterday, plum is one of the three friends of winter, together with pine and bamboo.

Plum petals have a vertical foundation of flat silk and its stamens are also couched gold thread. The pollen are Japanese knots of yellow silk twisted with a single strand of gold thread.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Pine Trees

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Remaining green throughout the winter, pine (matsu) symbolises endurance. It's unchanging appearance, despite the passing of the seasons, brings a feeling of good luck and happiness. Pine is also considered a symbol of longevity because of the long life it endures. Pine, plum and bamboo (take) are often depicted together and are know as the three friends of winter (shochikubai).

Pine is sometimes embroidered in a realistic way as Hideko has done on this beautiful butterfly. Here it is depicted in a stylised manner. The shapes that I originally thought were clouds are the clusters of pine needles and the gold lines below them are the branches.

The shape is first embroidered with a weft foundation in either flat or twisted silk. As it’s name suggests, a weft foundation is worked parallel to the weft on the background silk. The stitches are similar to satin stitch and should be just touching but not overlapping. Unlike satin stitch, the stitches can be long. The entire width of the shape is covered in a single stitch, so they need some kind of holding stitch to secure them in place. The flat silk foundations are held with a grid of fine silk, which is couched where two threads cross. I love this simple design, which gives the silk a quilted effect.

The twisted threads are held with a fine twisted thread in the same silk as the foundation. The thread is positioned at an angle to the foundation to make it vanish into the twists and is couched at regular intervals. The objective is to make the holding thread as invisible as possible.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Hanyama - The Flower Mountain

Last month I wrote about learning Japanese Embroidery. The various techniques are taught in Phases.

For Phase I, I stitched Hanyama - The Flower Mountain. This design introduces some of the basic techniques of Japanese embroidery, including laying weft and horizontal foundations, lattice holding, Japanese knots, and couching.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Japanese Art is full of symbolism and meaning. As I learn the embroidery techniques, I am trying to learn as much as I can about the motifs that I am stitching.

Each of the five mountains contain one design element: cherry and plum blossoms; chrysanthemums; maple leaves; pine trees; and kikko (tortoise shell). These motifs symbolise the seasons; spring, summer, autumn, winter and the cosmos (eternity). I don't fully understand why the cosmos is often depticted together with the four seasons. I think that it is related to the never ending sequence of one season following another.

Happy Stitching