Sunday, 28 March 2010


I haven't felt like stitching, and it's not very often you will hear me say that! Last Sunday I broke a tooth. I saw the dentist on Monday afternoon and he repaired it but I was feeling a little less than happy for a couple of days. Then on Wednesday I awoke with a sore throat, pounding head and aching from head to toe. Since then I have had a ghastly cold that has sapped all my energy and desire to do anything. I think that I am over the worst of it now and am beginning to return to normal. I did some stitching last weekend and a little today but I'm not really enjoying this project. I'm not sure if that is just the way that I have been feeling, or genuine displeasure in what I am doing. I am doing the embroidery on the gold leaf design and I have some 'issues' with it. Firstly, I am stitching to a deadline and that is a big turn off for me. I have to get the finished piece to Midori-san by the end of April so it can go to Japan for finishing. If I don't make the deadline, it can go with another batch but that may not be for some months. There are other things that I would rather be stitching now and there is a strong arguement for putting this aside and working on those instead. There are two reasons I don't want to do that. One is that if I don't complete this now, I suspect that I will never return to it and that would be a great shame, it is very pretty and I think I will like it when finished. The second is that I want the frame for another project I want to get started. In addition to the deadline, I'm not enjoying the stitching. The flowers are tiny and I am struggling to stitch them as well as I would like. Midori-san made them look so easy. She said to concentrate on each individual petal. To make them symmetrical with a rounded shape and clear points on the petals. She also said that we should not leave a one-point open space between the petals. The blossom on the left is stitched by Midori-san, the other poor specimens are mine. If you click on the picture then click again to zoom in, you can clearly see the differences between her stitching and mine! People often say that I must have a lot of patience to do Japanese embroidery. I don't usually see it as requiring patience, I just love to do it, but these tiny cherry blossoms are testing my patience and I am having to dig deep to find enough to keep going with them. I'm not sure if I am not enjoying stitching them because I am doing them so poorly, or I am doing them so poorly because I am not enjoying stitching them. Little by little I am getting through them and am on target to meet my deadline. One thing in my favour is I can be very persistant. Happy Stitching

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Midori-san is a talented practitioner, designer and tutor of Japanese embroidery and Kinsai. Kinsai is the application of gold leaf to fabric. The first time I went to Bournemouth for Japanese Embroidery lessons, a supplementary class in Kinsai was held the following weekend. Perhaps my tutor thought 5 days of intense lessons was enough for an absolute beginner to handle in one week or maybe the class was fully subscribed. Whatever the reason, I was not offered a place on that occasion and I have always hoped that the class would run again. Well, yippee, this year it did. In 2005, I believe the class did Japanese Vista. This time we were taught Dropping Cherry Tree, one of two fans that Midori-san has designed. We were working on a very pretty, light weight silk that was spaced dyed in the palest of pastel colours. Each piece was unique. The silk is first applied to a piece of foam core board using 505 spray, taking care to ensure there were no wrinkles of air bubbles. As with most techniques it is worth taking time getting the preparation right as this can affect the quality of the work. We then drew around a card template to mark the outline of the fan on our fabric. The gold leaf was applied using various techniques. For each step, sections of the fan or surrounding fabric were masked out using sticky backed plastic. Midori-san had pre-printed the masks on to the plastic and carefully labelled them so we could easily identify each piece after we had cut them out. First everything except the gold cloud shapes was masked out. We then applied gold paste paint to these shapes using a tool called a pallet. It is rather like a rubber squeegee attached to a rectangular wooden handle. Basically the pallet is used to drag the paste across the area and then remove the surplus much in the way you do screen printing. As many of us discovered, this is not as easy as it looks and our paste bled under the edges of the mask. For this design that did not matter too much since the next step was to soften the edges using gold paste and a stippling brush. Silver paste was also stippled onto some of the clouds. Once the paint had dried, assisted by a hair dryer, we removed some of the masks and applied new ones over the completed central panel. The left and right panels were first colours with red and blue paste paint applied in a random manner with a stippling brush. Again, this was more difficult than I had anticipated. The paint is very strongly coloured and we were aiming for a more subtle look. You have to pick up a small amount of paint on the brush and then remove most of it on kitchen paper before applying a very light covering to your silk and gradually building up the layers to achieve the desired effect. I think that most of us felt that we had applied to much and that the colour was too strong. Having said that, I think the colour faded over the next twenty-four hours, perhaps when it had fully dried, and when I looked at it the following day, I liked it better. A new mask was applied over the end panels leaving only two small fan shapes on each end. These were filled with dark gold paste paint in the same way as the clouds but this time through a silk screen with the design(s) of your choice. There were seven designs to choose from. We did not have the same problems with bleeding this time, partly because we were aware of it and made sure we pressed down the edges of the mask more carefully and partly because the silk screen helps to prevent the paint squiging under the edges. The main difficulty here was ensuring that you had covered the whole of the shape before removing the mask. After the fan masks were removed, the end panels were covered with various gold and silver leaf ‘bits’. Glue was spread over the whole area using the pallet in the same way that the paste paint was applied. You then had to work quickly as the glue soon dried. First fine gold leaf strips were lightly scattered using bamboo tweezers followed by gold and silver cut ends using bamboo sifting tubes. The large cut ends are placed in an open mess tube which is gently rotated to gently release the pieces; the smaller pieces are placed in a fine mesh tube and a brush is used to sprinkle glitter-like pieces. And you guessed it; none of this was as easy as it looked. With the tweezers, you either picked up too few or too many; with the seize either too little or too much leaf came out at a time; and the gold leaf is so unimaginably light that in a seemingly breeze free room the pieces float around and end up in a completely different place to the one that you intended. The application of gold was now finished, all that remained was to dry our designs using a hair dryer and heat sealing everything using a heat press before Midori-san screen printed the embroidery design ready to begin stitching the next day. Rereading this, it sounds as though I did not enjoy the class. Nothing could be further from the truth. The materials that Midori-san had prepared for us (templates, masks and instructions) were spot on. One of the required pieces was not labelled and some students did not realise that it was needed but that only meant that they had a different feature on their design but every design was unique given the vagrancies of the gold leaf. It is not a characteristic unique to Japanese embroiderers, but I have noticed that we tend to have high expectations of ourselves. Despite this being our first or, for some, a second attempt at this difficult technique, we all wanted to achieve the same standard as Midori-san, who has been practicing Kinsai for I don’t know how long. I really enjoyed the class and learning the techniques even though I was not terribly satisfied with the results of my efforts. The course runs over two days. By the end of day one, we had covered what normally takes one and a half days, which meant we would had a full day for stitching on day two and Midori-san was able to spend plenty of time with each student demonstrating how she designed the stitched part of the fan. By the time my turn came, afternoon tea was announced. Midori-san said she didn’t want tea, she wanted to stitch and even though I was ready for a cup of tea, there was no way I was going to miss my opportunity of a one on one lesson with her. For me, this was a fantastic weekend but the best thing on Sunday night was ... I still had FIVE days of Japanese Embroidery to look forward to. Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

We're Back

I'm back from seven days in Bournemouth taking two courses, 2 days learning how to apply gold leaf to fabric and followed by 5 days Japanese embroidery. I got back Friday night but life has been a little busy ever since. This was the first spring-like weekend of the year, so we spent most of it tidying up the garden. I think I probably over did it and felt rather stiff on Monday. My parents came to dinner Sunday evening. It was Mothering Sunday here in the UK and I know that having dinner cooked for her is one of Mum's favourite treats.

Edward is also back. He jumped ship on the return journey from Manchester and has been taking a holiday with his Auntie Sue. We were reunited in Bournemouth and Edward returned home with me. He was not quite finished when he went walk about so to celebrate the return of the prodigal fish I have given him a lining of red ultra-suede.

When Edward jumped ship, he persuaded a friend to join him. This is another scissor case, a lot simpler than Edward, but my own design. This was also unfinished. I had completed the beading and lined both the front and back sections. Since returning home I have joined the two halves and completed this project.

And finally, two other friends are back. Their return this weekend is a something of a coincidence. They came to stay all of last spring and most of the summer. Then they left. On Sunday I thought that I heard them, but put it down to wishful thinking. Then J called me to the back garden and there they were. Last year we had become good friends and they had begun to trust me.
Since they have been away, they have lost that trust. I will have to work hard to regain it. That or feed them regularly!

In the next few days I hope to find time to blog about the gold leaf class, my Japanese embroidery class and it's connection to my garden guests.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Himotaba, finished

Himotaba has been my greatest challenge so far in Japanese Embroidery. I suppose each Phase should be more challenging that the last, and this certainly makes sense with Phases I-III, but it is not necessarily the case with Phases IV-VIII which concentrate on different techniques.

I know that others have found Phase V, cords challenging but had tried not to let their experience influence me. Even so, when I began this Phase I found myself intimidated by every thing about it; the fabric, the colour schemes and the techniques.

I had heard that the gold fabric was very unforgiving but from the beginning I enjoyed stitching on it. It is a very smooth fabric that framed up very taught and barely stretched throughout the project. It is true that the stitch holes do not heal but I found it easier to place my stitches precisely in the first place.

The colour palette was selected by my tutor and at first I was disappointed with it. These strong colours are definitely not what I would have chosen for myself; I only really liked the red and the gold at the outset. I have to admit that all the colours have really grown on me. Individually they each suit the gold fabric and they work really well together. I'm still don't think that I would select these strong shades for myself but I have enjoyed working with them and think that they are well suited to this design.

The real challenge has been learning some of the braiding techniques. At times I have been utterly frustrated and thought I would never get it. The wicker braid (cord #4) was by far the most challenging. The cord I enjoyed most was the one I thought would be the most difficult, the double central in real gold.

What I have enjoyed most was fading from one colour or type of thread into another (cords #3 and #8) and fading out the ends of the cords.

I am really please to be finished with Himotaba. I did enjoy stitching it but not to the same extent as the other pieces I have done. Having said that, I think I will be doing more cords in the future, especially the double central.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I'm having doubts about the tassel. I think this is only a crisis of confidence that will pass. Looking at the before and after pics, I think that adding the extra lines was the right thing to do. The tassel looks more in balance with the cord and overall weight of the whole design.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I've kept a careful account of time taken on this Phase.

Preparation (outlining cords with Japanese running stitch or gold and padding): 23 hrs
Cord #1 Double Central and tassel: 18 hrs
Cord #2 Imitation Wicker: 10 hrs 30 mins
Cord #3 Single Central: 14 hrs 45 mins
Cord #4 Wicker: 25 hrs 15 mins
Cord #5 Single Central: 15 hrs 15 mins
Cord #6 Imitation Wicker: 9 hrs
Cord #7 Rein Effect: 9 hrs
Cord #8 Double Central: 14 hrs 30 mins
Grand Total: 149 hrs 15 mins

I predicted that this would take between 120 and 150 hours stitching time.

And finally ...

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

... the back.

The main reason I am happy to have this finished is that I will begin Phase VI on Monday and I am really looking forward to this one.

Happy Stitching