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 cafĂ©. 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

Friday, 22 March 2019

Sake Boxes - Tassels, part 2

On the second tassel, I opted to use a transfer method that I am more familiar with, stitched transfer.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

This helped me position the strand lines more precisely.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

While still not perfect, I was much happier with these staggered diagonals than on the first tassel.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I was already dissatisfied with the first tassel, seeing them together I decided that the strand lines had to be redone.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The final detail on the tassels was the wrap were the tassel joins the cord.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Sake Boxes - Tassels, part 1

I do like tassels! Be they a simple bundle of threads to the most extravagant passementerie, I find them joyful. I like making tassels – although I generally stick to the simplest techniques – and I like stitching tassels. Happily, they feature quite frequently in Japanese embroidery.

The first, and simplest, that I stitched was on Suehiro. There are two tassels; each has a flat silk horizontal foundation that is held with a tightly twisted thread that is couched into place. Simple but effective.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The single tassel on Himotaba is the one I have found most challenging. Each strand of the tassel is stitched as a line of staggered diagonals. When I had finished stitching, the tassel looked too light and flimsy for the piece. I overcame this by stitching an additional strand between the existing ones. This resulted in a fuller looking tassel but I now know that the problem was my poorly executed staggered diagonals. When I stitched Loving Couple, I encountered the same problem but this time, rather than fill the spaces with more feathers, I restitched them. It took three attempts before I was happy with them.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The next tassels I stitched were those on my own design, Riches. While they look more flamboyant than those on Suehiro, the method of stitching is essentially the same, a horizontal foundation held with a couched thread. Their shape and padding give them their voluptuous looks and the katayori couched around the skirts makes them appear ruffled.

© Carol-Anne Conway

The tassels on the sake box also use, more or less, the same methods as Suehiro and Riches. The horizontal foundation layer is stitched in flat silk over a layer of self-padding. This time the foundation is held with lines of staggered diagonals. Had this been a couched thread, I would probably have positioned the lines by eye. For a line of staggered diagonals, I knew I would need a guide line of some sort. I opted to use the shell powder technique.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

One of the reasons I do not like this method is that (when done by me) the lines are thick and not very precisely positioned but, in this instance, they were good enough to serve as a guide.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I’m still struggling with staggered diagonals and was not 100% happy with these. I decided to work the second tassel and then consider whether or not to redo these.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Sake Boxes - Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossom was among the first motifs that I stitched when I began learning Japanese embroidery nearly fourteen years ago. It is possibly the motif that I have stitched more than any other, in more guised than any other.

From the very first, it embodies the fundamental rules that apply to the order of stitching in Japanese embroidery; with few exceptions foreground elements are stitched first.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

On each Cherry Blossom there is one petal that is in the foreground of all others. This is the head or the face and this petal is stitched first. The petals either side of the head are the hands and they are stitched next, usually with a one point open space between themselves and the head. The remaining two petals are the feet. One foot is always atop of the other, this is stitched next and the underlying foot stitched last.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Even the teeny tiny blossoms on this design by Midori follow those basic rules.

© Midori Matsushima/Carol-Anne Conway

I enjoyed experimenting with different techniques on the oversized cherry blossoms on Kusano-san’s Flower Circle; it allowed me to try out some techniques I had seen in books and at an exhibition in Japan.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

The Cherry Blossoms on the black sake box are done in gold work – one of my favourite techniques. As with the very first cherry flower I stitched, the head is worked first but, before that, the entire flower is outlined with a pair of couched threads.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Then, each individual petal is completed in the prescribed order; head, hands, and feet.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The blossoms are about the size of a ten pence piece so each petal is on the small side and rather fiddly but not too time consuming to stitch.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Sake Boxes - String

Many Japanese designs include cords and/or strings. Himotaba, the design I stitched at Phase V, has five different cord techniques and some of the other pieces I have stitched have cords on them but none of them have included strings! A popular Phase I design, Bouquet from the Heart of Japan, has two heavily padded, candy striped strings. I have always thought they are a considerable challenge for a Phase I student. Konbuin-no-Fukusa has a monotone, padded string tied around the sake box; I found that challenge enough!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Each section of string is padded with twisted padding cotton which is couched with closely spaced stitches. The padding is then covered with short diagonal stitches (arg!) in flat silk. On this short, gently curved section of string, I did not find it too difficult to maintain the angle of the stitches.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

On this longer section, which turns nearly 360°, I found it far more difficult. At my first attempt, I turned too much and lost the angle completely.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

My second attempt was much better; at least the angle of the stitches is better, the edges could be a little more controlled!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching!

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Sake Boxes - Stitch Transfer

It is quite staggering to realise how long Sake Boxes has been in my life! I won the fabric and design in a JEC silent auction in 2011 but was not ready to begin Phase IX at that time so it went into storage for a couple of years.

I started stitching in 2014 at my spring class with Margaret Lewis. I had visited sensei a few weeks earlier to choose my silks and discuss preparation. As well as any stitched outlines, I hoped to have all the foundations stitched prior to class but did not get that far so the first day was spent twisting threads and stitching the foundation of the two vessels. At first these two blocks of solid colour look very stark but I knew that I needed to ignore that and just remember that they will look very different in the end.

When I last wrote about Sake Boxes, in January 2015, the foundations had been pushed to the back of my mind while I focused on the many chrysanthemums and I wrote “Until I get to the gold work on the vessels there will be nothing new to say about this piece, except for an occasional progress report.” While progress has been slow and intermittent, I have failed completely in filing progress reports!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

By the time I attended class at Symondsbury Manor House in March 2015, I had made reasonable progress with the round and pointed petal chrysanthemums. Whenever possible, I like to spend class time working on something new so that I can obtain instruction and iron out any difficulties whilst my tutors are on hand. During this class I wanted to begin the superimposed work on the two vessels. As always, there is preparation to be done before you can start on the fun bits! Ahead of the class I traced the design for the sake box and the ladle on to tissue paper and began the laborious process of stitch transfer onto my foundations.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I had been advised to use a different colour couching thread for each of the various superimposed elements. This proved to be good advice even though my colour choices did not always work to my advantage.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Once the entire design has been stitched through the tracing paper comes the even more laborious process of removing the tissue paper. It must be done with care so not to disturb the stitch transfer or the foundation stitches.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

With the tissue paper removed, the two vessels were already transformed and began to get an impression of how they would look with the superimposed work complete.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Happy New Year, 2019

I wrote only two posts in 2018 and neither mentioned embroidery!

The past couple of years have thrown up a few challenges and have not been all together conducive to embroidery but, gradually, if somewhat patchily, my mojo has returned. In recent weeks, I find the desire to stitch has returned strongly and, while life still sometimes denies me the time to do so, I am more inclined to make time for stitching than I have been for two or three years.

During the past year or two, I have attended some wonderful courses and workshops; have learned some interesting things and begun some projects that, for now, have been put into hibernation. I hope to write about those on here so that I have a record of them for future reference. For now, I want to take a little look forward with what I hope to do in the coming months.

I have several projects in progress and many more that I would like to begin. I am trying to focus my attention on Sake Boxes as my main project. After stalling for a while, I find that I am enjoying it again and have made steady progress over the past few weeks. I attribute this, in part, to taking a break from it and, perhaps more so, to the support and encouragement I received from my friends in the Japanese Embroidery community.

I am a little less settled on my evening project and flit between two or three without advancing any of them by much. I brought one of those with me to Amsterdam.

Ring o' Roses
© Jacqui Carey/Carol-Anne Conway

For the past 18 years we have spent the New Year in A’dam with my sister- and brother-in-law. As we normally only see them once or twice a year, we have much to catch up on, but it is also a time for relaxing and I usually bring some stitching with me. We have been rather busy since arriving doing some of the things that have become traditional for us, and something unexpected (until a couple of weeks ago) but very pleasurable. Last night we saw in the New Year twice, as has become our custom. First, we toast the new year in Holland and watch the extraordinary firework spectacle across the Amsterdam sky line. Then at one o’clock, local time, we toast the new year arriving in England. New Year’s Day, we spend quietly. We take a little walk to blow away the cobwebs, we chat and rest, Susan knits and I stitch.

I did not do much, only one more round, but I am pleased to have done some stitching on the first day of the year and hope that I will do some, if only a little, on more days than not in 2019.

Happy New Year and Happy Stitching