Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Half a Strawberry

This is taking me much longer than I anticipated even discounting the two false starts. The first layer of buttonhole stitches took me two evenings to complete. On reflection, I think I should have done smaller stitches to give better coverage of the foundation fabric but I am not too unhappy with bits of the fabric showing through, it gives more depth to it. The top layer of needle lace took a further three evenings to complete. I got a bit quicker as I got used to handling the GST and to the stitch it self.


Now I need to cover the other half of the walnut shell to match this one.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Strawberry Delight

Finally, the strawberry is going well and starting to look something like I hoped that it would. I wish now that I had made the stitches on the first layer smaller to give better coverage of the background fabric but I’m not totally unhappy with the fabric showing through a little bit. I will have to do the stitches on the second half the same size so that the two halves match.



Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Karahana, Guidelines

I’ve done a little bit of this and a little bit of that but not made much progress with anything.

I’ve started to add a second layer of stitching on the strawberry purse but am still not getting the look I want so have paused to think about it some more. I so want to make this project that I am loath to give up, but it is causing me so much trouble that I am not entirely enjoying the process.

From a blogging point of view, I’m not sure that Karahana will be of much interest for a while. The next five petals are repeats of the one just completed. I can post progress reports but no real new information until I move on to a different design element.

I have made a little progress this week. With the uppermost petal complete, I have begun to the two petals either side of it. The turnovers are worked first and I have completed the two rows of couching round and round. The first round takes longest to work, as I need to take care to cover the very visible black outline on the fabric and to space the couching stitches evenly. Once this row is in place, the subsequent ones generally go a little quicker. I feel as if I am getting a bit quicker at this technique. That may be down to my growing confidence at handling the gold threads.

Before the box couching can commence, I need to stitch guidelines and add the padded lines. I have taken care to align the vertical guidelines with the now covered guidelines on the first petal. I don’t know if this is necessary since they are individual petals, but it is an important detail to me. I have also put in a single horizontal guideline on each turnover to align them horizontally as well as vertically. At least, that’s the plan!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

While taking this picture, I realised that I have not done enough lines, they should be spaced every 3 mm rather than every 6 mm as I have done them. I’m glad that I noticed that before I couched all the padding cotton in place!

Happy Stitching

Friday, 18 April 2008

Strawberry Fever, Take Two

Indecision about how to resolve my problem prevented me from progressing at all. I find have a tendency to do that – if I am not happy with my work or cannot think how to proceed, I become paralysed and can only look and think rather than stitch. It is not unknown for me to completely abandon a project because I can’t get past the thing that is troubling me. Melissa asked what would happen if I just continued. At first I thought good point, why don’t I just continue and see what happens. Well, what I think will happen is that I will get to the end of the reverse chain stitches before the rows of stitching have covered the half shell and there will be a hole that I won’t be able to fill. Because my mind is 'decided this is what will happen, it will not allow my hand to pick up the needle and continue stitching.

Eventually, I decided to start on the second half of the shell and try a different approach. Firstly, I covered the shell with a different fabric. I used a lining fabric instead of the pink satin that I used in the first place. Already I feel happier about it, the lighter weight fabric moulded to the shell better. The next thing that I changed was the thread. For one thing I did not want to ‘waste’ any more GST experimenting. I also thought that DMC floss might give better coverage, as it is not so stiff as the GST. The final change I made was the stitch; instead of detached buttonhole with return across the shell I worked a buttonhole stitch around the shell.



I am much happier with how things are going now. This combination of changes has resulted in better coverage but this is not the look I am after. I want the glitz of the GST. A member on the Embroiderer’s Guild forum pointed me to a picture of strawberries stitched by Catherine Barley, this is more like the look I am hoping to achieve.


Pauline asked how I start new threads when working detached buttonhole. The only time you stitch through the fabric is at either end of a row of stitches, this is the time to join in a new thread. To end a thread, I stitch into the fabric in the normal way but instead of coming up where I would start the next row I run the needle under the fabric as far as I can and come up either under existing stitches or where I still have to stitch. I will leave the tail until I have completed a couple more rows of stitching and then cut the thread as close to the fabric as possible. To start the new thread, I use an away knot. I will stitch into the fabric away from where I want to start the next row, again under existing stitching or where I future stitches will be, and bring the needle up at the beginning of the next row. Again, I fill cut away the knot close to the fabric when I have completed a couple of rows and I am sure that the stitching is secure. You can leave trimming all the tails until the stitching is completed but they sometimes get in the way and are best removed.

Finally, Carol’s strawberry block that started this strawberry fever can be seen on the Hand Embroidery blog. Thank you, Melissa for letting me know that the block is there.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Karahana, Petal

The flower petals are worked in a technique called couching: one pair, round and round. The name of this technique describes it very accurately. You take a pair of gold threads wound onto koma and you couch them as a pair, first around the outline of the shape. This is the most important round. The pair of threads must follow the outline precisely with well-formed corners. If the first round is not correct none of the subsequent rounds will be correct either.

When you have couched around the circumference of the shape you continue to couch a second round, without ending and restarting the thread, inside the first round.

And you continue in this fashion, couching round and round ...

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

... and round and round ...

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

... and round and round until you have filled the entire shape.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The aim is to maintain an even (very narrow) gap between each pair of threads; to make definite, well formed corners and to produce an attractive pattern with the couching stitches. In this case the stitches are alternated to form a ‘brick’ effect. Depending on whether you are stitching a concave or convex curve, stitches may need to be dropped or added to maintain regular spacing. It can be difficult to determine where and when this should happen.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

One petal completed, five to go. I am fond of gold work and, when I settle into it, find couching to be very relaxing, almost meditative. However, it is very time-consuming, I estimate that the couching: round and round on this petal alone took me more than 20 hours of stitching time. The amount of work still to be done on this design is somewhat daunting!

I hope that my blog gives you some insight into the techniques employed in Japanese embroidery but please note that they are not intended to be a comprehensive tutorial. There are many more things to be learnt than can be described in a few paragraphs, and I am still learning them. If you would like to learn more about Japanese Embroidery, please visit the Japanese Embroidery Centre website for a list of certified tutors, or their on-line store for publications. Alternatively, details of the bi-annual classes held by my sensei (tutor) can be found on the Japanese Embroidery (UK) website.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Eyes in the Tips of my Fingers

Most of my mind was focused on couching #4 gold metallic to Karahana but as always, part of my mind drifted away to do its own thing. It began with the related thought that I needed at least two more hands for gold work. The two I have are needed for stitching, the left hand under the frame and the right hand on top. A third one is definitely needed to position and keep tension on the koma (cones onto which the metallic threads are wound). A fourth would come in useful to hold the tekobari and nudge the threads into place.

I then started thinking what other 'equipment' might I find useful. Well, eyes on the tips of my left fingers to help me see where to position the needle under the frame would be useful, as would a retractable blade under a right finger nail, then I could cut threads that I am holding in both hands so that they don’t unravel or kink when I let go to reach for the scissors. As I was wondering what else I required my mind was brought back to the task in hand - my right hand had detected a problem. As I drew the thread up to the top, it felt too short compared to the previous stitch. Investigating with the sightless fingers of my left hand I found a small knot in the thread about half an inch from the fabric. The knot has to be removed or there will be no tension on the previous couching stitch. Gently tugging with both hands did not do the trick so I had to turn the frame over in order to work on the knot. At this point the wandering part of my mind thought that if I had a telescopic neck it would save me the trouble of tuning the frame. I say trouble because all the equipment I am working with is placed on the end fabric on the frame, that all had to be removed and as I am couching metallic threads, the koma have to be secured by tying them to the frame.

Since I don’t have a retractable pointy tool under any of my finger nails, I used my tekobari to tease the knot open. The tekobari is the tool I use for stroking the flat silk. It is made of smooth steel and has an extremely sharp point. As well as laying silk it is deployed for many other uses, like holding the metallic threads in place while you couch them, gently moving stitches aside so you can position your needle with splitting the thread, nudging errant stitches into place and undoing knots! In fact the tekobari is so useful that is the second most used tool in Japanese embroidery, after needles.


Actually I was quite pleased to turn the frame over. In theory, you don’t see the back of your Japanese embroidery until all the stitching is complete. I find that stitchers generally fall into one of two camps regarding the back of their work. There are those who feel that as long as the front is right, they are not worried what the back looks like and there are those who like the back of the work to be neat. I fall into the latter category. I tend to think that if the back is right then the front will be too. When I turned my frame over, I was really pleased with what I saw. Firstly, I thought the pattern forming on the back looked pretty (yes, I do know how sad I am) and secondly, because the neat regular marks on the back made me more confident about the stitching on the front.


I guess I don’t need those eyes on my fingertips, it seems that when I relax my mind and let my fingers think for themselves, they can see exactly what they are doing!

Back to the couching round and round. Happy Stitching.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Strawberry Fever

I always have a mental list of projects, fabrics, threads or techniques that I want to try. Sometimes, two or three ideas come together to form a plan. Sometime ago, I saw some walnut purses on the Embroiderer’s Guild forum. They immediately went onto the list and at Christmas I saved four walnut shells for when I got around to them.


A couple of weeks ago, I acquired my first cone of Gilt Sylke Twist but didn’t know then what I would do with it. Recently there has been a spat of strawberry embroideries, led (I think) by Carol’s strawberry CQ quilt. Hopefully, Carol will post a picture of her block on her blog for you to see but in the meantime she has posted a step-by-step guide on how she stitched a detached chain stitch strawberry that I think is her own design.

This started me thinking that my Redde GST would be perfect for a strawberry, and lo and behold, Mary Corbet worked a beautiful strawberry in redde GST satin stitch with a lattice in pink GST over the top. I decided to make a 'strawberry' walnut purse.

I made a template for the fabric cover and marked the outline onto a piece of fabric large enough to fit into a hoop will I stitched reverse chain stitch inside the outline.


I ran several rows of running stitch outside the outline to gather the surplus fabric inside the shell before cutting out the shape (with surplus). I covered one half of the shell first with wadding, which I glued to the shell and trimmed to fit. I then covered the shell with the prepared fabric and pulled up the gathering threads on the inside. The cover moved about a little, so I temporarily laced it in place to do the next step.

I had decided to cover each half of the shell in detached buttonhole with return, starting from the top. The Gilt Sylke Twist is a somewhat stiff thread, more like wire than silk; it took a little getting used to. I found that it is better to work with shorter lengths (I have a tendency to work with long threads even thought I know it is rarely best practice!) and that the thread sometimes needs to be eased into the stitch to prevent kinks forming. I needed to take my time and just enjoy working with this beautiful thread. I kept stopping to twist the shell under the light to see the gold sparkle.


After reaching approximately half way, I realized that the rows where distorting around the shell rather than going straight over the top and that they were not going to fully cover the surface. I went back across the work I had already done and eased the stitches open with my tekobari, which helped but it still doesn’t look like enough. I could open the stitches more but I think that will spoil them and the effect of the thread. I think it needs some filler rows but I’m not sure how to go about doing that. I know that detached buttonhole is used to cover heavily padded shapes or preformed shaped such as beads, so there must be a way to resolve this problem.


At the moment I am not sure how to proceed. I’m wondering if it would have been better to cover the shell with spiralling trellis stitch instead.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 7 April 2008

April TIF - Initial Thoughts

How do you see change? That is the “Take it Further” challenge topic for April.

Looking back at my life, I would have to say that I am resistant to change. I have lived my entire life within a twelve-mile radius of my childhood home and have had only three different homes (four if you count a flat sit I did for family friends who went to Australia for 6 months). I have been in my current job for 10 years and only left the previous job of 14 years because I was made redundant. I don’t make major changes with out thinking long and hard them but when things do change I think that I am quick to adapt and settle down.

When I left school and starting work, I brought myself an electric sewing machine. Although it was basic, it did everything I needed it to and I loved it. I did a fair amount of dress making, but it really only had light use and I took great care of it, cleaning it before putting it away and having it served regularly. About two years ago, I did a couple of workshops that touched on free machine embroidery. I could drop the feed dogs on my machine but it was not designed with FME in mind and didn’t cope very well. After a lot of thought I decided to buy myself a new machine - a Bernina Artista that came with a free embroidery unit as a special promotion. For Christmas, a few weeks later, I receive various accessories including a flower stitcher. I imagined myself not only becoming proficient in FME but also learning to digitise and stitch my own designs with the embroidery unit. It is a magnificent machine and a pleasure to stitch on but to date I have only used it for the same type of stitching that I used my old machine. The embroidery unit is untouched as is the flower stitcher and I have only had a couple of brief attempts at FME.

For this challenge, I am going to do a machine-embroidered piece for a change!

Too many posts without pictures lately, so to make up for that here are some that I did earlier!




I made this embroidered box in at a workshop lead by Janet Edmonds. The machine embroidery is not exactly FME and most of it was completed in the class. At home I reverted mostly to hand embroidery to complete the box.

I had made a beaded bead to fasten the threads at the top of the box but unfortunately I lost it.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Embroidery can lead to World Peace

Here’s a thought, it may be a soft one but it’s one I’d like to share with you.

I don’t think that there is an easy path to peace in this world but I do think that we have to keep looking for it. I also think that women may be the ones who will bring about that peace eventually.

Modern technology is enabling us, and women in particular, to make contact with people in a way that was not possible in the past. Even in communities where women may not have come in contact with people outside their village, the Internet makes it possible for them to ‘meet’ people from as many different countries and cultures as there are in this world.

Through forums and blogs, whole new communities are forming. Initially, it is our shared passion for a single ‘thing’ (in this case embroidery) that draws us into the community but gradually we start to form friendships and learn more about the other members of that community.

Across this planet there are millions of women who embroider. There are so many different forms and techniques but as we learn more about the different techniques we realise that basically they are the same. The same stitches crop up again and again under different names. When I started to learn Japanese embroidery, I was amazed that I already 'knew' many of the stitches and some of techniques I am learning I have seen used in many other forms of embroidery. All embroidery is essentially the same.

As I have got to know some people in different parts of the world, I have come to realise that the same is true of us. The details of our lives may be very different but essentially all people are the same. We have the same basic needs and the same things are most important to us.

As more women from around the world enter this community and we get to know more about each other, we are learning that we have more in common than not and that the differences between us are mere details.

For the most part it is women who nurture the children of this world. If women teach their children that people from around the world are just like them and not to be feared or hated, maybe we can look forward to a day when we can all live peaceably together.

Embroidery can lead to world peace.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Gilt Sylke Twist

(Trumpet salute)

About two weeks ago, The Embroiderer’s Story finally announced that Gilt Sylke Twist is available for purchase. Currently there is only a limited supply available in just 5 of the colours used on the jacket - Redde, Carnacion, Bisse, Graie Blewe, and Grene. Some of these colours are limited edition and will be replaced by a permanent colour series when more is manufactured. The price is $25 for 35-meters, $5 of which goes to Plimoth Plantation as a donation to the jacket project.

There are some things in life that a girl simply has to have, even if she doesn’t have an immediate plan for it. For me, this thread falls into that category. As soon as I read the announcement, I placed an order for one cone of each colour and a couple of days ago I received my first cone in the post.

I am now the proud owner of one cone of Gilt Sylke Twist - Redde.


Words do not describe how pretty this thread is and pictures do not do it justice. It positively glimmers. Coincidently, the Redde is almost the same shade as the fabric on which I am working my Karahana.


There seems to be a strawberry fever spreading throughout the blogs at the moment which gives me an idea for my Redde GST!

Happy Stitching