Tuesday, 11 January 2022

The Techniques of Japanese Embroidery

Japanese Embroidery is taught by the Japanese Embroidery Center and their accredited tutors as a ten phase curriculum. We always recommend that it is best learnt directly from a tutor. I realise that this is frustrating for those who do not live near to, and cannot travel to, a tutor. With the advent of Coronavirus, JEC and a number of tutors have begun offering online classes which gives access to Japanese embroidery to a wider audience.

In addition to classes, one of the text books is, I find, essential. Over time, the JEC have published a number of text books. When I began, the recommended text was The Techniques of Japanese Embroidery by Shuji Tamura. While I have other text books, this is still my go to manual when stitching. This book is now out of print but copies of it can usually be found on the internet at reasonable prices.
© Japanese Embroidery Centre

A predecessor to this text is affectionately known as the concertina book. Traditional Japanese Embroidery, Instructions for the Basic Techniques was published by the Kurenai-Kai. This is much harder to find on the internet but copies do occasionally surface. I was lucky enough to obtain a near mint condition copy still in its original cardboard cover together with the Traditional Japanese Embroidery, Introduction booklet that covers the subjects included in Chapter 3 of the JEC book.
© Kurenai-Kai

Traditional Japanese Embroidery is an accordion style book. Printed on one side of the pages are designs suitable for the technique that is explained on the reverse. The 46 basic techniques are grouped into 12 sections.
© Kurenai-Kai

© Kurenai-Kai

This more-or-less corresponds to Chapter 4 of the JEC book but there are a few differences, for example, technique #14 Braided effect is listed under Linear Effects in the concertina book but called Imitation-wicker braid and listed under Braided Cords in the JEC book. The two publications contain many of the same photographs and diagrams. The concertina book numbers the techniques whereas the JEC have substituted the numbers with a code letter. In theory, I guess these are easier to relate to the technique than a number but I have been very bad at learning either and tend to refer to the techniques by their name.
© Japanese Embroidery Centre

The following list groups the techniques according to the concertina book. Some of the names that we use now and in the JEC book vary from those listed but I think these are, in some cases, more descriptive of the technique. The most obvious difference is that we usually refer to Laying Weft Valley Lines as Fuzzy Effect.

I Laying the Foundation (Shitagoshirea-nui)
1 W Weft foundation layer (nuki-jibiki)
2 H Horizontal foundation layer (nari-jibiki)
3 V Vertical single layer (tate-nuikiri)
4 D Diagonal single layer: regular shapes (naname-nuikiri: himo)
5 D Diagonal single layer: irregular shapes (naname-nuikiri: kiku)
6 S Separated single layer (wari-nui)

II Holding the Foundation (Osea-Nui)
7 Hd Diagonal holding (hippari-osae)
8 Hl Lattice holding (goban-osae)
9 Hs Short-stitch holding (kiri-osae)

III Sewing Thin Lines (Sen-Nui)
10 Lh Line of held thread (hippari-toji)
11 Ls Line of staggered diagonals (matsui-nui)

IV Adding Linear Effects (Uwagake-Nui)
12
Stamen effect (shibe-kake)
13
Vein effect (yōmyaku-kake)
14
Braided effect (ajiro-gake)
15
Geometrical effects (waritsuke-nui)

Gt Tie-dye effect (hitta-gake)


Tie-dye effect: in relief (honbitta-gake)

Gf Flax-leaf effect (asanoha-gake)

V Adding Superimposed Figures (Uwamoyō-Toji)
16 St Superimposed straight lines (uwamoyō-hippari-toji)
17 Sc Superimposed weft layer (uwamoyō-nuki-nui)
18 Ss Superimposed single layer (uwamoyō-nuikiri)

VI Using Non-stitchable Thread (Komadori-Nui)
19 C2 One pair non-stitchable (komadori ikkai)
20 C4 Two pairs non-stitchable (komadori nikai)
21 C3 One and a half pairs non-stitchable (komadori ikkai-han)
22 C1 Single thread non-stitchable (komadori katakoma)
23 C2r One pair round and round (hiraume-hakoume)
24 C2t One pair to and fro (hiraume-hikikaeshiume)
25 C2o Outward coiling pair (hiraume-tamaume)
26 C2i Inward coiling pair (hiraume-waume)
27 C1t Single thread to and fro: weft (nuki-orandagaeshiume)
28 C1tD Single thread to and fro: diagonal (nuikiri-orandagaeshiume)

C1tH Single thread to and fro: Horizontal

C1tV Single thread to and fro: Vertical
29 C1M Single thread: maze pattern (charaume)

VII Achieving Novel Effects (Kawari-Nui)
30 Nt Three-dimensional lattice effect (masu-nui)

Nw Woven effect (mushiro-nui)

Nb Blister effect (hōkamuri-nui)

VIII Padding the Figure (Nikuire-Nui)
31 PsH Horizontal padding (kira-nikuire)

PsV Vertical padding
32 PsD Diagonal padding (naname-nikuire)
33 Pc Non-stitchable padding (koma-nikuire)

IX Laying Weft Valley Lines (Suga-Nui)
34 Fw Weft valley layer (sugabiki)
35 Fv Vertically held valley lines (suganui-tojiosae)
36 Fd Diagonally held valley lines (suganui-mojiriosae)

X Making Knots (Sagara-Nui)
37 Kr Single round knot (sagara-nui)
38 Kl Single tadpole knot (ashinaga-sagara)
39
Multiple round knots (sagara-zume)
40 Kl+Ra Multiple tadpole knots (sagaara sashinui)

XI Making Braided Cords (Kumihimo-Nui)
41 Bw Wicker braid (ajirokumi-nui)
42 Bs Single central braid (nakayuwae-nui)
43 Bd Double central braid (yotsugumi-nui)

XII Achieving Realistic Effects (Sashi-Nui)
44 Ra Alternating long and short stitches (nagamijika – sashinui))
45 Rr Random long and short stitches (midare-sashinui)
46 Rc Angular curves (kussetsu-sashinui)

In theory, all 46 techniques are introduced progressively through Phases I-IX. In practice, depending on the designs you choose to stitch, it is possible to reach Phase X without covering them all. Whereas, the first nine phases are carefully designed teaching pieces, Phase X is a graduation piece and rather than learning the emphasis is on revisiting, revising, and refining each of the techniques.

Considering I had been learning JE since 2005, I felt like an absolute beginner at the beginning of the class. I was horrified at how much I had either not taken on board or forgotten and at the bad habits I had developed. But Kazumi-san has been teaching Phase X class for a very long time and she is very good at building your confidence and coaxing buried knowledge from the darkest recesses of your mind. When I asked Kazumi-san if I should take something out and redo it, she replied that they are looking for improvement not perfection. In a recent meeting with Arata-san when someone else asked him the same question, he gave a similar response, saying that he rarely took work out. It is difficult when we want to do our best, to leave your errors in so that we might learn from it.

Over the Christmas break, I finished stitching the samples for a fabulous class I took at the end of 2021, one of a few that I have not yet written about. I was keen to complete the piece before the end of December so that I could (re)start work on my main project for 2022. With several WIPs that I am eager to resume, it was difficult to select which to do first but the voice of reason (my husband) said that I should focus on completing Phase X.

As I work on Kusudama this year, I plan to revisit where I have used the technique previously; revise what I was previously taught by my Sensei and by Kazumi-san, and what is written in the textbooks I have; and I hope to refine my understanding and execution of each of the techniques.

Happy stitching

Thursday, 6 January 2022

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, Embroidery Gave to me ...

Chrysanthemums and a Stream

Every spring since 2005, I have attended a five day residential course on Japanese Embroidery. The 2020 class was a little different from other years as we had a guest tutor, Midori Matsushima. I had attended two classes previously where Midori-san had taught us kinsai; on this occasion her class would be embroidery based. The design we had collectively chosen was Chrysanthemums by a Stream, with Rocks, Midori-san’s interpretation of an Ito Jakucho painting.

The stream is applied to the fabric in gold leaf. Originally we had expected to be doing this on day one of the course but Midori-san, while in Japan, had this done for us by a gold leaf Master. My disappointment that we would not be learning this technique was far surpassed by the delight of having the gold leaf so expertly done.
© Midori Matsushima/Carol-Anne Conway

The chrysanthemum’s at the top of the design are, I think quirky and very appealing. The petals are done in blister stitch. Midori-san instructed us to make a three-ply twist to use for the knots that serve as padding in this stitch. The two straight stitches that form the blister are slightly off set to create the petal shape. It looks deceptively easy but is devilishly difficult. I could not spread my silk enough to satisfy Midori-san and my two stitches slipped off the sides of the padding revealing the knot underneath. Much more practice needed!
© Midori Matsushima/Carol-Anne Conway

A particular feature of Jakucho’s work is that he did not paint perfection; he painted nature with all of its imperfections. He saw beauty in a decaying leaf and depicted it that way. Both the JEC, on the Phoenix and Pine design, and Midori-san have reflected this in their embroidery.
© Midori Matsushima/Carol-Anne Conway

I have a great deal more to do on this piece but, for now, it is in hibernation.

Happy Stitching

Postscript

In this series of catchup posts I have tried not to dwell on the pandemic or on losing my parents but these two events are what has afforded so much stitching of the past two years.

I had booked this class a year earlier. The schedule included this three day class followed by three days of our regular class lead my Margaret-sensei. I also had an entirely different class booked for the following two days.

Although Dad had been unwell for many years, his death in September was sudden and unexpected. Dealing with my grief was difficult; watching Mum grieve was heart breaking and watching her fade away over the next four months was unbearable.

We buried Mum at the beginning of March 2020 and my brothers and I were busy sorting out the family home and other affairs. I did not really feel like going to the embroidery class but everyone thought it would do me good to take a break. In the end I was persuaded to go for Midori-san’s three day class.

Meanwhile, I was watching the news of coronavirus. At that point was not overly concerned about it but over the three days of the class, the rate of infection was accelerating rapidly. The additional three days of regular class where cancelled and we went home.

The other class booked for the end of the week had also been organized months in advance. As this is a very small class held in a private home, we initially thought it might go ahead but in the end that too was cancelled. That week the company I work for decided that we should all work from home until things settled down.

There is no deneying this pandemic has been awful but my husband and I have been more fortune than many. We have both worked from home since March 2020 and have avoided getting Covid. Like everyone else, we were locked down and unable to go anywhere. Of course, I miss spending time with my friends and family, especially my brothers, and regret the things that we have not been able to do. However, in March 2020, I was exhausted, mentally and physically. Lockdown forced me to stop and take time to grieve and recover. I feel extremely fortunate that I have a hobby that I can do at home and I have enough supplies to last me a life time. Embroidery, the garden, and my lovely husband have been my salvation. I am very lucky!

PPS

I’ve got a few more things to catch up on and more stitching in progress so I’ll be back soon … I hope!

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, Embroidery Gave to me ...

The Blackwell Roundel

However much you like a designer's work, you like some of their designs more than others. I have several of Jenny’s kits in my stash and there are others that I would happily add to it. When the Blackwell Roundel was first released, it did not immediately appeal to me.

Later, when I saw it in the specially designed Pins and Needles Workbox, I saw it in a different light and it did make its way into my stash. I had not planned to stitch it so soon but when I heard from Jenny that the handmade Workbox I had ordered was soon to be available, and I had just finished Amy’s Summer pieces, it seemed like the perfect time to frame up the Roundel.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

The Blackwell Roundel is a little different from everything else I’ve done and includes some techniques that I have either not done or done very little of. To start, it is stitched entirely on a delicate silk organza ground, a fabric I have not stitched on before. The embroidery begins with a series of connected eyelets called “beading”. I have made eyelets before but very few and never on such a delicate fabric. I was pleased and surprised at how well they turned out.

Some of the leaves are depicted using double back stitch shadow work. I have tried this before but not at all satisfactorily. That may have been because my ground fabric was not translucent enough but nor did I really know what I was doing. On the organza and with Jenny’s excellent instructions, I had much more success.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

The next step was a completely new technique for me, shadow applique. The silk is attached to the underside of the organza using pin stitch. The surplus fabric is then cut away as close to the pin stitch outline as possible. A real heart-in-mouth process as I worried about accidently snipping through the organza!
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

At this stage, the design is removed from the frame and a second layer of silk organza is placed behind the first and both layers framed up for the rest of the embroidery.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

The remaining embroidery was all in stitches I am familiar with but there is always something to be learnt from Jenny’s instructions. The supplied threads are gorgeous and this kit included some silk gimps, which are becoming a bit of a favourite, and a beautiful silk-wrapped plate that is pleated to form the centre of the wild rose. Every element is embellished with pearls, seed beads, and/or metal purl threads.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

The whole design was a delight to stitch and, not surprisingly, far more beautiful in reality than any photograph could suggest. The completed piece is designed to be stretched over an open space allowing you to see through the organza and with the embroidery casting a delicate shadow. A laser-cut mounting disc and spacer rings are supplied with the Pins and Needles Workbox to mount the embroidery and lift the glass off the work. Also included are the materials to create the pin cushion.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy stitching

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, Embroidery Gave to me ...

Kusudama

Japanese Embroidery is taught in Ten Phases. Phases I-III teach the basics and fundamental techniques. Phases IV-VIII focus on the special techniques. Phase IX teaches perseverance (that is not the official line, just what I learnt most from Sake Boxes). Only when these nine phases are complete can you apply to take Phase X which is always taught by the Japanese Embroidery Centre. These classes take place annually at the JEC and, periodically, in Australia, Europe, or Japan. When I began Japanese embroidery, I was not thinking in terms of Phases and graduation, I’m not entirely sure that I knew this was an option. I only knew that I wanted to learn how this exquisite embroidery is done. At some point, I must have decided that I did, in fact, want to complete the whole curriculum. Initially, I was completing one phase per year and was on course to take Phase X in 2015. My dear friend Sue and I planned to return to Atlanta to take the course at the Centre. Sadly, Sue fell ill and passed away and we never made it back to Atlanta. For a long time after we lost Sue, I found it too painful to sit at my frame. Following that, well let’s just say life happened and I seemed to have little time or energy for Japanese Embroidery.
© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Although there was still a lot going on in my life, in 2018 I felt a strong urge to bring stitching back into my life and resolved to do 15 minutes a day. 15 minutes does not seem much but this was enough to give me a stitching fix and, on days when things got a little crazy, this was my 15 minutes of calm. This approach also helped me overcome the obstacle of the wisteria vine on Sake Boxes. While my aim was to do 15 minutes, I found that I often did more and slowly but surely I completed the last of my nine phase pieces. Finally, I was able to apply to do Phase X but, by then, the pandemic had struck; there was no possibility of my travelling to Atlanta and no possibility of a class happening outside of Atlanta! However, the JEC decided to teach the class online, something they had never attempted before.
© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The class was amazing! I think we all wondered how effective it could be and were sad not to be together for this class (especially those who had expected to be taking it in Japan) but we all agreed that there were some advantages to learning this way. The tutoring was superb and, as with the classes with Arata-san, I was able to focus on some of my weaker techniques.
© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

There is a choice of two designs for Phase X; I chose Kusudama – the flower ball. This design includes all of the techniques taught in the previous nine Phases. While the alternative design is beautiful and very challenging, I have always viewed Kusudama as a rite of passage.
© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I have done some stitching on Kusudama since the class but she is currently in hibernation. I am considering which piece to bring out of hibernation in the New Year and Kusudama is high on the list.
© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Monday, 3 January 2022

On the Nineth Day of Christmas, Embroidery Gave to me ...

A Proud Peacock

Another designer from whom I have collected a number of kits that I am very much enjoying is Jenny Adin-Christie. Jenny was also brought to my attention by friends on the Cabinet of Curiosities Course. I think the first design of hers that I saw was The Brown Wren Etui and I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like it before. Like Amy, some of Jenny’s kits are reminiscent of Casket toys but hers have a totally unique, contemporary take. Although I have the Wren kit in my stash, it was different bird that I decided to stitch first. The Peacock Etui joined Jenny’s flock a little later and the kit joined my stash as soon as it was released. I could not wait to get started with this gorgeous embroidery extravaganza!
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

I described how beautifully presented Jenny’s kits are when I wrote about the Gawthorpe Needlecase and the quality of the supplies and instructions. Every kit I have is of the same standard. One aspect of Jenny’s kits that I appreciate above all others is the amazing array of threads that are used. As gorgeous as they are, there was one substitution I wanted to make for the Peacock Etui.

The first area stitched are the feathers at the base of his tail. To me, they were crying out to be stitched in flat silk so I went through my silks to find those that most closely matched those provided. I almost regretted my decision to change the thread as stitching through three layers of wool and felt does not do flat silk any favours. But I am nothing if not stubborn so I persisted and was pleased that I had. I think my peacock can be proud of his plumage especially once the plate and sequins were added. The area around these feathers is satin stitched in chenille and wool and felt is even less gentle on silk chenille. This was another job for my size 12 Japanese needle and even with that weapon the chenille shredded terribly.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

The real show stoppers on his tail are the “eyes”, as they should be. Each eye is first padded with a layer of felt but then they are stitched and embellished in a different ways with a variety of threads. Along the edge of the tail is zigzag of fettuccini ribbon. I have only used this thread in Jenny’s kits and I really like working with it.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

Another thread that Jenny frequently uses in her designs that I really like working with is silk gimp. Here it is used to stitch the feathers on the Peacock's back.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

All of that practice stitching detached buttonhole on the Spring Casket Keepsakes came in handy when it came to covering the body form; his head and long neck are covered in detached buttonhole spiralling around and around.
© Jenny Adin-Christie/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 2 January 2022

On the Eighth Day of Christmas, Embroidery Gave to me ...

A Host of Butterflies

In September 2019, Arata-san returned to High Leigh to teach another advanced class. The main design offered on this occasion was Bevy of Beauties. The original is a double width piece designed by Arata-san’s Grandfather, Iwao Saito, founder of the Kurenai Kai embroidery centre. For this class, we were offered the design on a specially died Monmuji fabric. In addition to the embroidery class, we were offered an optional one-day class in Kinsai – gold leaf-application.
© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The class, of course, was excellent but my recollection of it is a little hazy. Mum’s health was deteriorating at that time and I was extremely concerned for her and dad’s welfare. They had temporarily (we thought) moved into a residential home with nursing facilities. I know that they were well cared for while I was away but I could not stop thinking about them.
© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

As with all of these classes, I managed very little stitching but I did take notes during the lectures and class so I hope, when I come to work on Bevy of Beauties, they will remind me of what I need to know.

Happy Stitching.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, Embroidery Gave to me ...

Butterfly Wings and Beetle Juice

The third in the series of Casket Keepsakes, both in order of release and the order in which I stitched them, is Summer. This kit contained two more needlework accessories – a beetle thimble holder and a butterfly needle case.

The design for the butterfly wings is preprinted onto the silk ground fabric which is prepared in the same manner as the silk for the Winter Keepsakes. There are four wings with embroidery on either side, so eight wing sections in total. The foundation stitching is satin stitch in Amy’s hand dyed silk. The front of the wings are then embellished with metallic threads, sequins, beads, and discs of shell that attached using Shisha Stitch. Only the outer edge of the wing backs are embroidered, a piece of felt in which to store needles, is appliqued to the centre of each wing. The front and back of each wing are joined with lacing stitches that are covered with couched pearl purl.

The abdomen is made from fabric covered straws. Long parallel stitches are made along each segment of the abdomen. These stitches form a warp thread through which rounds of thread are woven to cover the abdomen. One half is woven with heavy twisted silk; the other with chenille. The chenille is extremely delicate and shredded easily. The straw abdomen serves as a vile for needles and is closed with a wooden spindle.

The head is made from a large wooden bead prewrapped in metallic thread, with two tiny bronze beads for the eyes.

A paper template is supplied for making the legs using covered wire that is bent to match the template and then covered in Hedebo stitches. This was a new stitch for me and it took me two or three attempts to get the hang of it. There are three pairs of legs for the butterfly.

The wings are joined to form a needle book and then assembled with the legs and body into a butterfly.
© Amy Mitten/Carol-Anne Conway

The beetle wings are embroidered onto a piece of green linen. A “thread” is constructed by wrapping a heavy twisted thread around a wavey metallic. This is then couched, in slightly spaced rows, across the wing. Although a little fiddly, this is quite simple to do but the effect is quite stunning, and very difficult to adequately capture in a photograph. The outline of each wing is then worked in backstitches over the wrapped metal trim. The pieces are cut out and assembled into two separate wings.

The thorax is worked over a paper template covered in sticky back plastic that is formed into a cone. A silicon ring is first couched to the cone. Buttonhole stitches are worked over the ring. The remaining threaded used to work the buttonhole stitches is then used for the horizontal bar. Rounds of detached buttonhole stitches are worked through the stitches on the previous row and under the horizontal bar, increasing as necessary, to cover the cone.

The head is fashioned from bronze kid leather with two gem stones beads for the eyes. I think the head is quite ingenious; I could not see how it could work until I attached it to the thorax and it morphed itself into a beetle’s head.

The beetles legs are made using the same techniques as used for the butterfly legs except that the six legs are made as a single piece together with the body. The wings are attached to the body which is then molded around the thorax head structure before the thorax is joined to the wings/body. The thimble is stored in the thorax which is closed with a pair of finger looped braids.
© Amy Mitten/Carol-Anne Conway

Of all the pieces in this series, it was the one that least caught my attention. It is such an ingenious casket toy and so pretty in real life that it is, thus far, my favourite Casket Keepsake.

Happy stitching