Wednesday, 28 May 2008

May TIF - Foundations 1

I sometimes wake in the night and find I can’t get back to sleep for hours. This can be frustrating but sometimes I find that the deep peace and stillness of the night is the best time for thinking. On 14 May I had blogged my initial thoughts for the May TIF but at the time I did not know what I would be stitching. In the early hours of the following morning the cat chasing a mouse around the bedroom woke me. By the time I had caught the mouse and released it in the garden I was wide-awake so I made myself some tea and logged on to discover that SharonB has created a new community space for everyone interested in textiles called Stitchin Fingers. When I went back to bed, hoping to get a couple of hours sleep before work, my head was buzzing with thoughts about embroidery and my TIF design. Eventually several threads of half formulated ideas began to come together and twisting around each other and finally produced an Aha! moment. My May idea was conceived!

I didn’t find time to start on it until this week. I know that I have some of the linen that I used for my TAST samplers remaining but cannot find it, so impatient to finally get stitching I selected a piece of cotton (I think) that looked suitable. Actually, now that I have started stitching I think this is more suitable than the linen.

The design area is 10 cm square and is divided into 5 randomly shaped areas. The first stage is to fill each segment with foundations stitches; I will be using satin stitch in a variety of threads.

The first segment is stitched with two strands of DMC Linen.

I like the matt finish of the Linen thread but the foundation did not lie as smoothly as I would have liked using two strands so for the second segment I used a single strand.

I much prefer the finish using a single strand but now I have spaced the stitches a little too far apart. The next segment is also stitched with a single strand but this time of DMC floss and the stitching is much denser.

I like the subtle difference in texture created by using different threads. I will be using a thread that I have never used before in the next segment.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Two Halves of a Strawberry

The second half of the strawberry seemed to take me even longer than the first! The stitching shrank away from the edge of the shell, probably because I made the tension too tight. I now have a gap all around the edge, but that is all right, from conception I envisaged something on that edge. The next step is to join the two halves and to line them. I have some instructions on how to do this but can’t quiet get my head around them. I may leave it for a few days to work on my May TIF, while I mull it over.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Karahana, Head-Hands-Feet

I don’t seem to get much stitching time lately and everything I am work on is time consuming so I am making very slow progress. Last time I blogged about Karahana I was wondering which petal to stitch next. Christine kindly left a comment and reminded me on the principle of head-hands-feet. We learn this at Phase I when we are taught how to stitch the five petalled cherry and plum blossoms. One petal is always slightly bigger and on top of all the other petals. Regardless of how the blossom is orientated, this is the head and is stitched first. The two petals either side of the head are the hands, they are stitched next. The two remaining petals are the feet. One foot is always in front of the other; this foot is stitched next and finally the remaining foot that is behind all the other petals.

Susan, of Plays with Needles, was also kind enough to email me and attached a labelled diagram of the order she stitched the petals in. Susan’s diagram suggested that after the two petals I have already stitched I should complete the right hand side and then stitch the two petals on the left. Both ways stick to the basic rule that the uppermost petals are stitched before any that lie behind them. I decided to go with head-hands-feet for no particular reason other than it feels balanced!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

You can see Susan's beautifully stitched Karahana here.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Guest Speaker, Jane Davies

We have a wonderful variety of guest speakers at our Branch meetings, this month our speaker was Jane Davies. When Jane mention in her introduction that most of her talk would be about textiles from around the World, I knew that I would be in for a treat, this is one of my favourite subjects. I am fascinated to learn how different cultures and societies have developed their own distinctive styles. Fundamentally, there are only a few basic hand stitches, but the number of variations and adaptations employed around the world is staggering.

Jane spoke knowledgeably on the subject and had a good collection of slides showing textiles from countries including Thailand, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa. The collection showed the traditional clothing worn by various peoples of Thailand. One member asked if such clothing was still widely worn. Jane told us that like everywhere else, traditional clothing is gradually being replaced by mass-produced clothing such as jeans and tee shirts. It is not surprising that hard working mothers prefer to dress their children in cheap, easily laundered clothes, rather than spent many hours elaborately embroidering garments. Nor is it surprising that desperately poor families are willing to sell garments passed down through generations to wealthy tourists or collectors but it is a tragedy that these skills and traditions are gradually dieing out around the world. Thankfully, some of those collectors are collecting so that these some of these wonderful textiles can be recorded and preserved for the future. And hopefully, sometime in the future, members of these communities will decide they want to learn and pass on the skills of their forbearers as is already happening in some communities.

Wherever I travel I try to seek out local embroidery and textiles. In India it was as much as I could do not to lift up the hem of a ladies sari to examine the embroidered hemline! Among her slides Jane had one of an Indian textile, a crazy patchwork of fragments of embellished garments. In our hotel in Agra had a magnificent example in the reception, possibly six feet square made from some very fine garments. We saw many of these for sale in the tourist areas and I purchased one while in Ranthambor. During her talk, Jane said that sometimes after piecing the cloth would be dyed to unify the colours. Looking at the reverse, I can see that is the case with mine, so it was probably made for the tourist market but that is not surprising. While tourism may in part be responsible for the demise of local skills, as the local people realise want to purchase souvenirs of the travels, it is helping to rejuvenate them. Perhaps there is hope that these wonderful skills will survive and continue to be practiced for many more generations.

The Oxford Branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild meets on the second Wednesday of every month except August in Iffley Village Hall at 7.00pm. If you are local to Oxford do join us, we are a friend group and we have a guest speaker 8 or 9 times a year. If you are ever visiting Oxford and would like to come along as a guest, please let me know, you will be very welcome.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

May TIF - Initial Thoughts

This month's question for the Take It Further challenge is 'what do you call yourself and why?'

Sharon said

I hate that what do you do question as I have often wondered how to describe my various creative activities.

My creative activities are what I do in my spare time for my own pleasure, so the question of what to call myself is not hugely important to me. I have always been arty/crafty with a heavy leaning towards textiles. I’ve always enjoyed dressmaking and still make cloths for myself occasionally. I’ve tried my hand at knitting with limited success and crochet with somewhat more success but my favourite pass time is hand embroidery. I think I would describe myself as a needlewomen.

I’ve never described myself as an artist. For many years I only stitched kits or copied projects from magazines, even thought I sometimes adapted them to suit myself. I view the designer who created the original design as the artist. Even the Japanese Phase designs that have stitched are essentially kits; the designs are printed onto the fabric, they come with a box chart (stitching guide) and I rarely deviate from the colours chosen by my tutor. I am not embarrassed to say that I predominately do kits - I’m a needlewoman not a designer. When I see a beautiful design, I like to use my skill with a needle to reproduce it, but I do prefer kits or projects that will either challenge me or teach me new techniques.

I am quite comfortable with the term craft; I don’t consider it better or worse than art, it is just another means of creative expression. I think some people view craft as something you do with sticky back plastic and empty washing up bottles - we have Blue Peter to thank for that - they don’t appreciate that a craftsman has probably spent years honing their skills, sometimes researching and developing techniques.

I do feel slightly irritated when someone is dismissive of my work because it is not my own design, and also if someone is dismissive because it is 'only a hobby'.

I am having a real problem coming up with a design this month. I signed up for TIF to try my hand at designing but I keep thinking that the answer to this months challenge question is that I reproduce other peoples' designs. If I copy something, it won’t be my own design and if I come up with my own design it won’t answer the challenge question!

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 8 May 2008

April TIF, Finished

Sometimes I have been confronted with changes that, at the time, seemed very big; moving house, changing jobs, starting/ending relationships. I worried and fretted about them, going over and over the 'what ifs'. Later when life settled back down, I usually found that fundamentally nothing had changed at all - the sun still comes up every day and the seasons come and go just as they always did, life goes on.

I wanted create circles for this challenge, particularly with the flower stitcher. I wanted to explore how small changes altered the outcome without actually changing the fundament shape. By adjusting the flower stitcher, the circles can be made bigger or smaller; by selecting different stitches I can alter their appearance, but at the end of the day, they remain circles. In that respect, my April TIF fulfils my brief, but I have not found this design very satisfying, neither the process nor the outcome. I think at heart, I am a hand stitcher!

Although this was stitched as a single cloth, I always intended to cut it into five smaller sections. At our last Embroiderers’ Guild meeting we were asked to each make five bookmarks, which will be used to promote the Embroiderer’s Guild. These were intended as my offering. I was certainly not half-hearted about creating them, but I am half-hearted about using them because I don’t personally like them very much.


Long before Sharon set the challenge for April, I had been giving careful consideration to making a significant change in my life. It is not a necessary change but to me a desirable one. I’m not unhappy with things the way they are, and hope that they will remain just the same, so I cannot understand why it is so important for me to make this change. After a great deal of thought, at the end of February I finally put my proposal to J and he said he was happy to accept, just as long as nothing changes!

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Karahana, Second Petal

A day at home recovering from a tummy upset gave me some unexpected stitching time. What could be nicer that stitching beside an open patio door with the warm of sun and a cool breeze pouring in and listening to the birds singing. Combined with the mesmerising rhythm of couching gold work, little wonder I was feeling totally chilled out by the time J came home from work with fish and chips for our dinner.

The round and round couching on this petal was stitched entirely wearing my new glasses. I don’t think that the stitching is quiet as good as the first petal, but I am determined to get used to them and not revert to wearing the Eschenbach, which I am sure do my eyes no favours.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I am still enjoying the couching but am wondering whether to take a break from it and work on Venerable Friends so that I do not become bored with it, or whether to press on while I am into it. If I continue, I am also wondering which petal to stitch next. If I do the one to the left of the first petal, all the large petals will be finished and I’ll only have small areas of couching left. On the other hand, if I do the two remaining petals on the right, one half of the flower will be complete. Decisions, decisions! I wonder if others waste time over trivial decisions the way I do!

Happy stitching

Monday, 5 May 2008

New Glasses

It has become my habit to stitch wearing my 'old' reading/sewing glasses and the Eschenbach. On one hand I like it because the Eschenbach magnify the work so that I can see it easily, on the other hand they tire my eyes and it has become obvious to me that my 'old' glasses are no longer up to the job. When I had my eyes tested, the optician suggested that I might benefit from varifocals, so on Saturday I collected a strange and very expensive 'new' pair of glasses. At the optician’s they gave me a crash course on how to move my eyes up and down through the different focal lengths and to pan side to side with my head rather than my eyes.

My initial impression is a good one but I have to retrain myself to stop peering over the top of the glass for distance and get used to walking around in them – twice I’ve nearly fallen over as the ground rushed up to meet me!

The real test for me is "can I stitch in them?", and I am happy to report that I can. Again, I have to retrain my eyes, the reading/stitching focal length is in the bottom of the lenses – I have to drop my eyes rather than my head – at the moment this is a conscience movement but I am sure that it will become natural after a few hours stitching. The good news is that I can see (nearly) as well with the 'new' glasses as I could with the 'old' glasses and the Eschenbach. This is me threading a size 6 hand-made needle with ease.

Karahana is certainly a good workout for new glasses. I think gold work is quite hard on the eyes even in good light. This weekend the light has not been ideal; it was either overcast or patchy cloud, which means one moment you are stitching in poor light and the next the sun bounces of the gold enough to blind you, but I think I have managed quiet well. Comparing the stitches to those on the first petal, I don’t think they are quiet as good but I think when I get used to the 'new' glasses they will improve – practice makes perfect!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

So now when I am stitching with one eye and watching TV with the other I will have to retrain myself to not keep sliding my glasses up and down my nose!

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 1 May 2008

April TIF - Circles and Flower Stitchers

Shortly after I purchased my new sewing machine, I was given some accessories for Christmas. Among them were a flower stitcher and a circle stitcher that were on my wish list. Neither has ever been used - until now.

The circle stitcher is very easy to assemble and use. It consists of a single strip of metal that screws to the sewing bed. The fabric is attached to a spike on a movable section that controls the size of the circle- moving it closer to the needle results in a smaller circle and visa versa. As you stitch, the fabric rotates on the spike so you stitch in a circle instead of a straight line. You can vary the look of the circle by selecting different stitches. A straight regular stitch gives, well, a straight regular circle. Selecting a zig-zag stitch with a very short stitch length creates a satin stitched circle. The three-step zig-zag gives an interesting design when set on maximum stitch width. Even the pre-programmed patterns can be used. I selected a simple pattern and started/ended the circle outside the design area to avoid matching problems. Where possible I used a hoop but found that I could only stitch relatively small circles in the hoop, for the larger circles I had to try to maintain an even tension with my hands. I deliberately selected a heavier weight fabric because I knew that it would not be possible hoop up for all of the stitching.

The flower stitch is altogether more difficult to assemble and to use. The instructions are not very clear, but once I had figured out how to attach it the first time, I found it a little bit easier subsequently. I had to attach and remove it frequently as hoop would not fit under the device.

The device has an arm that fits over the needle shaft, as the needle goes up and down it drives round a disc. Instead of securing the fabric on a spike, the fabric is clamped between the disc and the stitching bed (you have to set the pressure foot to maximum pressure) this causes the fabric to rotate.

You can control the size of the circles by adjusting the disc but there is not much variation from the smallest to the biggest circle. As with the circle stitcher, altering the stitch creates different effects, although straight, zig-zag and three-step zig-zag are the only stitches the can sensibly be used. It is called a flower stitcher because a wide zig-zag creates a design similar to a daisy. You are supposed to be able to adjust something to stitch a second circle over the first in such away to create petals but I could not make head nor tail of those instructions. To tell the truth, I was loosing patience with the device, I found it rather fiddly to adjust and use. The circles were not very precise, if the fabric so much as touched something it stopped turning causing the shape to distort.

I preferred the circle stitcher but unfortunately the smallest circle you can stitch with it is 2.5 inch diameter. I have heard that you can achieve exactly the same effect by taping a drawing pin to the sewing bed, I may give that a try.

Happy Stitching