Thursday, 26 February 2009

Play Days - Part 2

Over the weekend I also painted some habutae silk. I have tried this a couple of times before but I don’t really know what I am doing.

First I stretched the piece of silk onto a frame that J made for me a couple of years ago. I used Peboe SetaSilk Paint in three shades, caramel, magenta combined with a little yellow, and cyan combined with a tiny amount of black. All three were diluted with water.

On one half of the silk I dropped paint onto dry silk using a pipette. I began with caramel and added first the pink then the blue and finally added more caramel to fill any voids.

On the second half I used a sponge brush to paint the blue over the entire area. At this point I planned to let everything dry. I can be a very patient person. I can do the same task for hours on end, but I am not very good at just letting things be. After about an hour I decided to add some salt. On the spotty side I sprinkled salt everywhere; on the plain side I sprinkled salt only along the edges and left things to dry ...

... A little later I decided to add stripes to the plain half and used the pipette to drop a lines of caramel and pink paint ... and sprinkled rows of salt along the stripes. Then I left everything to dry.

Some interesting effects emerge when you add salt. In some places the colour streaked, I think this was where the paint was nearly dry.

In other places the colour has gone grainy, this seams to happen if the salt is applied to very wet paint.

I noticed also that salt crystals seem to have grown in places where no salt was applied.

When the paint was completely dry, I removed most of the salt. It had stuck to the fabric in places but was easily brushed off. I tried to leave small particles of salt, as I like the way it glistens. To set the colour, I ironed the silk with a hot iron for several minutes.

Happy Stitching

Play Days - Part 1

While J was playing bar billiards at tournaments Saturday and Sunday, I got some playtime of my own.

I took some scraps of brown lining fabric and began by applying gold acrylic paint and bronze wax. On the first sample I applied first the paint and then the wax to the fabric and spread it with a brush using a brushing action. This applied a thick, even layer of colour.

On the second sample I applied the paint to the brush and brushed this onto the fabric, again in a brushing action. I then applied the wax in the same manner. This gave a light application of paint/wax but with a similar appearance to sample 1.

For the third sample I again applied the paint to the brush but this time I applied it to the fabric by stippling and repeated this with the wax. This was the slowest method but produced a more textured effect. Of the three samples this is the one I like best.

I allowed the samples to dry over night before continuing. Using Markal Paintstiks in orange, yellow, purple, blue and two shades of green, I made random marks all over the surface. I tried to blend the lines with a dry brush, with out much success, so I applied dots of the gold acrylic and bronze wax used previously and stippling all over the fabric to blend the colours.

I can no longer distinguish between samples 1 and 2 but sample three remains my favourite.

Happy Stitching

Friday, 20 February 2009

Fabulous Fabrics

Japanese Embroidery is taught in Phases. You begin by learning the basis stitches and techniques, at each Phases you build on what you have already learnt and introduce more advanced techniques. While you are learning embroidery stitches, more subtly you are also learning about fabrics.

At Phase I, Hanayama, I was barely aware of the fabric. I know that it is a crepey fabric and vaguely remember thinking that it was a very forgiving fabric that readily healed whenever I removed stitches. I removed a lot of stitches during Phase I but the fabric withstood everything I could throw at it.

I noticed the fabric for Phase II, Suihiro, immediately. It has a crisper texture from the Phase I silk and has small, shiny splodges woven into it. Splodges is not a pretty enough word to describe the effect but I cannot think of a more appropriate one.

The fabric for Phase III, Venerable Friends, is much heavier. It needs to be to support the padding and superimposed stitches that are the techniques taught at this Phase.

Phases IV, gold work, also needs the support of a heavier fabric. My Karahana is stitched on red Shioze.

During the first 10 Phases to accreditation, the student is encouraged to us a metallic fabric at least once. Nishijin has narrow strips of gold-leafed paper alternating with silk threads for the weft. I have heard tales of how unforgiving Nishijin can be; the paper in the weft threads does not heal in the same way that silk fibers do. The stitcher cannot afford to make too many, nor too obvious, mistakes. I am stitching Phase V, Himotaba, on Nishijin<. When the fabric arrived, I was immediately struck by it's rich, smooth finish.

My piece of fabric comes from either the beginning or the end of the bolt. The weaver began with a section of pure silk before introducing the gold paper. On the plain silk I have placed a single strip of gold paper that frayed away from the raw edge.

It is a beautiful fabric but I am a little bit intimidated by it. I still have to remove a lot of stitching, sometimes more that one. Will the fabric withstand this? Now that I have begun stitch, albeit only the prep work, I like the feel of the fabric. I am finding it easier to place the stitches precisely than with any of the fabrics I have worked with before. I think this is because the needle pierces the paper where as the needle finds a path between the threads on purely silk fabrics.

I was horrified when I realised that I had couched the imitation gold in the wrong place. When I removed the threads, I could see what they mean about the fabric not healing; there was a clear stitching line left in the fabric. Fortunately this will be covered by stitching. Also, the original printed line was now barely visible. I decided to outline along this line with Japanese running stitch. Partly to make the line more visible when I come to do the stitching; partly to give more support to the stitching.

Despite taking great care, I removed a short section of paper along with the couched gold. I sticks out like a sore thumb, but again it is fortunate that it lies within the cord and will be covered by stitching.

Happy stitching.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

... Preparation

There is one vital part of preparation that I should know by now, but still forget on occasions.
Before you do anything, read all the instructions from start to finish. Then read them again and for good measure, just before you start a step, read the relevant instructions again!
This may sound like over kill and a waste of time, but if I have remembered this fundamental rule, it would have saved me a lot of time.

The detailed instructions that my tutor sent me when I requested help stressed that a line of #4 imitation gold should be firmly couched just INSIDE the outline. The picture in my textbook shows a line of couched gold INSIDE the outline. I should have reread the instructions, or looked at my textbook, before I couched the gold metallic thread ON the outline.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

So, instead of spending 5 minutes reading the instructions, and a minute or two looking at the textbook, I spent 45 minutes removing 3 hours and 30 minutes worth of couching.

As my tutor said
One good thing will come out of this salutary lesson - you will never forget again!!!
but as I said to my tutor, it’s a shame that I have not yet learnt the lesson about reading the instructions.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

... Preparation ...

I tend to view preparation as a necessary evil. I’d rather be doing the embroidery but I can’t begin that until the fabric is on the frame and a certain amount of preparatory stitching is done. If I didn’t already understand the importance to framing up correctly, my experience with Karahana taught me that and transferring the design onto the fabric for Flutterbys taught me to value time taken to outline the designs.

Outlining can be a boring task, especially if all done in one step, as I did with Flutterbys, but while my hands executed a well-practised stitch that requires little conscious thought, my mind took time to get to know the design.

On the face of it, Himotaba is a simple design consisting of 8 cords and a single tassel but even the simplest of designs has its intricacies. The cords curve and twist around each other. Careful consideration must be give to the colour of each cord since it can lie beside first one cord, then another. Will this cord clash with its neighbours? Is there sufficient contrast and tonal range? Do the colours make a harmonious set?

The cords also weave under and over each other. In Japanese Embroidery, the foreground is always stitched first. This means that certain cords must be started before others can be worked, but they may have to stop and resume later when that cord crosses over them. This applies equally to preparatory work. The outlines for the cords must be spaced exactly 7 mm apart, so cords that lie on top of others must be carefully measured and outlined before those below them. Learning which parts of the design should be stitched first during preparation helps me to determine the order of stitching when I get to the embroidery.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

They say that preparation is the key to success and I am told that a firmly stitched outline is the key to a well-embroidered cord. Preparation may not be my favourite part of the process, but I do not underestimate its value. Nine and a half hours into outlining cords I'm getting to know Himotaba and I think I'm going to like her.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Preparation ...

Haranorte-san wrote on her Japanese Embroidery Diary that framing up is an important task.
"It isn't too much to say that this task will decide finish."
As much as I enjoyed stitching Karahana, throughout I struggled with the tension of the fabric, constantly having to add wedges to keep it taught. The problems began the with framing up; I have never had the problems that I experienced with Karahana, and when I removed Karahana from the frame I experienced further problems. Let me tell you about the framing up process, and then I'll tell you were I went wrong with Karahana.

In Japan, Japanese Embroidery is normally done on kimono or obi. In the west we tend to embroider on shortern lengths of silk and frame them as pictures. Since the fabric itself is too short for the frame, addition cotton fabric is attached to each end of the silk, matching grains along the weft threads.

So, the first thing is to find the straight grain on both ends of the silk and one end of each piece of cotton. I do this by removing any lose threads until I can remove a complete weft thread.

I then trim the off the warp threads using a long rule and a rotary cutter.

One piece of cotton is then machine stitched each end of the silk, matching wrong sides. It is more common to join fabric right sides together, but we do it the opposite way round so that the seam is on the top were we can keep an eye on it. The seam is then overlocked to prevent fraying.

The Japanese frame has a couple of features that I believe are unique, one of which is the spilt rod called half dowels. The fabric is placed over the bottom half of each half dowel (which has been insterted into the frame) the weft aligned with the dowel. The top half is then slid into place so that the fabric is gripped between the half dowels. The dowels are rotated, wrapping the fabric around the dowels and creating tension in the warp direction. The dowels are held in place (and the tension maintained) by long nails that catch against the weft bars. This sounds simple but it can take several attempts to position the fabric correctly so that the tension is just right. (It was this step that caused me so many problems with Karahana and almost resulted in me throwing everything in the bin in a fit of peak.)

When the warp tension is correct, the fabric is laced to the frame through holes in the frame.

This is another feature that I believe to be unique to the Japanese Frame. The lacing is then pulled as tight as possible before the ends are secured. Finally the weft is tensioned by wedging the weft bars with chop sticks cut to the correct length; these are held in place with off cuts of cotton tied around the weft bars.

Finally, the framing is finished. The fabric is taught in both the warp and weft direction, and the weft is perpendicular to the frame and the preparation can begin.

Oh, I promised to tell you where I went wrong with Karahana. Well, I failed to correctly identify the weft direction on the cotton ends and joined their warp edges to the weft edge of the silk. Because of this the two fabrics were stretching in different directions and distorting. This was particularly evident when I came to mount the Karahana and I had to work very hard to realign the warp and weft threads. I did actually realise my error during the embroidery but by the time I did, I had come too far to take the work of the frame and reframe it, I just had to keep adding wedges and adjusting as best I could.

I really enjoyed stitching Karahana and am very pleased with the result, despite the problems. Had I prepared correctly, I certainly would have encountered less problems and maybe the stitching would have been better, who knows. But one this is for certain, I would have not have learned the lessons I have.

Happy Stitching

Happy Valentine's Day

Yesterday I was off sick with a throat infection. I was feeling rather fed up and sorry for myself when a bouquet of flowers arrived for me. I love flowers so was immediately cheered up. I then remembered that I had not bought a card for J and I certainly did not feel like going out to get one. I gathered together a few supplies, settle myself onto the sofa and started stitching.

A couple of hours later I had this.

And before J had finished work for the day, I had this.

Happy Stitching and I hope you have had a Happy Valentines Day

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Guest Speaker, Jane Pollard

As we were exchanging Travelling Books for the first time, it was serendipitous that our speaker last night was talking about using sketchbooks. As a teacher, Jane Pollard, expects her students to use sketchbooks but only began to use them herself when required to do so on a City and Guilds course. It was then that Jane began to understand the difficulties her students were experiencing and considered how they might overcome them.

Finding little inspiration in purchased sketchbooks, Jane began to explore other options and making her own books in a format and from papers that appealed to her. In addition Jane changed the way in which she used them, no longer limiting herself to merely sketching, but filling her pages with drawings, painting, colour, stitches, and samples of threads, beads, fabrics and paper. In fact, anything that inspired her.

Jane also found that it helped to think about what she wanted to do with the sketchbook and has several books that fulfil different roles. One is used for recording; making quick sketches, noting down thoughts, lines from poems or quotes, and observations. Another is used for developing ideas; researching a subject, making more detailed drawings, collecting together samples and swatches. Some of her books are themed and in those Jane collates anything relating to subjects that interest her, such as fairgrounds, or research and ideas for a finished design.

The sketchbooks that Jane brought along for us to see were inspirational. Some, so far unused, were so beautiful that I doubt I would ever use them for fear of spoiling them. There was a black silk box with machine embroidery which, when you removed the lid, unfolded to reveal four sketch pads, one on each inside wall. Their covers were made from strips of fabric and machine stitching gradually changing colour and creating a colour wheel. A second box, the top entirely covered in machine stitching with gold and silver metallic threads, unfolded to reveal a sketchbook with a beautifully machine embroidered cover. A CD rack filled with hexagonal cards covered with various patterned papers.

The books that had been used were anything but spoiled. The pages were alive with thoughts and ideas that would set anyone’s creative juices on fire. Jane had also brought with her a selection of sketchbooks belonging to some of her students. Judging from the work they are doing in thier own books, they have certainly been inspired by Jane's approach.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Travelling Books - Introduction

The Oxford Branch of the Embroiderer's Guild has embarked on a new venture this year, Travelling Books. It is in effect a 'round robin' but the 'robin' in this case is an A5 sketch book. For now we are working in groups of six, each member of the group has two books, a Travelling Book and a Home Book. You have one month to create a page for each book; at the end of the month, you pass the travelling book to the next person in your group. The first month both pages go into your own books; in subsequent months, one page is for your home book, the other for the travelling book currently lodging with you. When your travelling book has done the round and returns home, you will have six pages by six different artists.

The phrases 'Japanese Embroidery' and 'rush job' are rarely found in the same sentence but ... with so many things vying for my attention, I did not begin working on my first pages until last Friday. Although I had decided on a small design, I had put myself under considerable presure time wise, especially as I was demonstrating Japanese Embroidery at the Stitching and Creative Crafts show all weekend.

I don't do my best work under pressure, and the stitching is not terribly good but I certainly did not have time to redo it. I finished stitching late on Tuesday night; I began making up the page in the Travelling Book on Wednesday morning.

I finished it after work on Wednesday before going directly to our branch meeting and exchanging books 30 minutes later. I have a tendancy to leave things to the last minute but that was too close for comfort, even for me.

Although the stitching is less than perfect, the page is as I envisaged and I am reasonably happy with it. I am trying to keep in mind the ethos behind this project; the intention is not to create perfect works of art but rather to stimulate our own, and each others, creative juices.

I only had time to complete the travelling book ready to pass on, I hope to complete the home book this weekend so that it does not fall behind. My travelling book has now begun its journey and I will not see it again until it has completed the round. How exciting is that. Unfortunately, the lady who passes books to me was unable to attend this evening's meeting, she will post her book to me, but I intend to give myself more time to work on the next pages.

Happy Stitching