Saturday, 25 October 2008

Gold Ribbon

For nearly two years I was in something of a stitching frenzy. Nearly every spare moment found me with a needle in my hand. On September 3rd all of that came to a crashing halt. I don’t know if it was inevitable burn out or whether it is a direct result of my accident. Following my enforced break I am finding it difficult to get back into stitching. Most evenings I think “I’ll do some work on that latter” but I don’t get to later.

The one project I do make time for two or three times a week is Venerable Friends, my Phase III Japanese Embroidery but surprisingly, despite my eagerness to return to silk embroidery, I have been doing any and every scrap of gold work there is on this design.

First the Higaki design on the brown foundation and later it’s outline, then the maze effect on the end of the scroll and the fuzzy effect gold. My last few sessions have been spent couching pairs of #4 gold to form a gold ribbon.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I find this type of stitching extraordinarily peaceful; I lose myself in it completely.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The gold work is finished; only silk embroidery remains. Have I saved the best for last, or have I backed myself into a corner?

Friday, 17 October 2008

One Thread Fits All

I’m often asked what threads we use for Japanese Embroidery. The short answer is (excluding the metallic threads) we only use one thread – Japanese Flat Silk.

The real answer is a bit more complicated. The silk comes on 60 meters tubes of flat silk. One strand of silk is made up of 12 suga (filaments). For optimum shine the silk is used flat, strands can be split for finer threads or combined if a thicker thread is required. The thread can also be twisted.

The above photo shows a tube of flat silk, a variety of threads, twisted and flat and (laying across the silk) a strand of DMC floss.

The first three threads from the left are all flat silk – half a strand, 1 strand and 2 strands. The next five threads are a regular twist – 1->2, 1->1, 2->1, 3->1 and 4->1 (the first number is the number of strands used to make a single twisted thread, e.g 4->1 is four strands twisted together to make one twisted thread). The final two threads are a 3->1 soft twist and (on the far right) a 1->1 S-twist.

The stitched samples above show the relative thickness of a different number of strands of flat silk and the coverage when used to stitch a foundation.

From left to right: 0.5 strands, 1 strand, 1.5 strands, 2 strands and 2.5 strands.

This sample shows the relative thickness of the twisted threads and the coverage when used to stitch a foundation.

From left to right: 1->1 twist, 2->1 twist, 3->1 twist, 4->1 twist and 3->1 soft twist.

Note that the 3->1 soft twist looks as full as the 4->1 regular twist and gives fuller coverage even though it uses fewer strands of silk. The tighter the twist the finer the finished thread.

I have not used the 1->2 twist in these samples. This very fine thread is usually used to couch other threads or for diagonal holding stitch. Nor have I used the thread on the far right, 1->1 S-twist, this thread is used for Japanese round knots or long-legged knots.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Knitting and Stitching Show

On Sunday, I went to my first Stitching and Knitting Show at Ally Pally and had a wonderful time. I don’t know why I’ve never been before, they always seem to fall when I have lots of other things going on, but this year, I pencilled the show into my diary and made everything else fit around it. I car shared with 3 other Guild members whose company I enjoyed both there and back (long journey back with several delays but that gave us more time to talk about the exhibits we had seen and the goodies we had purchased).

At the show we went our separate ways as we each had our own agenda. In the morning I spent a couple of hours looking around the exhibits before meeting up with a Japanese Embroidery friend. There was not an exhibit that I did not enjoy but for me some of the highlights were:

Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn, particularly seeing Jan’s work in person, there is so much detail and texture that is not evident in the photographs I have seen.

The Royal School of Needlework – no revelations here just superb workmanship of traditional embroidery techniques.

Ruth Issett who understands colour in a way I can only dream off.

Barbara and Roy Hirst – incredible raised work embroidery, the exhibit included some of Barbara’s step-by-step teaching examples. From the work I say, Barbara was an exceptional needlewoman and my feeling is that she was probably an exceptional teacher.

Takako Sako, Japanese bead weaving. Wow, wow, wow, I thought this was fabulous. I loved the whole exhibit but the kimono was incredible. A life size kimonmo made entirely of beads, it took 4 women 2 years working full time to create.

I took a shopping list with me and mostly stuck to it although I didn’t find everything on my list.

From my list I bought a reel of bright red flat silk (for a Christmas ornament swap); silk wadding (for mounting my Japanese embroidery); white/neutral threads in a variety of weights and textures and white/neutral bead mix (for the online class Sumptuous Surfaces – I don’t have the supply list yet so I took a stab in the half light).

Off list I bought 3mm sequins in pale gold and perlesent white; tiny mother of pearl buttons; two fat quarters of silk tussah; a white sewline fabric pencil.

At the end of the day my feet were killing me, but if we had more time there was still so much more to see (and buy!).

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Riding Without Stabilisers

A friend asked me what was wrong with the gold work that I did and removed on Sunday. I found myself struggling to answer. Sometimes these things are more intuitive than actual.

Students of Japanese Embroidery are encouraged to stitch with their hearts. This is easier said than done. When you are first learning you have to concentrate so hard on simply forming the stitch that the head is fully engaged but gradually, with practice, the hand learns how to do the stitch without conscientious thought.

I remember my first 'real' bike when I was a girl. What I remember most about it was the day that the stabilisers came off and I learnt to ride without them. A kindly neighbour, Fred, patiently followed me up and down the street, supporting the bike and offering words of encouragement. Eventually, I heard his voice still encouraging me but from a distance. I never new the moment that Fred released the saddle and let me ride solo; I never new the moment that my head stopped directing my hand and my heart began to stitch.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Today was the day that I realised I have started to stitch with my heart and I have begun to feel my mistakes before I see them.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Needlepoint Group Project 3

Area F: Bargello pattern. This is simple to stitch but I enjoy this kind of stitching, rhythmical and methodical. I also like how this area looks.

Area G: Byzantine Stitch. Like Bargello this is simple to stitch. I forms a strong diagonal pattern. The remaining squares are stitched in eyelet stitch. Another one that I enjoyed stitching and the look of.

Area H: Another Bargello Pattern. Bargello or Florentine stitch is a stepped stitch which can be worked in either a regular or irregular fashion. This is another regular pattern.

Area I: Woven Stitch. This was a fairly intricate and complicated stitch that requires counting and stitching in a specific order - right up my street. The spaces between the woven stitch are filled with a double straight stitch tied with a cross stitch. Good fun to stitch and very pretty but this area does not seem balanced with the other areas in this round.

Area J: Rice Stitch. The four outside panels are all stitched in the same way, a boarder of tied down rice stitch.

So here is the (nearly) finished panel. It has been this way for over a month. Partly because of my limited stitching in recent weeks but in reality more because I can't decide on how to finish Areas B and D. In the instructions both have straight stitches worked in a single strand of the palest shade of colour A. I worked this in Area A but found it to be too pale and insignificant. I then worked the stitches as instructed but using #1 Japanese gold thread. I still think this is too insignificant. The stitches here should not distract from the patterns in these areas but need sufficient weight to be visible.

Happy Stitching

And there it was gone ...

It is somewhat disheartening to spend the last 5 minutes of an hours stitching taking out the previous 55 minutes work, but I find myself more inclined to listen to the nagging voice that tells me that something is not right. Nine times out of ten I find it to be right so I may as well give in sooner rather than later.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Given that I have spent the last six months practising gold work I thought I was getting the hang of it but today I felt like a complete beginner again. Granted I was working with imitation gold and compared to real gold it feels very unyielding. I am very tempted to do the remaining gold work with real gold but the look is too different to contemplate that option. The other thing that I noticed is that the koma I have the #4 imitation gold on are much lighter weight than the koma I have my real gold on. They are not substantial enough to hold the metallic threads taught.

But only a bad work man blames their tools. Next time I will do better!

Happy Stitching

Friday, 3 October 2008

Maze Pattern Couching

Another 'simple detail' is the gold couching on the end of the scroll in maze pattern.

After couching a pair of gold threads around the outside, one thread is sunk to the back while the remaining thread is couched in a continuous line with a constant gap between each row.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Something does not look right about the end of the scroll but I can't quite figure out what is wrong.


Many of my fellow students have been in Bournemouth this week for the Autumn class. I would have liked to be with them but I am not able to go twice a year. I hope that they have had an enjoyable and productive week and look forward to seeing their work. My next class will be in March. By then I hope to have finished my Phase III, Venerable Friends and to have made good progress with the Special Class design Embroidery Bridge between East and West.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Fuzzy Effect

I love how effective the simple details can be. In the corner of the top book there is an area of gold and silver fuzzy effect. Lines of gold or silver #1 area stitched into every other weft valley. The ends are randomly staggered (I can manage random on this scale).

The lines are then couched with the stitches in a brick pattern (alternating on each row).

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

It never ceases to amaze me how much the couching thread alters the appearance of the metallic threads.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Traditionally red is used to couch gold and white is used for silver, these colours are thought to enhance the natural beauty of the precious metals.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Chrysanthemum Leaves

Each chrysanthemum leaf has a horizontal foundation of flat silk. Horizontal means horizontal to the motif being stitched not to the fabric. It is a long time since I have done silk embroidery of any significance and my hand and eye are definitely out. I stitched and reverse stitched several times before I gradually began to get the feel for it again.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

This first leaf is nearly aligned with the weft threads of the fabric, near enough that they served as a guide for keeping my stitches parallel and evenly spaced.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The second leave is on a totally different angle and there was nothing to guide me. As I worked I could see that the direction of my stitches was gradually altering, first one way and then the other. By the time I had stitched half of the leaf the foundation looked a complete mess so I removed it.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Second time around I am much happier with the stitching.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Lines of couched gold are used to stitch the veins; this serves the dual purpose of securing the foundation stitches in place.

Happy Stitching