Sunday, 30 September 2007

Comfort Doll - Finished

Despite the difficulties with the Rajmahal Art Silk, I have thoroughly enjoyed this project. Once again, I would like to thank Robin Kingsley for giving me permission to adapt the Paisley Heart Design for this doll.

Apart from the satisfaction of stitching for a cause, I think it was the design that made it such a pleasing project. I have a couple of ideas for other ways I would like to interpret this design, so now I am really torn between a desire to get back into TAST and to do another doll.

I’ve included a couple of charms in the stuffing. The first is a new heart, in case her heart is broken. This one is a glass bead so it is still fragile but I have sewn it into a small pouch, embroidered with protective symbols to ward off evil. The second is a hand made paper bead. It has the word strength written all over it to give her inner strength. The strip of flimsy hand-made paper is wound tightly to make a firm bead; even the most delicate of things can be strong.

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 29 September 2007

A Crisis of Confidence

The Shibori Samurai went so well I was riding of the crest of the wave. Now the wave has gone and left me high and dry. I really thought I knew where I was going with my purple butterfly but suddenly I am having such a crisis of confidence that I have not been able to stitch on Flutterbys for two days.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I am worried that the purple is too dominant. I intended to stitch the veins in gold which I think will serve to break up and lighten the expanse of purple, but I am just not sure. Is this just a self-image thing, concern that I am making myself too important or am I looking at it objectively and seeing a genuine imbalance? Do I press on and see how it works out, or do I remove the stitching now and rethink the design of this butterfly? I can’t make up my mind and I don’t have time to prevaricate.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Designing Me

In some respects it easy to design something that represents yourself. I know my favourite colours, designs and stitches. It would be tempting to simply include my all my favourite things, but it is important that this butterfly balances with the others.

In other respects it is hard to design something that represents yourself. While designing the other butterflies, I have thought deeply about the family member they represent; their character, characteristics they share with other members of the family, and my relationship with them. I thought just as deeply about myself while designing my butterfly, and in many ways it is harder to be honest about yourself, and more painful. It is no revelation to me that I am a lot like my Dad, I’ve known that for a long time. For a very long time, I rejected the idea, who wants to be like someone they don’t always like. Eventually, I accepted that is the way it is and there is nothing I can do to change that, other than learn to moderate the characteristics I don’t like. I also realise that some of my best characteristics are also inherited from Dad.

Physically, I resemble my Mum, people always remark on it. I’m not sure what personality I inherit from her. We have the best relationship, I don’t analyse it, I’m simply very happy that she is my Mum and my mate.

So, I have to have purple because it is my favourite colour. Actually, I love all colours and my favourite can change according to mood, but purple is my favourite favourite. Because I look so much like my Mum, I will include a lot of pink and because I am finally proud to say that I am like my Dad, I will include gold to represent the best of him.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Shibori Samurai

I would like to include a picture of the Kimono that inspired the design of this butterfly but I think that would contravene copyright rules. The kimono is called Hana utsuroi (Transient Flowers) and Shizuka Kusano describes her embroidery as follows
Butterflies have been added using shibori appliqués to make them stand out and appear to float over a plain where wisteria and wild pinks bloom in profusion. The butterflies with floral patterns on their wings gradually merge with the flowers, becoming one with them as they move towards death.
As described, the whole of the background is covered in a profusion of flowers. The butterflies to the right have both wings appliquéd with shibori fabric and are outlined in gold metallic thread. In the center, only one wing of each butterfly is appliqué, the other is embroidered with flowers similar to the background. Both wings of the butterflies on the left are embroidered with flowers and although the wings are outlined with gold metallic, the butterflies gradually merge with the background.

This was a bold design choice for me, but I am really pleased with how it has worked out. On one side the black and white Hitta-gake reflects my Father's rigid views and though parenting style; the other represents his love of not only flowers, but the world around him, that he passed down to all four of his children. More than that, it represents the passion, loyalty and strong sense of family that we also inherit from him.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I still have the antennae to embroidery but I want to complete at least the next butterfly so that I can decide how heavy or light they need to be, so for now, this is finished.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


Cherry blossom (sakura), which falls at the height of its beauty without withering, is one of the symbols of the samurai warrior, who had to be ready to give his life instantly. I do believe my Dad would have given his life for ours if he could, so he is my Samurai.

Also, Dad is passionate about all things horticultural, and has always filled the house and garden with flowering plants. It must be from him that I get my love of gardening and flowers. Sakura is a very appropriate emblem for my Dad.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Cherry blossoms are so delicate, I wanted to keep these light and delicate, so used a single strand of flat silk. I have used some white silk that I had left over from Suehiro, it is finer than the white that I ordered for this project and is not as bright. The middle blossom is not white but very pale pink, there is barely any difference between this pink and the white but I like that they are subtly different, as are real flowers.

Behind the three small flowers I have outlined one larger blossom by couching a single strand of twisted real gold #1. Gold is often couched with a red thread, it is thought to enhance the gold. Here I have used a gold couching thread because I wanted the couching stitches to be insignificant.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 23 September 2007


I first did hitta-gake (tie-dye effect) on Suehiro and really liked it, although I thought my first attempt was heavy handed. A tutor advised me that I should use a more tightly twisted thread. I would say that Shizuka Kusano also has a fondness for this novel effect as it is a recurring theme in her book "The Fine Art of Kimono Embroidery".

At first, I did not fully appreciate why this design is called tie-dye effect but recently I have become interested in shibori and now I can see what this novel effect represents. This article by John Marshall explains how kanokoshibori is made and the meaning of its name.

Like all the novel effects that I have worked so far, hitta-gake starts with a foundation, this one is a weft foundation worked in flat silk (white). A grid of threads is then laid diagonally over the foundation. The threads are space 5mm apart and this time I remembered the advise I was given and twisted the thread tightly.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Where the laid threads intersect, they are tied down with three short stitches in the same twisted thread.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Finally, in the center of each square, two short stitches are worked over a sleeper stitch, still using the same twisted thread.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

This time, I think I have achieved the lighter touch that I was aiming for, but I do not think that the foundation is as good as on Suehiro, that may be because I worked this foundation in a single strand of flat silk, but on Suehiro I used 1.5 or 2 strands. The threads that I am using for Flutterbys is naturally thicker than those I used for Suehiro so I thought that 1 strand would be sufficient. Even so, I am satisfied with this hitta-gake.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 20 September 2007

More Comfort Doll

I’ve been making some progress on the comfort doll, stitching in the evenings. I half wish that I had not decided to stitch it in Rajmahal Art Silk; it has been a real trial. I’ve taken several bits out and reworked them and am still not totally satisfied with some bits. Perhaps I am being over critical, as this will be a gift for someone, I want it to be the best I can do. I think that I could do better, but not with this thread. Perhaps, I should be content that I have tried my best! Would the recipient look at it and think, she didn’t do that very well?

Now that I have nearly finished the embroidery and have started to think about making up the doll, I am wondering what to stuff it with. I have never made a stuffed anything before.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Weekend Workshop

My local branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild, Oxford, arranges several workshops each year for its members. Several months ago we had a day workshop with Frances Pickering. Everyone enjoyed the day so much that the branch arranged another workshop, this time the entire weekend, Friday evening, and all day Saturday and Sunday.

The weekend was quite exhausting but ever so enjoyable. The aim was to make a book, or at least make a good start on it, based on a theme of Victorian Romance.

I think that this would more correctly be called a mixed media project than embroidery one. We have dye pages with Brusho, learnt to create texture with PVA glue, by layering paper or with a soldering iron. We have applied colour with just about any medium possible and generally had a lot of fun.

I’m not sure how I got so of theme, but I ended up doing an under the sea theme and as usual I am so slow that I did not come close to making a complete book. My cover is more or less finished but I have barely begun on the pages. I hope that this will not be come just another UFO, although I don’t know when I will find time to work on it for a while.

This is the front cover. (the elastic bands are holding it together temporarily)

And this is the back.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 13 September 2007

A Well-rounded Head

I have been getting up an hour earlier than usual so that I can do a little stitching before I leave for work but somehow that never translates into an hour of stitching and a little stitching is all that I have done!

Fleegle drew my attention to the shape of the head, and quite rightly pointed out that it was not well rounded. I removed the stitching and had another go. The metallic that I am using has a narrow strip of real gold wrapped around a silk core. In removing the stitching the gold striped from the core and was unusable. The real gold is much nicer to stitch with than the imitation gold, but I am finding it more delicate. I have striped two strands so far and only managed to successfully stitch with one! I have stitched and reverse stitched so many times that I am no further forward than I was 3 days ago, except that I now have a well-rounded head (well not me, but the butterfly). I am having problems making the body part well rounded. One stitch forward, two stitches back.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Guest Speaker, Lauren Shanley

Last night was the first meeting of the Oxford Branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild following the summer break. Our guest speaker, Lauren Shanley gave a talk entitled Celebrations of Colour. Lauren was perhaps not the best 'speaker' that we have had, but when your work speaks for itself, who needs words.

To begin with, Lauren read to us an overview of her background, and the people, places and things that have inspired her. Growing up with an accomplished tailor for a grandmother and a talented seamstress for a mother, certainly triggered her love of fabric, stitching and colour, and her extensive travels have given her plenty of inspiration. Lauren transforms vintage fabrics, especially those from the 1950’s, into collages that she then embroiders by hand and machine, appliqués and beads into layers of colour and texture. From these she makes very individual clothing, bags and home furnishings.

We were treated to a slide show, chronicling her development as a textile artist and finally, to a fashion show of some of her work and best of all, we were invited to model the garments and to view them close up. (I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of some of our speaker, sharing their knowledge and allowing us to handle their work.) I modelled a couple of very colourful coats, not really the type of thing I have the personality to wear, but I still admired them greatly. (Actually, I am a little envious of women who are not afraid to wear exactly what they feel like wearing.)

One member asked Lauren if she only cut up vintage garments that were already damaged. Lauren replied, enthusiastically, ‘Oh no, I cut up every thing. I used to feel guilty about it, but not any more.’ She went on to tell us how she had purchased an expensive silk scarf in Italy, only to cut it up and use in a coat, when she returned home. Lauren relaxed and was far more comfortable talking her work than she was reading her prepared text.

Beautiful work, great to see it up close, you can’t really appreciate from the pictures on the web site just how much work and detail goes into each piece but you can see how much Lauren celebrates colour.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Comfort Doll - some progress

I have made a little progress with my comfort doll. After completing the satin stitch in gold Art Silk, I outlined the leaf and stitched the tendril in stem stitch using #1 imitation gold. The Art Silk looks lovely but it is so difficult to stitch with. I guess that is why it lay unused in my sewing box for so long!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Real Gold

This next butterfly represents my Dad. I am really excited about this butterfly; I think that I have made a bold design choice and that is unusual for me.

The starting point for the whole colour scheme was this embroidery, Happy Family and especially the 'Father'. The Father is embroidered entirely in black and white silk and gold metallic. The Mother is worked in pink and white silk with silver metallic. My idea is to embroider my Mother and Father butterflies in these colours and that each of the butterflies representing my brothers and myself will include something in a colour from each of the parent butterflies. I have had more ideas for the design of the Father than any other butterfly, but what I now intend to embroider is unlike any of my original concepts. The inspiration for what I have planned comes from a book called The Fine Art of Kimono Embroidery. The author, Shizuka Kusano, is an incredibly talented artist, her medium is embroidery and her canvases are (mostly) kimonos. A google search revealed lots of links to reviews of the book but I could only find two sites with examples of her work, here and here (you need to scroll down in both cases). I don’t have a sketch of my design, but I have a clear picture in my head - I hope that it works out the way I see it.

Although the colour scheme came from 'Happy Family', black and white is so appropriate for my Dad; he has very strong views on things. There are no shades of grey where Dad is concerned; a thing is one way or another, right or wrong, good or bad. Gold is also appropriate because he has a heart of gold (he just tries to keep it hidden). Growing up with my Dad was difficult and he and I often fell out, especially during my teens/twenties when I formed some strong opinions of my own. Even when relations between us were strained, I still knew that he was my champion in life - he is fiercely loyal. Once I made a rather silly mistake and got myself in a fix. I was really scared to tell him about my predicament; I thought that he would be extremely angry and disappointed in me. In fact I should have know that he would react exactly the way he did. He told me that although my situation was bad, it was not the end of the world and that we would be able to sort it out. He stood by me and supported me through the difficult months that followed, and eventually he told me to stop being angry and disappointed in myself and to put the past behind me. More than anyone, my Dad has made me the person I am today.

Over twenty years ago, Dad was suddenly taken ill and within days had a triple heart by-pass. At that time, his surgeon said that might live another 5-10 years. Since then, there have been times when we didn’t think he would make the next Wedding Anniversary let alone his Golden Wedding Anniversary. I am really grateful for the extra years we have had, it has given me an opportunity to get to know him and for us to develop a friendship and a more loving bond that I could have imagined possible. I still have hang ups about some aspects of my childhood and we still strongly debate some issues. I’m not sure if it is because he has mellowed or if it is because I have matured, or perhaps it is because we have each realised that other loves us, but we no longer fall out whenever we disagree.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

All the gold on this design will be stitched in real gold; after all it is a Golden Wedding Anniversary gift. I have been told that real gold is much nice to stitch with than imitation metallic threads. I have padded the head with two layers of flat silk before stitching a final layer in #1 real gold.

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 8 September 2007

The Pink Lady is Done

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I think you can just about see, in this photograph, the difference that the pearlescent thread makes to the flat silk; it just adds a subtle hint of shimmering mother-of-pearl.

I am feeling more confident about the second wing now that I have completed the left-hand hind wing. The two wings appear more balanced than before. I still think the stitching on the right is better than on the left but I do not think that I will be removing it.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

This butterfly really does look the way I imagined it when I was transferring the design. I love the way the two forewings sweep upwards and I have couched two pairs of #4 silver in the space between the segments of the wings to reinforce that effect. While the overall look of this butterfly is dainty and feminine, I think these two lines convey a sense of strength and stability. These are characteristics that I associate with my Mum and she has been a rock for me throughout my life.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

So, I am half way there and this is how the three completed butterflies look together.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

During the stitching, I was a little concerned that The Pink Lady is going to be too bright and dominate the entire picture. Seeing the three together, I am less concerned and keeping in mind what I have planned for the remaining butterflies, I think that the whole design will be balanced when done. It is common practice to stitch tissue paper over completed elements to protect them while stitching the remaining elements. Because I want to keep an eye on how the separate butterflies interact with each other and affect the overall dynamic of the design I have not done that. Instead I cover the completed stitching with a sheet of tissue paper and take a lot of care.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Comfort Doll

Way back in January, Melissa blogged about this Paisley Heart designed by Robin Kingsley and offered as a freebie on Bird Brain Designs. I’ve seen several lovely versions embroidered in different ways including Melissa’s. Her husband, Gerard, layered fabrics and learnt several embroidery stitches for his; Grandma Ziki used it in a CQ block; Charlene stitched hers on sheer silk and Leslie stitched hers in Brazilian Embroidery Stitches. I have long since wanted to do this heart with some Rajmahal Art Silk that I had left over from a project I stitched about 10 years ago. The 9 colours I have are jewel bright and the threads are very lustrous but I remember I found them rather challenging to work with.

A couple of months ago, Pat Winter made an open request for comfort dolls for abused women. This is a project that I really want to contribute to but back in June I was a little over loaded with things to do. Although as much of my stitching time as possible is going into Flutterbys, I like to have another project for the evenings when the light is not good enough and my eyes are tired from working on a computer all day. When I finally completed my TAST french knot sampler, I decided to make a start on a doll. Robin Kingsley kindly gave me permission to adapt the Paisley Heart design for the doll.

This is what I have done so far.

The leaves and petals are satin stitched with two strands of Art Silk. I still find this thread challenging but some of the things I have learnt from Japanese Embroidery have helped, like half hitching the slipper viscous threads in the needle so they don't keep coming unthreaded.

The center of the flower is done in Spiral Trellis Stitch which I learnt about from The Emboiderer's Story, a blog about another great project, recreating a 17th century embroidered jacket, if this were in Plymouth UK instead of Plymouth USA, I'd definitely want to be involved in this. Anyway, I think the stitching should lay flat on the fabric but mine rises in a cone shape, probably because I did not decrease the number of stitches enough. I used the Art Silk but this time I twisted six strands (3+3) together.

I used the same twist for the dark green that I used for the stem, which I did in stem stitch (or outline stitch - I still never remember which is which).

I don't actually find this much better to stitch in artificial light but I am determined to make some progress with it, so I persevere.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 3 September 2007

A Difficult Wing

The second wing has been giving me a few problems and I am not sure why. I am really pleased with the stitching on the first wing, but the second one does not look as good, despite unpicking and re-stitching several times.

I think the problem may be that I am stitching the 'wrong' way. On the first wing, I stitched from top/left to bottom/right so that I am stitching towards myself. A tool called a Tekobari is used to stroke the thread to help to make is smooth and shiny. On the second wing I stitched from bottom/left to top/right because I wanted the stitches to mirror those on the first wing. In this case I was stitching away from myself; this is the 'wrong' way. I could have stitched top/right to bottom/left, but with the angle of the stitches this felt cack-handed.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Now I have a dilemma. I want to remove the stitches and try again, but I am beginning to feel the pressure of time. It has taken me three months to get to this stage and my deadline is just two months away with three butterflies remaining. I think I will leave this for now and review it when I have stitched the remaining butterflies.

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Pearlescent Pink

I bought this beautiful pearlescent pink thread while Flutterbys was still in the early planning stage. I thought that it would be perfect for imitating the shimmering, colour shifting qualities of a butterfly's wings.

Here I have combined it with pale pink flat silk to stitch diagonal foundation on the Pink Ladies fore wing.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

You probably already know this but if you click on any of the pictures, you get an enlarged view which not only shows the details more clearly, but all of the mistakes as well.

Happy Stitching