Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Golden Couple

Sequana: In my eagerness to wrap the picture, I forgot to take a photo first. Nor did I take one of my parents with the picture, but just for you, here is a picture of them at their Golden Wedding Anniversary party. We didn’t have many sunny days in the UK last summer, but the day of their party was a perfect English summer’s day.

Paula: When I showed my sampler to Dad he said, "This doesn’t looked cobbled together to me!" He has told me many times that he had to darn his own socks, I guess his mother was not as keen with a needle as my maternal Grandmother.

I am eagerly anticipating the February challenge details for Take it Further. I really enjoyed the January challenge, not only doing my own sampler, but also watching every one else developing their ideas and translating them into a finished design. I have been really impressed with every ones work and their willingness to share even when they were not entirely happy with their own progress. Last time I looked 149 members had posted 365 pictures to the Flickr album and their are already dozens of finished January Challenge Pieces in the Take it Further blog and many more links to be found on Sharon’s blog in this post here.

Included in the kit from the Plimoth Plantation were materials and instructions for a scissor keeper. This was a 'quick' project to fill the gap while I think about which project to start next.

The butterfly is stitched in some of the stitches used on the sampler. The pink wings are stitched in detached buttonhole needle lace so that they are proud of the background embroidery. I added a narrow wire to the edge to help keep their shape.

The cord is hand made from DMC floss. I used a whole skein to make a 3 ply twist. I made the tassel from a second skein of the same floss. I like big tassels but I think this one may be a bit too big for this little medallion. I will leave it for now; I can always shorten it later if I decide it is too long.

I am eagerly watching The Embroiderer’s Story blog for news of when the new Gilt Sylk Twist goes on sale. I want some! I think they are delaying its release just to tease us!

If you can get to Manchester this weekend why not go the Stitch & Creative Crafts Show at Manchester Central (GMEX). While you are there, visit the Japanese Embroidery Stand and say hello to Jane, Sue and Dennis for me.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 28 January 2008

January TIF - Finished

I invited my parents to have dinner with us last night. Mum and I were chatting in the kitchen while I prepared our food. I started to tell her about the Take It Further challenge in general and more specifically about the key concept for January. That led us to reminiscing about how Nan loved to darn and patch things. When Mum said, "Gladys did beautiful darning", I had to smile; those are the exact words that I chose to darn into my January piece.

I’ve certainly enjoyed the first month of this challenge; thank you Sharon for the key concept and the colour palette. At first I struggled to come up with a concept that I felt I could translate into stitch but I am please that I was patient and waited for the ‘right’ idea rather than pressing ahead with something I didn’t feel comfortable with. I think that my finished piece could be better, and probably would have been if I had worked out the whole design before I started stitching. I would have noticed and possibly corrected some of the things that don’t work, and perhaps come up with a more balanced design. Nonetheless, I am pleased with it and now I am eager for next month’s design to be announced.

I had an ulterior motive for inviting Mum and Dad to dinner. I collected 'Flutterbys' from the framers on Saturday and wanted to present them with it. It came as a total surprise to them and I think that they were thrilled, especially when I told them about the butterflies representing our family.

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Some Answers and Some Stitching

Bonfieldjane: Yes the white stitching is padding. This is a cotton thread and a different number of strands can be used to create different thickness of padding. There are also two areas of orange padding; this is called self padding, where the same thread that will be used for the final stitching is used for the padding.

Mary: The fabric is silk. I don't know exactly what type of silk but is looks very similar to the Nishijin that I used for the Flutterbys. It has a reasonable weight to it and is quite densely woven with a prominent weft thread. It is essential that the fabric is very taught in the frame and the Japanese frame is designed to achieve this. I expect that it is described in your Japanese Embroidery book but your comment has prompted me to do a post on the frame soon.

Candi: You're comment was no email, so I will say here, I am sending the strongest encouragement vibes I can to help you succeed with your challenge to give up smoking.

I progressed the chrysanthemum more than I expected to. I'm not totally satisfied with the stitching but given the difficulty level of this motif I think that I may have done it as well as I can at this time. There are so many things to get right with this. The angle of the stitches has, which is more difficult to determine over padding; the spacing of the stitches; maintaining the twist on the thread; the shape of the petals; and a one point open space between petals. This is definitely the most difficult thing I have stitched so far.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Chrysanthemum - 3

On her site Needle ‘n Thread, Mary Corbet recently had a stash give away competition. Leaving a tip in a comment was all you needed to do to qualify for the draw. It took me several days to think of a tip and then I forgot to leave it in her comments. Never mind, I have a tip ready and waiting if I need one in future. The question was "What do you do when you stitch (or before or after you stitch), that helps you get the job done with better results?" This set me thinking about my start up ritual.

I don’t have a dedicated stitching area, so my work area is set up and put away for each session. (This is my Japanese Embroidery; most other embroidery is done in my lap or on a small frame on the settee.) I do not dismantle my stand unless we need more space (when the family come for Christmas) or when I take it with me to class, I have found a spot to store it when not in use. First I move the stand to my favourite spot in front of the patio window where I get maximum light. The framed embroidery is stored in a carry case to protect it from dust etc; this lies across the stand. The stand has a narrow table across the back. On here I place a roll containing couching threads, metallics and padding cotton and a box containing the tools that I use most frequently. From this box I take my tekobari (stroking iron) and Japanese snips and place them on the side of the frame. Next I take my needle felt and any silks I need from the box I store them in and place them on the side. The other ‘thing’ I keep on the frame while I work is an origami box to keep all the off cuts of thread in. Most other Japanese Embroiderers will arrange their work area in a similar way. It is not only to keep things tidy; it ensures that the equipment you need is immediately to hand.

When my work area is arranged, I clean my glasses and Eschenbachs (magnifiers that clip onto my glasses). I’ve come to realise that this ritual is not only about preparing my work area, it is about preparing myself for stitching; it has become rather like a tea ceremony, ritualistic. On the rare occasion that I leave things set up over night because I know I’ll be stitching the following day, when I sit down to work, I’m not settled and it takes me longer to get into my stitching.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Finally, I am able to get back to Venerable Friends. It feels a little like an old friend that I have neglected for a long time. I hope it will be how it is with good friends; we’ll pick up where we left off and carry on as if it were only yesterday.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

January TIF - Stitching 5

I thoroughly enjoyed the weaving type darning. I had pulled the carried threads too tight and the linen has ballooned on the reverse, I think it also caused the lines of stitching to distort on the right side. A lesson learned for next time.

As I expected, the colours affect each other in different ways. Where they cross themselves, the hue is, of course, most saturated. I would have expected the darker shades to dominate as the stripes created by the deep green and purple do. However, in the squares that combine a pale colour with a dark colour, the brightness of the paler colours sometimes counter-balances the darker colours.

I have used different weaving patterns - partly to experiment with the patterns and partly to see how that affects the colours. Each colour combines with every other colour twice but with a different weave pattern in each case. It surprised me how much that affected the colour values. In the two outer stripes, where I stitched 2 over/2 under in alternating pairs, the colours are balanced with neither dominating. However in the two stripes beside these, the vertical colour, which is stitched in single rows of alternating 2 over/2 under, appears more dominant in most cases. In the central stripe, the darker colours appear more dominant, here I have stitched 1 over/1 under. In this macro shot, the separate colours show clearly but viewed with naked eye the colours merge more, particularly were two pale colours or two dark colours cross.

I really like the plaid effect created by the weaving.

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 19 January 2008

January TIF - Stitching 4

This is a little easier of my eyes and is working up much quicker, mainly because of the long carried stitches across the centre. I usually prefer to work with a hoop but I read that it is easier to work darning stitches in the hand. For what I have done so far, I think that is probably true, but I think it would have been easier to keep the tension correct on these long stitches if the fabric had been in a hoop.

I really like the little one over/one under stitches at the edges.

Weaving in and out of the carried stitches is easy to do and I enjoy the rhythm of the weaving. Again, I am want to see how one colour affects the other, that is why I have used all five colours horizontally.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

January TIF - Stitching 3

Gosh, this section has boggled my eyes! I’ve needed my clip on magnifiers and my task light to see properly and even then I’ve gone wrong several times. One row of stitches looked wrong as I was working it, so I took the stitches out and re-did it. I did this three times before I worked out that I had gone wrong on the previous row and that was the reason the current row would never look right. It probably would have been easier to see if I had used one of the stronger colours but I wanted to see how the stitch length affected the value of the colour and thought this would show more clearly with a paler colour.

The first three bands are running stitch, with each row of stitching stepped to form a chevron pattern. The first band (left) is stitched 2 over/2 under, the same as all the stitching in the central motif (ratio 1:1); the second is 3 over/1 under (3:1) and the third 4 over/2 under (2:1). As the second band has the highest ratio of thread on the surface to background colour, I would have expected this band to be the most prominent.

The remaining bands are all stitched 2 over/2under with alternating areas of thread and background to give a chequered effect. There are not many variations on this pattern you can do with a single colour, so I introduced the pale green (966) into the mix.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 13 January 2008

January TIF - Stitching 2

I started stitching the outer part of the design with the lavender (211) but the stitches were barely visible, so I removed them and started again with the darker mauve (333), I like the way the colour intensifies where the stitches double up around the inner motif.

Again, the colours changed when I added the dark green (520) stitching. The stitches are exactly the same as the inner motif - 2 over, 2 under - but their position is shifted to create a different pattern. I find it interesting that this area looks more densely stitched than the centre even though the coverage is exactly the same.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 10 January 2008

January TIF - Stitching 1

Wow, it is amazing to see the stitched sampler coming out exactly like my (modified) chart. I guess it’s not so surprising with such a simple design, but I hadn’t expected them to be so alike.

I found working out the starting point a little taxing, in fact my first attempt was one thread out so I had to restart, but once I got going I really enjoyed the simple rhythm of two over and two under running stitches.

One thing that is fascinating me is how much the second colour affects the first. The deep purple (333) stitches (vertical) looked violet on their own, but when the deep green (520) stitches (horizontal) were added the colours appear to blend to form a different colour. I plan to explore this a bit more when I add to the design. I wonder how this would have looked if I had used the paler green to give more contrast?

I planned to do the outer areas in the paler shades but when I started stitching with the lavender (211) they were barely visible, so I removed them and will continue with the darker shades for this part of the design. These are exactly the same stitches with the same spacing but arranged in a different pattern; I am interested to see how that affects the appearance of the colours.

I will be using the other shades but in a more densely stitched pattern so that the colour is not lost. All stitching (so far) is done in a single strand of DMC stranded floss.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

You Make My Day

I have been tagged by Hideko, Elizabeth and Melissa for the Make My Day Award. Thank you, ladies; I am flattered that you included me in your lists.

The Rules are to "Give up to 10 people whose blog brings you happiness & inspiration and makes you feel happy about Blogland." Beware! You may get the Award several times! Let them know by posting a note on their blog so they can pass it on. As others have found, it is a difficult task to hone my list of favourite blogs down to just 10 but here goes, in no particular order.

At the risk of making this sound like a mutual appreciation society I am sending the award straight back to all three of you.

Hideko of Wind from the East was the first blog I found and started visiting regularly. Her stitching is so pretty and I adore her use of colour.

I discovered Elizabeth’s blog Quieter Moments through TAST and have found her stitch explorations fascinating. I am really please that Elizabeth will continue exploring stitches and blogging her findings for us.

Melissa has only been embroidering for approximately 18 months and blogging for about the same time. Her enthusiasm for embroidery is delightful and she generously shares all she has learnt on Honey Bee’s Bliss.

I’m not sure how I found Allie’s blog, I expect I followed a link from another blog. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read "Do take a look at her wonderful quilts on Allie’s in Stitches" or something similar. As much as I love flowers, at first I didn’t get Allie’s quilts but over time they have really grown on me. Stunning work and a fascinating blog.

Again, I’m not sure how I found Judy’s blog, Possibilities, etc, but I think it was something to do with Allie’s. It was Judy’s needlepoint interpretation of Allie’s crazy quilting that first got me hooked.

There are so many reasons not to miss Mary’s Needle’n’thread; the video stitch library, masses of information and, of course, her stunning embroidery.

Nuido - A Student's Journey
is a fairly new blog and the only one I know of dedicated to Japanese Embroidery. Jane is passionate about JE and freely shares all she has learned about her craft. Jane is an exquisite and prolific stitcher.

The Beaded Journal Project is made up of 241 women and 1 man who are dedicated and committed to creating 12 bead journal pages, one per month, for a year. I couldn’t pick one individual bead artist from their number so have included the project’s blog.

Pat Winter’s blog is certainly worthy of inclusion in any blog but I want to include her spin off blog Comfort Dolls Project. Seeing the dolls that so many textile artists have made and donated to this project really does make my day.

Finally, I want to include a blog that currently has me gripped, The Embroiderer’s Story. The Plimoth Plantation are recreating a 17th Century Embroidered Jacket, and watching it progress would be reason enough to follow this blog but the information about the research behind the project and the development of materials is fascinating.

So there you have it, just 10 of the many blogs that make me happy and make my day!

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

TAST, TIF and Tagged

It doesn’t seem right to move on to TIF without a final word on TAST.

I began the year very well and worked a sampler for each stitch, more or less within the week. The problem was that I set the bar too high; it was taking all my stitching time to complete the sampler and I was not getting anything else done. Between taking breaks for holidays or other projects, and taking longer to do each sampler, as the year progressed, I fell further and further behind.

I don’t see not completing all the stitches as failing TAST, I never actually dropped out; I simply didn’t keep up. Besides, I’d rather focus on the positive things that came out of participating. First, I really enjoyed the stitches I did do, and my samplers included some of the stitches that came up later in the year (so really I was ahead, rather than behind, LOL). Second, I have done more stitching this year than ever before and I attribute that to TAST. Also, I have followed the progress of many who have participated and learnt much from their endeavours (thank you to all those who took the time to blog or upload pics to Flickr, you’ve given me hours of pleasure). And finally, TAST was the reason I started my blog; for that reason alone I am really pleased I signed up for the challenge. Sharon, thank you so much for organising TAST and all of your hard work this past year.

So, on to Take it Further! I am hoping that I will be able to keep up with this challenge better but already I am wondering if I have time to do this as well as the other projects I want to do! I am trying to resist the temptation to do a bigger project just because I have more time. When TIF was first announced I had several ideas for themes or formats I could adopt throughout the year. I am also trying to resist them. It is in my nature to want everything to be co-ordinated or matching but for this challenge I want to treat each month as a totally separate project to allow myself complete freedom of design. I am not a designer so I will be satisfied to take small steps with this challenge and try not to expect too much of myself each month.

The key concept for January is the feeling of admiration for another. How hard is that? I can think of many people I admire and the reasons why but at first I could not imagine how I could translate that into embroidery. I rejected a lot of people on the grounds that I don’t know enough about them on which to base a design but two names people occupied my thoughts for several days, my Nan and Mahatma Ghandi. I did a mind map for each, writing down the things I admire about them, things I identify with them and my feelings about them. Despite a long list of words, I was not getting any inspiration for Nan. I looked up Ghandi on the web and started writing down key facts, quotes and more words, including their Sanskrit translations and gradually began to form an idea. I had one real sticking point, although I don’t want to tie myself to both the key concept and the colour scheme every month, I really like this month’s colours and want use them but I could not envisage them in a design based on the Father of India.

While searching for information about appropriate stitches to use, I remembered that Stitch magazine had published an article on Indian embroidery. Looking through my back issues, I came across a feature about darning. I remember the article had struck me when it first came out in December 1999 as not long before I had seen some wonderful darning samples at the Witney Antiques Center. It also triggered a memory of an occasion when I was staying with my Nan. Just as I was about to leave the house, I snagged my tights. As I went upstairs to change them, Nan said I should bring that pair to her so she could darn them for me. I laughed and said "Nan, nobody darns tights these days. I’ll just buy a new pair". Of course, my Nan still darned tights and socks, she also patched on the knees of trousers and elbows of shirts and jumpers. She grew up in an age of mend and make-do and probably thought me very decadent for throwing away a perfectly repairable pair of tights.

Last night I started to chart a darning sampler in memory of a woman I loved and admired greatly.

Happy Stitching

PS. I have been tagged by three stitches that I admire. Thank you, I am very flattered. I will compile a list of 10 blogs (just 10!) that make my day in the next day or two.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Flutterbies - The Final Stitches

It is usual to sink the ends of the couched threads after all the other stitching is completed but I had already sunk the ends whenever I thought that they would not interfere with any remaining stitching. The exception was the antennae on the Blue Eyed Boy. For some reason I had decided that I would leave them until the very end - it seemed fitting to finish were it all began back in June. I don’t know why, but I sometimes make these subconscious choices and they become strangely important.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Actually sinking the threads is a simple task but it felt as if I were performing a ceremony or ritual - I took my time and savoured the final moments.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

After working on this for six months and having invested so much thought and emotion in it, I had mixed feelings about finally completing the stitching. Like coming to the end of a good book, I was eager to finish it yet, at the same time, I felt a degree of sadness that it would soon be over. Quite apart for the pleasure that I have had designing and stitching each butterfly, I have become emotionally attached to this particular project.

And here they are ... (by the way, if you didn't already know, when you click on any of the pictures, you will get an enlarged pic)

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

Even though the stitching is complete the piece has to be ‘finished’ before it is removed from the frame. Finishing is the only part of Japanese embroidery I do not enjoy. It’s not that I don’t like any of the steps per se; it’s just that I am terrified that something will go wrong and my months of work will be ruined in an instance!

While working on my Japanese embroidery, I treat it with great reverence. I apply liberal amounts of hand cream to keep my hands as soft and smooth as possible. Before starting work, I wash my hands thoroughly and wash them again whenever they feel hot and sticky. I go through a little ritual of laying out my tools and materials, and usually I mediate for a few moments to rid myself of any tension before I commence stitching. When I am not working on it, the embroidery is covered to protect it from dust and even while I am working on it I only uncover the area that I am working on. Food and drink are not allowed anywhere near it. I regularly check the tension of the silk in the frame and tighten it if necessary and I checked it again before starting the finishing process. All of my tools and materials are carefully put away and the protective cover removed. Let the finishing commence.

First I take a velvet pad and firmly beat the embroidery to remove and dust or particles. Then, on the reverse of the embroidery, I apply glue made from wheat paste to all the stitched areas, taking care not to get any on the silk fabric. Traditionally most of the embroidery was done on kimono, obi or fukusa (a gift covering), which are all items that are worn or handled, gluing the stitching fixes it. I have wondered if it is necessary to glue embroidery that is to be framed, but until I know for certain that it is not, I will continue to glue mine. Then you take a damp towel and wipe first the glued parts to even out the glue and then, with a clean part of the towel wipe the underside of the unstitched areas to dampen the fabric. Now, with the work right side up, you steam the entire piece from the underside. The steam brightens the silk and really makes it shine but having kept anything remotely wet well away from the embroidery until now, this feels totally alien. Finally, you begin drying the embroidery by moving a very cool iron across the surface, which is covered by a piece of finishing paper. This is done on each side. The embroidery is then set aside to dry thoroughly.

This is a brief account of the process to illustrate the rough handling the embroidery receives after months of mollycoddling. This is in no way a tutorial and I seriously recommend you don’t attempt this based on this description alone.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Flutterbies - The End is Nigh

Over New Year, we went to stay with J’s sister in Amsterdam. We've had a lovely time but I have not been able to blog and there is something I’ve been itching to say. I have finished the stitching on Flutterbies!

After my Good Stitching Day, I only had a few details to complete and over the Christmas period, I managed to find an hour here and there to gradually do them.

First I completed the final Flutterby. As I don’t feel I know my youngest brother very well, I decided to keep this butterfly simple and not add any fussy details. Like my brother, I think he has turned out jolly fine.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I did however want to add some detail to the hind wings of the purple butterfly. Earlier I had stitched a spot in #1 metallic gold but was not pleased with it. I found it rather difficult to remove the metallic thread stitching without damaging the silk foundation. I thought for a long time about how else I could add a gold spot to each wing. Then, while tidying away some things before Christmas, I came across the materials for The Plimoth Jacket sampler. The kit included some gold spangles for stitching onto a scissor fob I have yet to make. On their blog, The Embroiderer’s Story, there is a fascinating account of the research and investigation into reproducing spangles for the Jacket (and currently, the tale of the Gilt Sylke Twist is being gradually revealed). The spangles in the kit turned out to be just the right size and it was a simple job to stitch them in place with a 1-2 twist of pink silk.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

The Shibori Samurai has waited patiently to receive his antennae. I knew what I wanted to do, but was not sure if I would succeed in creating the look I wanted. I had put this task off until there were no more excuses for not doing it. I stitched the left antenna first and it came out exactly as I intended.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

When it came to the second antenna, the bulbous end came out a strange shape. The second time I stitched it, it came out exactly the same again and although the third time it was slightly less bent, it was more or less the same shape. There comes a point where you think, this thing ‘wants’ to be this shape and you have to go with it. Curiously, it reminds me of my Dad’s eyebrow, so it’s staying.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

I wanted the antennae to be strong and proud, like my Dad, and for them to bring a little more emphasis to this butterfly, which was in danger of being overshadowed by those around it.

© Jennifer Ashley Taylor/Carol-Anne Conway

To be continued ...