Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Beaded bead necklace

I heard about The Oxford Bead Shop a while ago but did not get around to looking them up until a couple of weekends ago. I went in search of them because I wanted to make a necklace to go with a new little black dress that I had brought. I had an idea of what I wanted to make and the shop happened to have a kit that closely matched my idea. The beads in the kit leant a little more towards silver than black but with Any's help I selected some substitute beads that were more in line with the look I wanted to achieve.

The instructions in the kit were easy to follow but the method was a little fiddly. Three hands would have been useful. Even so, I was able to make the beaded bead in one longish evening.

Turning it into a beaded necklace was a piece of cake, or it would have been had I not dropped one end of the necklace while trying it for size and scattering beads all over the bedroom floor!

Now, Jon would never forgive me if I didn't tell you that he helped me gather up all of the scattered beads and then rethreaded them for me :-)

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas Ornament/Card Swap

I thought that I blogged pretty much every thing that I stitch. Sometimes when I look back as a reference, I am surprised by the gaps in my recording.

For the past three years I have taken part in a Christmas card/ornament swap on the Embroiderer's Guild forum. I stitched and sent my offering to my swap partner a couple of weeks ago but waited until I was certain that it had arrived before blogging about it.

When I looked back to see what I had written about the previous swaps, I was amazed to learn that I had not even mentioned them! The first swap I took part in was in 2008. The swap that year was for a Christmas card and ornament but that year, and everyone since, my time was limited so I decided to make an ornament/card. I wanted to practice a technique that I had learnt that year, Flax leaf, and try a technique that I had not done before, 3d effect.

On the back, I simply stitched the date.

In 2009 I changed the shape of the ornament and stitched a variations of Flax leaf that produces hexagons. I don't have a picture of the finished ornament.

We also stitched small gifts in that year and I made a tiny beaded pin cushion for my swap partner.

This year I changed that shape again and practiced an other technique that I learnt this year. After stitching a foundation in flat silk, I over stitched the bottom of the ornament with short stitch holding done with #1 silver thread. I hope that this will give a little sparkle to the ornament. At the top of the ornament I attached sequins with the same silver thread. The shape of this ornament was more difficult to finish than previous ones. I always like to finish the edges with a cord. On this ornament I used a twisted cord made from several strands of silver metallic thread.

Happy Stitching. Happy Swapping.

Sunday, 19 December 2010


Two weeks ago the Oxford branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild held their December meeting. It was one of two social evenings we hold each year. We usually have a members’ competition and this year the category was Inchies. We had been given a packet of scraps that we could use if we wanted, but it was not compulsory and there were no restrictions on what you could do.

I chose to use most of the things in the bag; a piece of red satin (approx 7 x 5 inches), a piece of red organza (roughly the same size) and a slightly smaller piece of gold lace. It also contained a length of cotton lace and a piece of stripy ribbon that I did not use but I added another piece of white organza from my stash and some coloured foil sweet wrappers.

I have not had much time for stitching lately so I was determined to do something that was not labour intensive. I allowed myself just one evening to complete the project. I tore the coloured foil into small pieces and trapped them between the red satin and red organza using FuseFX. I then trapped some more pieces between this layer and the white organza. I placed the gold lace on top and used free machine embroidery to attach it. I used a multicoloured G├╝termann metallic thread and stitched mainly on the solid parts of the lace. I’m not very good at FME, probably because I haven’t practiced it enough, but also because it involves random movement. On this occasion though I wasn’t trying to be too precise, I just roughly followed the pattern of the lace. Nor was I too concerned about the look of the stitches, I was trying to blend the lace into the background rather than create ornate stitching. As a result, I was more relaxed, the stitching went more smoothly, and I found it more enjoyable.

When I had stitched all over, I thought that foil showing through the lace stood out too much so I did more FME, this time in the voided areas using a gold thread. Actually, I used two Madeira metallic threads in one needle. I thought the one that I wanted to use might snap too easily so I combined it with another for strength. I fact it was the other one that kept snapping and I had to rethread several times.

The dense stitching meant that I was able to simply cut the fabric into one inch squares without finishing the edges in any way. I would have liked to embellish them a little, perhaps with beads but I’d run out of time.

The competition is judged by the members by placing a coin beside the entry (or entries) that we want to vote for. The one with the most coins is the winner. My Inchies attracted only one or two votes and I was not surprised by that. I had some fun making them and was pleased that I had tried to do something unusual for me but compared to the other entries they were a bit lame. That’s not just me being modest; take a look at the wonderful entries on our Branch Blog.

From the chatter, I could tell how much everyone had enjoyed this competition, both making their own Inchies and seeing what others had done.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Happy Blogiversary to me

I’m not very good at marking my Blogiversary. I did the first year but more by accident than design. The second year I posted on the day but on a completely unrelated topic and the third year I posted the day before and the day following but not on my actual Blogiversary. I believe it is customary to reflect on your previous Blogiversary posts but that seems a little pointless as I’ve done such a poor job in the past. Instead, I’m going to look forward, in an oblique kind of way.

On Stitchin Fingers, SharonB has started a topic "Who is setting goals for the New Year". I haven’t contributed to the discussion but I have been following it and inevitably it set me thinking about goal setting.

My initial thought was that I don’t set myself goals but of course this is not true, I guess we all do to some extent. I just don’t do it in a structured way.

Sharon asked "How do you set [goals] just list them?" On one forum I have joined we declare our goals for the coming month. Many of my projects take several months to complete, so I tend to simply list my current projects and their deadline if it is imminent. "Do you consider how you are going to achieve them - or just overload and hope for the best?" I think that I definitely fit into the overload and hope for the best category. I find it difficult to say no – to myself, let alone anyone else. If I see a project that interests me, I add it to my 'to do' list and hope that I will find time to fit it in. So many of these projects never get off the ground, some get started but fall by the wayside and far too many get squeezed in at the last minute and become stressful rather than a pleasure. Sharon said "This list and overload is one way of not meeting goals." Hmmm, ain't that the truth!

Looking back at the last 4 years, 2007 was probably my most productive. It was also my most goal orientated year. That was the year that I took part in TAST. My plan was to work a small sampler for each stitch within a week starting from the day it was announced. Even though my samplers were small, they were still a lot of work to complete within a week and I soon started to miss my self-imposed deadline, non-the-less the goal remained and I pushed on throughout the year.

Compare that to 2010. This year has been the least productive of the 4 years. I 'planned' to do more than I could possibly achieve. There were at least two time consuming projects that I should have said no to but could not resist taking part. During the summer my mojo went missing for weeks and I think that can be attributed to overload. I have met the some of my goals, those I had committed to doing. Some of the projects that I might have preferred to be working on are yet to be started, and I might have enjoyed the projects I have completed more if I had not felt obliged to do them.

So how do I avoid falling into the same pit falls again? Sharon said, "A dream is a dream; a goal is a dream with a plan". It would seem that before I can set goals I have to consider my dreams. That’s scary. Why am I afraid to name my dreams? Well, it’s that old chestnut of being afraid of failure. Maybe it it time to start facing up to my dreams. Maybe it is time to stop thinking about all the reasons they may not be fulfilled. Maybe it is time to start making some plans and setting some goals.

Or maybe I'll wrap them back up in obstacles and prevarication and keep on overloading and hoping for the best!

Happy Stitching

Monday, 6 December 2010

Loving Couple, finished

I love The Ducks!

I didn’t know it then but I think I fell in love first moment I laid eyes on them and every time I’ve seen them, probably at every class and every show or exhibition I have ever attended, I’ve fallen deeper in love. More than I realised, I have longed to stitch them.

When, after a five year wait, my time to stitch them came, I savoured every moment, every stitch. I relished my time at the frame and was totally seduced by the sheer beauty of the design as it developed before me.

I found some of the techniques on Mr Duck extremely challenging but I was elated when I finally got the hang of something I’d struggled with.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

What a proud and handsome fellow he is.

I love Mrs Duck’s simple beauty; her elegant curves, the glint of gold in her feathers and the wonderful expression on her face.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Loving Couple has become a very special piece for me. I always try to stitch to the best of my ability but I have really strived to do my absolute best on this piece and now that they are finished, I love My Ducks.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Very Special Thread

My friend Jane has a special thread; a beautiful silver thread.

If I remember correctly, Jane purchased this thread in 1990/01 at an introductory course on Japanese embroidery. I don’t know if it would have been considered special at the time or if it was the standard silver thread available then. The silver thread available now is subtly different. Jane’s thread has a soft, warm sheen when compared to its modern counterpart but somehow it appears brighter.

Rather fittingly, Jane used this silver on Seeds of Nuido. The piece was designed for the late Mary-Dick Digges who Jane met at the introductory class where she purchased the thread. I believe that she also used it to stitch the silver elements on her Phase X, Kusadama.

Jane very graciously supplied me with a length of the precious silver thread to stitch the water on Loving Couple. I shall be eternally grateful to her and every time I look at Loving Couple, I shall think of her and the special thread that is friendship.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Friday, 26 November 2010

Neck Feathers, Take Three

I could see exactly what was wrong with the neck feathers - they were even skinnier that the first attempt and I had a hideous line were the two rows overlapped. I needed to figure out what I needed to do to get it right. I sent pictures to my sensei. Back came the reply “Although I don't like to have to say it, I think you need to take out these feathers ...”. No need to apologise, I had already decided they were coming out. Margaret, also suggested that I put in more feathers, “for every two neck feathers you have now, you need to have three feathers in their space” and also that I take the bottom row of feathers higher up if I still had gaps between the feathers in the top row. Armed with this advice I was ready for round three, starting with more reverse stitching.

Normally in Japanese embroidery you stitch the foreground first. That would indicate that the top row should be done first but the feathers in the top row actually overlap those in the bottom row so I have been stitching those first. This may be part of where I am going wrong but rather stubbornly I decided to do it that way around again. However, I took on board Margaret’s advice and took the feathers in the bottom row higher, especially those that fell into gaps in the top row. I deliberately staggered the tops of the feathers, thinking that this would give a less pronounced line when the top row was added. I increased the thread from 1 flat to 1.5 flat and I concentrated on making each feather wider. I’m not sure if they are a single diagonal layer yet but they are no longer definitely a line of staggered diagonals. I had intended to add more feathers, as Margaret suggested, but after stitching the first few feathers I could see that it would not be necessary.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

When the bottom row was complete, I was beginning to feel confident that this attempt would be better. No, more than that, I was quite excited about them.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

It is slightly strange stitching while feeling excited by what you are stitching. The temptation is to go faster so you can see the result but I made myself resist that urge and stitch the top row with the same care and attention.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

When I finished the top row, I stood up to take a good look ... and I was delighted. This is where I do the happy dance. Not a pretty sight and perhaps not in keeping with the normally sombre and dignified pursuit of Japanese embroidery but after two horrible failures I felt pretty pleased with myself.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Mr Duck finally has neck feathers befitting a duck of his stature.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

(Very) Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Neck Feathers, Take Two

I stuck to my decision to leave the neck feathers in until Mrs Duck was fully stitched but truthfully my mind was already made up. This is no common or garden duck. This is a Mandarin duck, an emperor, a king, and these skimpy, wispy feathers simply did not cut the mustard. They had to go.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

In Japanese embroidery, removing work is referred to as 'reverse stitching'. Sometimes, as I did on his stomach, it is possible to snip through all the layers then pull out the cut threads. The neck feathers are stitched on top of areas of embroidery that I wanted to preserve, so on this occasion 'reverse stitching' was an accurate description of the process as I carefully removed the feathers, stitch by stitch in the reverse order to how I stitched them. It was a slow and delicate operation.

With the offending feathers removed I decided to put in some guide lines to show more clearly the position of each feather; that would be one less thing to concentrate on while stitching. The box chart calls for the neck feathers to be stitched as a diagonal single layer. The stitches on my first attempt were more of a line of staggered diagonals. I couldn’t tell you at what point one becomes the other but mine were definitely the latter. I tried to make them a diagonal single layer this time but the first few feathers I stitched were just a mess.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

More reverse stitching but not before I stitched some more feathers and I felt I was getting them right.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

When you are stitching the same thing over and over, you do get into a rhythm and it took me much less time than I expected to redo the stitching (7 hours for the first attempt, just 2 hours for the second). As before, I lent the frame against the wall and stood back to take a good look.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Argh! They were worse than before. In fairness, I think my stitching was better but the overall effect was the duck equivalent of a Bad Hair Day!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

This time, I did not even kid myself that I might feel better about them in a day or two but I decided not to do the reverse stitching straight away – I needed to figure out where I was going wrong.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Meet the Missus

The next day was to prove even more challenging for me. Just when I thought I had grasped the notion of always stitching towards myself while always stitching in a clockwise direction, things got more complex. Mr Duck’s neck feathers all curve in the same direction, so each one is stitched in the same way. The curves on Mrs Duck change direction and on top of that, to maintain a feathery effect, the line of staggered diagonals switch between their normal top right/bottom left slant to top left/bottom right slant. All of these factors were nearly too much for my poor brain to handle but with Denise’s help and lots of sketches and pencil marks on my design sheet, I slowly began to get the hang of it.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Mr Duck is such a handsome fellow it is easy to overlook his wife. He is an extravagance of stitching effects; she is stitched almost entirely in staggered diagonals. He is a dazzling array of bright colours; she is a subtle selection of just three soft colours.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

But when you start stitching her, you start to appreciate her understated beauty.

Her colours are very subtle and are combined with a strand of 0.8 gold that mingles with the flat silk to glint seductively here and there.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

She may be little more than an outline but her lines are simple and elegant.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

He is an flamboyant dandy, dressed in his finest but she is a timeless, classic beauty.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Neck Feathers

Way back in May, I had put Loving Couple away so that I could concentrate on my entry for the SEW Regional Show competition. I fully intended to get it out and resume stitching as soon as I returned from Amsterdam but my mojo went AWOL and I didn’t stitch anything for a while. Loving Couple stayed in the frame cover until the end of October when I attended a Japanese embroidery class in Garstang, Lancashire.

This is how LC looked the last time I wrote about it.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I did a little more stitching before packing it away, including the white under-tail feathers but I forgot to take a picture of that step.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I made a start on his neck feathers but was finding the technique difficult. While stitching in class my tutors (Denise and Jane) identified a couple of things that I was not doing correctly. First Denise noticed that I was stitching each feather in an anti-clockwise direction. Japanese embroidery has many rules, some are general for all techniques; others apply to specific techniques. When stitching a line of staggered diagonals, as I was, the rule is to stitch curves in a clockwise direction. When I changed direction, I immediately noticed the difference it makes to how the stitches lay.

It wasn’t long, however, until Jane observed that I was stitching away from myself. One of the general rules that apply to every stitch is that you stitch towards yourself. Now I was confused. Originally I was starting at the end of the feather furthest from me and was stitching towards myself but in an anti –clockwise direction. Now I was starting at the end of the feather closest to me so I was stitching in a clockwise direction, how could I also stitch towards myself? Jane explained that 'stitching towards yourself' refers to the direction of each individual stitch, not the order of the stitches – the needle should emerge at the end of the stitch furthest from you and travel towards you. It took a few feathers for me to 'get it' but the stitching did seem to flow more naturally once I got the hang of it.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

There are two rows of neck feathers. They are the last part to be stitched on Mr Duck. When I had finished those I set my frame against the wall and stood back to take a good look ... and was disappointed! Mr Duck is such a handsome fellow but his neck feathers let him down. They were just too skinny and not all that well stitched.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

In the room there were 4 others who had previously stitched Loving Couple. They all said that they had found the neck feathers challenging to stitch and none of them had been totally satisfied with their first attempt. This made me wonder if I was being too self-critical but I was still not sure about them. Sometimes your initial reaction to your own work can be on the negative side, especially at the end of a long class, I decided to re-evaluate the neck feathers after I have stitched Mrs Duck.

Happy Stitching

Friday, 29 October 2010

Kinsai Revisitied

The second workshop that I attended in September was a second kinsai class with Midori-san. This time we were doing the gold leaf work on Double Cherry Blossom Fan, a complimentary design to the Drooping Cherry Tree Fan that I did earlier in the year. The first was a two day workshop, this design was a one day workshop as there is less gold leaf work on it. First, Midori-san screen printed the design for the embroidery onto our fabric, which had been applied to foam board with 505 glue. As before, we began by cutting out the sticky back plastic masks. The masks for this design are less complicated so it took less time to prepare them. We soon had the first masks in place and began to apply blue paste paint with a stippling brush. I had remembered that the pigment in this paste is very strong and took my time building up the colour little by little. I liked the result much more than my first attempt with this technique. We then removed the first masks and put the second ones in place. We used a pallet to apply silver and gold paint to the gaps in the mask. Again, I had learnt from my previous experience and made sure that the edges of the mask were well pressed down so the paste would not bleed under it. That mask was removed and the final one put in place for the last step, applying the flakes of gold and silver leaf. Although I remembered the importance of working quickly for this technique, and I though I did work quickly, I had the same problems with the glue drying very rapidly and my sprinkles did not all stick to the silk. All in all, I think I did rather better than with the first class. I don't know if that was because this was a simpler design or because I had learnt from my first class. In some ways I would have liked to do this design first and had a little experience to bring to the more complex design. I still have the embroidery to do. This is Midori-san's finished fan. Of the two fans, I like this one best so hope that I will enjoy the embroidery more when I get to it. Happy Stitching.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Flower Pounding

Despite a busy schedule, I attended two workshops during September. The first, arranged by the Oxford Branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild, was 'Flower Pounding' with Linda Rudkin. Earlier in the year Linda had given a talk to the branch on 'Colours from Nature'. I’d found the talk fascinating and had been looking forward to the workshop but as the day approached, I was so busy that I nearly didn’t go. In the end, I decided that if would do me some good to have a 'play' day so I went along.

I think this is the prettiest workshop that I have ever been to. Everyone had raided their own, and their neighbours’ gardens, for a good supply of plant material; the tables were covered in multicoloured flowers and foliage.

The process of Flower Pounding is relatively simple but Linda passed on all the tips and tricks that she has discovered that give the best results and soon we were merrily pounding our petals and leaves.

In the morning we sampled our materials to see which specimens worked best and in the afternoon we used what we had learned to make a small composition.

Linda also showed us how a method of flower trapping.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and was glad that I had decided to go.

Happy Stitching.

Monday, 11 October 2010

A Little Bit of Not Much

I can't believe that it has been over a month since my last blog. I've been busy with something that has left me very little time for embroidery or for blogging about the little bit that I have done and then I have been on holiday. I did take some embroidery away with me but we did so much while away that I didn't even look at it. I'll try to find time to tell you about the wonderful week we had in Italy but until then, here is a quick update on a couple of the things that I have managed to do.

At the Stitch and Creative Craft Show last month, I bought a few beads to make a couple more necklaces.

For the first I chose a grey glass disc with a foil center for the accent bead, some Chinese crystal beads and rhinestone rondelle spacers to compliment it and some seed beads. I threaded one crystal, a rondelle, a second crystal and a few seed beads onto a length of tiger wire. I threaded the same combination, but fewer seed beads onto a second length of tiger wire then threaded both pieces of wire through a rondelle, the accent bead, then another rondelle. Onto each length of wire I then threaded a series of seed beads and crystal/rondelle/crystal sequences and finally added a toggle clasp.

I liked the necklace very much but it was a little too long and the two 'tassels' didn't hang nicely so I decided to remake it. This time I threaded the 'tassels' onto head pins that I attached to the tiger wire threaded through the accent beads and used a slightly different, shorter bead combination. This version is an improvement on the first but the 'tassels' are still a little stiff. I think this is because I have made things too tight. I may take it apart and try again when I have some time.

For the second necklace I selected some green oval glass beads with rose and foil details, Chinese crystal beads and silver spacer beads. I made a number of sections by threading first a silver spacer, then an oval bead, then a second spacer, onto an eye pin. I cut the pin to length and made a loop on the end.

I also made a number of sections in the same way using crystals instead of ovals.

I linked the sections together alternating between ovals and crystals as I made them. When the chain was the desired length, I added a toggle clasp.

I found the sections fiddly to to make and remade many of them several times but I am rather pleased with the finished necklace.

Happy Stitching