Monday, 27 August 2007

Gladys May Oakley

The loveliest person it has been my privilege to know is my Maternal Grandmother. She was a true lady. I never heard her curse or raise her voice. She was kind and loving, always supportive and never critical. Sometimes she would gently scold me but she was never angry with me. Like many women of her generation, she was not well educated but she was infinitely wise.

When I was young, I spent weeks at a time staying with her during my school holidays; such blissful days, when I was totally spoilt. Not with expensive gifts or indulgence but with loving attention. When I wasn’t playing with my good friend from two doors away, Nan and I filled our time with simple pleasures. During the morning we would do a few jobs. Monday was for washing, after which the kitchen floor was mopped. When the washing was dry, it was sprinkled with water and rolled ready for ironing on Tuesday. One day we would dust, sweep and vacuum, another we would do gardening, salt vegetables for storing, or make jam. After we made and ate lunch - either a light salad or cheese, biscuit, apple and celery - we would read a while or knit or crochet; more often that not Nan would fall asleep in her chair by the window and gently snore.

After dinner, we would watch a little television but if there were nothing interesting to watch we would play cards for pennies that were collected especially for that. At the end of the evening, no matter who had won what, all the pennies were collected together and put back into the bag ready to share out equally the next evening.

When I started work, I did not have enough holidays to stay with her so often. Mum and I would visit after dinner on a Thursday evening and the three of us would play cards at the kitchen table, catching up on family news and laughing together. And when I finally moved into my own home, I would go straight from work to have dinner with Nan and Mum would join us later.

For many years milk, bread and meat were delivered straight to her door and vegetables were grown in Granddad’s field along the road. A neighbour fetched small items from the local shop. Nan rarely had occasion to go the main shopping centre. On the rare occasion I drove her there, she would insist on paying me for my petrol even though I would insist I didn’t want paying for doing her a small favour. She was very independent and did not want to be a burden on anyone, but she could never be a burden to me, I loved her so much.

One Thursday evening, I went for my dinner as usual and Mum joined us later. We played cards, we chatted and we laughed together – Nan was always merry and had a lovely sense of humour. When we came to leave, we hugged and kissed and said "I love you" as we always did. At the door, I stopped and said that I had had a lovely evening, and that I wanted her to know that I did not simply SAY "I love you" but that I truly meant it. I told her that she had been an important part of my life and I was honoured to have known her. Those were the last words I spoke to her.

The following Saturday, Saturday 27 August 1994, my darling Nan died, aged 86.

The next time I saw her she was dead and, for a time, my whole world fell apart. Nothing I had ever experienced had prepared me for the pain I would feel in the following days and weeks. For a whole year, I cried every day and some days the pain was so numbing that I could hardly function. Gradually, I began to remember all those happy times we had shared, and I could think about her with a smile instead of tears. Sometimes I still cry when I think that we will never sit around the kitchen table again. I will never feel her warm hands patting my cheeks and see her dark eyes glinting with laughter. But mostly, now I remember her with real warmth and pleasure.

Death is a natural part of life. The death of those we love is something that we all have to deal with at some time, but learning to celebrate the time we had together, the love we shared, is something that comes out of the slow, painful process of grieving.

My Nan had six children and 25 grandchildren; she died two months before her first great grand child was born. If she had a favourite among us, she never let the others know; I truly believe that she loved us all equally, warts and all.

Gladys May Oakley, my life is richer for having known you. I will never forget you, and I will never stop loving you. Rest in Peace and God Bless You.

Lattice Holding Stitch, step by step

A while ago, I was asked how to do the lattice holding stitch. This stitch was taught to me on a Japanese embroidery course held by Japanese Embroidery UK and is fully detailed in The Techniques of Japanese Embroidery available from the Japanese Embroidery Centre.

I used this stitch on the Blue Eyed Boy and am using it again on the Pink Lady. First I covered the whole area in Vertical Foundation Stitch. I used a double strand of pale pink silk.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Next, I laid stitches across the whole area at a 45 degree angle to the foundation, taking care to space the stitches evenly and keep them parallel to one another. The area of the hind wing is rather small so I have spaced the stitches at 3mm in this case. I could have used a twisted silk of the same colour as the foundation or in a colour to either compliment or contrast the foundation. Here I have used twisted imitation silver.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I used the same thread to lay more stitches, this time at 90 degrees to the first laid stitches. to create a grid of small squares.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Finally, wherever the laid stitches intersect, I have tied them down with little couching stitches. I have used the same twisted silver thread for this but twisted pale pink could also have been used.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I think the finished effect is quite lovely.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Pink Lady, continued

So far this is looking exactly as I hoped it would. This shows why I love silk embroidery so much. This stitch, diagonal foundation, is simple to execute yet it looks simply stunning, I think.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Pink Lady

The fore wings on this butterfly are divided into segments; as the segments rotate around the ring, so will the angle of the stitches. I began by marking the angle of the stitches onto the right-hand wing. I want the wings of this butterfly to look as if they are lifting off the silk background. To achieve this I have padded the leading edge of the wing.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I plan to keep the stitching quite simple and allow the silk to speak for itself. The segments will be embroidered in diagonal layer using 2 strands of deep pink.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Silver Body

The thing that I find most challenging is stitching with metallic threads. You can only stitch with the fine gauge threads; heavier one have to be couched onto the surface. However fine, I find that metallics have a life of their own and need very delicate handling. I am stitching with a double strand of #1 silver. In my hands the pair of threads twist around each other so that they do not lay nicely; f I try to pull them through the fabric too quickly, or do not keep the thread under tension, it kinks; and if I get a little tetchy and tug too sharply, the silver shreds leaving me with the silk inner core.

Trying to do satin stitch over padding, in metallic silver, was nearly a challenge too far for me. First, I stitched the head. This went relatively smoothly; the threads had not started misbehaving and I was nearly in control. I then stitched the first and second segments of the body. Like small children on a car journey, I think the threads had become bored and started to fight with each other and with me. I persevered but was really not happy with the results and immediately removed it. My second attempt was a bit improvement, not as good as I would like it but I fear that the silk background would not stand a third attempt; this is as good as it is going to get. I did not pad the last body section (each section has progressively less padding) and the stitching when more easily, this may be in part because I was using a fresh strand of thread.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Next time I stitch with metallics, I will use shorter lengths and I think I will try using a single stand.

Happy Stitching

Friday, 24 August 2007

This One is for You, Mum

I have not done a design sheet for the ‘Mother’ butterfly; I have a clear picture of how it looks in my head. I hope it turns out the way I picture it. From the outset, I had planned to base her upon the mother crane in ‘The Family’ (phase 15) so the colour scheme was set to be pink. This is not a colour that I associate with my mum; her favourite colour is definitely blue – cornflower blue.

When I was transferring the design onto the silk, I felt strangely moved by this butterfly (maybe that was purely my emotion, knowing that this butterfly would represent my mum). Although the image is a butterfly, I see it as an angel and yet I don’t perceive my mum as an angel.

Excluding a few minor rows during my teenage years, I have never fallen out with my mum. She is the one person who never lets me down, never judges me, and never disappoints me. She may have faults, but they are not my concern. She has always been, and always will be, 100 per cent on my side and there is nobody else in this world that feels that way about me.

I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with their Mother and I appreciate it all the more for this reason. Even within a close family, my mum and I know that the bond we share is something special, something to be treasured and not taken for granted.

Mum, I am blessed to have you in my life and I truly love you.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

The Optomist's Suit is Done

I want to include one colour from both ‘parent’ butterflies in each ‘child’ butterfly. Having ruled out gold from the ‘father’ I was left only with black or white and black was a none-starter. I stitched the edge of the fore wings with two strands of flat white silk, gradually changing the angle of the stitches so that they followed the curve of the wing.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Despite being white, this gave a very hard edge to the wing. I softened this by adding pale blue stitches of random length and spacing along the outer edge. I used a quarter strand of silk so there is only a hint of colour visible.

For the antennae, I used the same blue/silver katayori that I used to outline the large spots on the wings. Again it is couched with a 1-2 twist of pale blue silk. All that remains is to sink the ends of the antennae, but I will do that when all the butterflies are complete.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

So the Optimist has his new suit, and I think he looks very handsome. I don’t know who is more proud, the Optimist or me.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Visiting Oxford

I was asked via a comment, what I recommend to do in Oxford and I was a little embarrassed at the realisation that I have seen very little of all that Oxford has to offer. When I have the opportunity of a day out, I usually go further a field yet there is so much history right here on my doorstep. While I was a school, I visited various museums and a couple of colleges, but I have only visited one museum in recent years.

To see Oxford, there is an Open Top Bus Tour and there are many Walking Tours, you can find more information about these here.

Two museums I highly recommend are the Ashmolean – Museum of Art and Archaeology and The Pitt Rivers Museum of Anthropology and World Archaeology. (I remember the fascination of seeing shrunken heads, medieval instruments and totem poles when I was child.)

There are far too many colleges to name. During term time their doors are closed to the public but during the summer many are open to visitors. Top of my list to visit would be Christ Church, not least because of the Cathedral

If you are near Carfax Tower linger a while to watch the quarterboys hammer out the quarter hour and (if you are feeling fit) climb the tower for spectacular views over the City.

There are so many places to eat around the City. Many of the museums have cafes; Gloucester Green and the recently redeveloped Castle Complex both have a variety of restaurants. Within the remains of the Castle itself a new exhibition, Oxford Castle Unlocked, has recently opened.

People from all over the world make special trips to see the City I live so close to. Perhaps next time I go out for the day, I should be a tourist in Oxford.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Silver Couching

Only fine metallic threads can be stitched with; #3 and above are couched in place. Silver is usually couched with white or pale grey. Occasionally, couching threads of a different colour are used to alter the appearance of the silver. I have couched a broad line of silver - 3 pairs of #4 - with the pale blue silk to carry the blue throughout the design.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Hind Wing Outline

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

The outer edge of the hind wing is outlined with a pair of #4 silver couched with a 1-2 twist of white silk.

To give definition to the shape, and to integrate the body and wings, I outlined the large spots with the pale blue/silver katayori that I originally intended to use on the Blue Eyed Boy. It was too bulky to use with the flat silk foundations there but is perfectly balanced with the twisted silk foundation on the fore wings and couched metallic threads on the hind wing of this butterfly.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I have taken a photograph from a different perspective to try to demonstrate how the appearance of the metallic threads and silks alters when viewed from a different angle.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Body Padding

Japanese Embroidery has a number of 'rules' developed and refined over more than a thousand years. They are there for good reasons and if you forget or choose to ignore these rules, it usually becomes apparent why the rule was established.

One such rule is to stitch the foreground elements before stitching elements that lie behind them. On this butterfly, the hind wing is in front of the fore wing and should have been stitched first. The body is attached to the wings rather than in front of them, but I think this should have been stitched before any part of the wings. Because the yellow and blue twist was the only element that I had totally committed to, I stitched that first. When I came to stitch the body, it was difficult get the shape right.

I padded the head and body with 4 strands of padding cotton to give a nice plumpness and used the pale blue/silver twist to stitch it.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Fuzzy Effect

All along I had planned to use gold on this butterfly, but when I got out the metallic gold thread it looked totally wrong with the yellow and blue stitching that I have already done. It is a red gold and was not right with the blue tone. I tried the silver and liked that much better. This will mean a rethink of some of the other elements and I will have to decide how to incorporate one of the colours from 'Dad'.

I've used another new technique on the hind wing. The technique, called 'fuzzy effect' is used on my Phase III piece, but I have not stitched it yet. The method is to couch threads into alternate valleys in the fabric. This fabric does not have very pronounced valleys but I was able to follow the lines between the welt thread fairly easily. I love couching so it was inevitable that I would enjoy this, however, I did find it rather demanding. The couching stitches come out and go back into the same valley line and are arranged in a brick pattern. Once the pattern is established, things went a little quicker, but the first few rows were really slow as I measured the position for each stitch; I do not have a very good eye for distance or length.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I am very pleased with this, it looks exactly how I imagined it would.

Phase VIII of the Japanese Embroidery course is stitched entirely in fuzzy effect - a couching freak's dream! This version, stitched by Jennifer Orchard, uses a different colour scheme and is absolutely stunning.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 13 August 2007

TAST French Knots

Ok, so I have only been working on this in my 'spare' time, but it has taken me four weeks to complete this TAST! I think this is something of a break through for me. Gone are the neat lines of carefully planned stitches. Although I had a vague idea of how I wanted this to look, I have really felt my way and let the needle guide me and I feel somewhat liberated by it.

I began with a piece of muslin and made running stitches across it lengthwise with DMC Perle cotton. I then gathered the muslin to fit a pre-marked area on felt. Using the 'tails' from the gathering threads, I attached the muslin to the felt using French Knots. I then spread or bunched the gathers in a random manner and began filling the flat areas with French Knots.

I kept selecting threads and adding knots where it felt right and kept going until it felt finished.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Worth the Effort

It has taken me six hours to remove my first attempt, twist new threads and restitch the two fore wings, but I think it was worth it. I am much happier with them now.

I have learnt that diagonal holding stitch does exactly what it was intended to do and is not easy to unpick; not to crowd the stitches but rather give each one some breathing space; that tiny couching stitches are not always the best, for this technique longer ones sink into the foundation stitches where short ones sit fairly obviously on the surface.

For once I have been able to spend an entire day stitching, so it is a little disappointing to only have the same amount completed as I had at the start of the day. I am almost entirely consoled by knowing that this is far better than it was this morning. Had I left it, I think I would have always been dissatisfied with it.

Happy Stitching

Twisted Threads Removed

I was not completely satisfied with this wing. When I stitched the foundation, I worked hard to keep the stitches parallel and a neat edge and I was pleased with my work, but when I started to add the diagonal holding, some of the stitches did not lay nicely. I am not sure why this happened; I think that my foundation stitches may have been too close together so when the holding stitches press them to the background fabric they cannot all fit in.

I've said before how reluctant I am to remove work, especially if I am not certain that I will do things any better the second time, but the more I looked, the more I disliked it. I feel I have to at least try to improve on this. Before I can change my mind I have taken steps that leave me no choice.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Diagonal Holding

For the diagonal holding, I made a 1-2 twist of the yellow silk. One strand of silk is divided into four; two of the quarters are under-twisted separately before being over-twisted together. This makes a very fine, strong thread which is laid across the foundation. If the laid stitches are at the wrong angle, the thread is clearly visible.

The trick is to angle the holding thread across the foundation in such a way that it merges with the twist in the foundation threads.

Finally, the laid stitches are couched with the same thread.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Nice Matters Blog Award

I have been awarded the Nice Matters Blog Award by Hideko. Thank you so much, Hideko.

Bella Enchanted, who started the award says, "This award will be awarded to those that are just nice people, good blog friends and those that inspire good feelings and inspiration! Those that care about others that are there to lend support or those that are just a positive influence in our blogging world!"

Now I am supposed to nominate seven bloggers to receive the award. I am going to pick seven ladies from the Hand Embroidery Group. The group is full of the friendliest, most supportive ladies, who all qualify for the award, so it is hard to chose only seven. I have not renominated two because I know Hideko included in her list.

AnnetteB, Candi, Lill, Lori, LouAnne, Norma and Vivian.

Thank you ladies, and everyone in the group for you friendship.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Yellow Twist with Blue Specks

For the main area of the fore wings, I made a 3-1 twist from the yellow silk with half a strand of yellow replaced by half a strand of deep blue for one of the under-twist threads. This gives me random specks of blue in the yellow foundation.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

The foundation will be held with diagonal holding for which I will make a 1-2 twist in yellow silk.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Sketches for Second Butterfly

The next butterfly that I will stitch represents my eldest brother. His, and the butterfly that represents my youngest brother were the two that I had the fewest ideas for. I could not think of a colour, or design element that I associate with either of them that I could translate into a butterfly.

A few months ago I visited my older brother and noticed that he had a new print hanging beside his desk. Listening to him talk about the painting, and the very moving story of how he came by it, I knew that this would be the inspiration for the design of his butterfly.

Here are my rough sketches for The Optimists Suit.

The Blue Eyed Boy is Done

The katayori that I intended to outline the hind wings with was too thick (again) so I decided to outline them with a line of staggered diagonal stitch in a single strand of #1 silver. I then couched the black and silver katayori with a single strand of #1 silver for the antennae. I like how how the antennae look. J says that this thread is also too thick. He is usually right about these things, but for now I am going to leave it in until the neighbouring butterflies are completed and I can see how things balance. I won't sink any of the ends until all the stitching is complete so he for now this butterfly is finished.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I am really pleased with my Blue Eyed Boy. For me long and short stitch is the most difficult technique I know, so I feel this is an acheivement.

One down, five to go and it is already August.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Playing Safe

I decided to use a holding stitch that I have done a couple of times before, that I know I can do, and like how it looks. Lattice holding is relatively simple but I like the quilted appearance it gives.

I used a 2-1 twist of the same colour silk as the foundation whenever I did this before, this time I used a single strand of #1 silver. The metallic thread sits on top of the silk more than the fine twist, which may also be because I stitched the foundation with a single strand of silk instead of two. That was because when I tried it with two strands, it looked heavier than the fore wings.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I am pleased with this; it looks delicate and does not dominate the fore wings. I have twisted a 6-1 pale blue and silver katayori to outline the hind wings, I think this will give a softer edge to the wing. I have also twisted a 6-1 black and silver katayori for the antennae. After twisting, these threads are wound around a glass, dampened, and left to dry naturally before it can be used.

Happy Stitching