Monday, 19 April 2010

Alice in Oxford

I'm very behind with my blogging, this is from 2 weeks ago!

The redecorating of the hall is in progress and currently a complete mess. The things that normally live in this area are strewn around the house, as are the decorating materials. I’m totally fed-up with the mess and muddle. The sooner the task is finished, the better. Despite the glorious sunshine last weekend, we agreed that the best thing to do would stay be to home and get on with it - so we went out to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather.

We parked just outside the city centre and walked to the start of our ‘walk’. Our route took us over Magdalen Bridge, were we paused to look over the parapet expecting to see the punts, but instead we found these rowing boats. They are very pretty but the punts are more traditional.

We continued down High Street but turned into the still cobbled Merton Street. Because the entrance of the road was closed to vehicles, this normally quiet road was virtually deserted (a vintage bus bringing guest to a wedding and a couple of disable badge holders were given access). Before we reached Blue Boar Street, we could hear the unmistakable sound of Morris dancers. There were several troops taking it in turns to dance while the others watched and enjoyed a glass of beer. It might have been fun to join them for a while, but we have seen Morris dancing many times and we had different plans for the day. We weren’t exactly late but we didn’t have time to linger.

We knew roughly were to go, but we wanted a get a guide leaflet to finalise our route and gain more information about what to look out for and I knew just the place to find one.

I don’t know if it is always this popular, or whether the recent release of Tim Burton’s film has generated new interest, but the little shop was packed with tourists. We quickly found what we wanted and set off our tour.

Incidentally, see the window above the red door and windows of Alice’s shop, behind that window is the very table where I proposed to my DH.

We retraced our steps up St Aldate’s to Tom Gate, the main entrance to Christchurch College, only to find that there is no public access via this gate and had to retrace our steps again, down St Aldate’s, to the gates to Christchurch Meadow then through the War Memorial Garden to the visitor’s entrance.

Sadly, the Great Hall was closed for a private function so we were not able to see Alice’s window but we did get to see the wonderful vaulted roof of the stone staircase which leads up to the Great Hall. Although the staircase is 16th century, the roof was added 150 years later. Many scenes of the Harry Potter films are shot in Christchurch College and it is on this staircase that Harry and his new friends are greeted by Professor McGonagall on their arrival at Hogwart’s.

From this angle, I think the columns and ceiling look like giant toadstools!

There are two Alice related things to see in the Cathedral, both stained glass windows. In the top right hand panel of the St Frideswide window (St Frideswide is patron Saint of Oxford) there is a depiction of the Binsey Treacle Well which will crop up again at the end of our tour.

To the right of the alter is the Edith Liddell memorial window. This window depicts St Catherine; her face is said to be a portrait of Edith, sister of Alice Liddell.

Tom Quad (the Great Quad) is the biggest quadrangle in Oxford.

Lewis Carroll’s rooms were in the upper floor in the corn of the quad to the right of Tom Tower.

As we were leaving Christchurch College, a custodian spotted our Alice Pamphlet and engaged us in conversation. A self confessed aficionado, he told us many things about Lewis Carroll that we had not heard before. I knew his real name is Charles Dodgson, but not that his pseudonym is derived from the Latin for his own name, Charles Lutwidge (even though I knew that my own name is derived from the name Charles!). I knew that Alice was modelled on a real person (Alice Liddell) but not the most, if not all, of Dodgson’s characters are based on people he knew. The Dodo is himself (Dodgson had a speech impediment that made it difficult for him to say his surname, so he referred to himself as Dodo. The Mad Hatter was based on a local hat maker who had a habit of sticking bills into his hat band so as not to misplace them but would promptly forget he had place them there and would search frantically for the lost bill. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice is in a shop owned by a Sheep. This character is based on a shopkeeper with a bleating voice. The shop, 83 St Aldate’s is now Alice’s Shop were we began our tour. The three sisters who live at the bottom of the Treacle well are the Liddell sisters; Lacie (an anagram of Alice), Elsie (LC, Lorina Charlotte) and Tillie (Edith’s pet name). How wonderful it would have been to tour the college with the custodian but he was on duty at the exit and we were running out of time.

We returned to our car via Merton Walk and the lovely Christchurch Meadow, then drove to our final destination, the Treacle Well in St Margaret’s Church yard, Binsey. Treacle is a medieval term for healing fluid.

Susan, of Plays with Needles is currently stitching an Alice in Wonderland block. Seeing her work reminded me that Alice was conceived in my home town and inspired to go and seek her out. I hope that you have enjoyed this short tour of Alice's Oxford.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Phase VI - Loving Couple

It wasn't a foregone conclusion that I would stitch Loving Couple at this phase. It is important to me that I like the design, after all, I usually spend a year or more stitching it but for me, what I will learn from stitching a design is equally important and I discuss this with my tutor before making my final selection. While I have always had a soft spot for Loving Couple, my husband really likes Eternal Grace, I would have been happy to stitch either. Margaret advised me the that there was more short stitch holding on Gracie (she is sometimes refered to as 'Grace of the Eternal Short Stitch Holding') but that the Ducks offer greater variety of short stitch holding techniques. There are lots of small elements on Loving Couple that are stitched relatively quickly. That makes this a good design for the 5-day course that I go to each year in Bournemouth.


With the crest and eye stitched Mr Duck begins to have character and personality.

The colour in the first photograph is awful, it was taken after dark in artificial light. The next one is better but the colours are still not true.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The breast seems to cause more angst than another part of this design, I was looking forward to it with more than a little trepidation.

The foundation is staight forward, a vertical foundation in flat black silk.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The guidelines are curved ...

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

and the holding stitches follow these curves.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

My first attempt was awful (unfortunately I didn't take a photograph before I reverse sitched it). Margaret then demonstrated how I should be doing it and with the first 2 rows stitched by her serving as a guide, my second attempt was much improved.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I forgot to take step-by-step photographs of the side breast feathers. When I stitched the first row of white, I thought that I liked its irregularity but when I stitched the second row, I found I preferred that one. I think that I will rework the first row at a later date but for now I want to move on to the next technique.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Journey

You often hear Japanese Embroiderers speak of their Journey. The journey refers not only to the choice of Phase pieces and practice designs they choose to stitch but also, and more importantly, their development of the three aspects of Nuido: the acquisition of technical skills and knowledge, the development of artistic sensitivity and awareness, and understanding the spiritual aspects of shishu.

I remember clearly the day my journey began. I have always found oriental art pleasing so I had particularly looked forward to a talk on Japanese Embroidery that Margaret gave to my branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild. Little did I know just how much impact that evening would have on me. Many fellow students have told me that the first time they saw JE, they fell in love with a particular design and their initial aim was to reach that Phase so they could stitch it. No one piece struck me in that way. I was more captivated by the techniques that Margaret spoke of and demonstrated. My motivation was a desire to learn the technical skills and a hope that one day, I too might be able to stitch half as well.

Of course, there are designs on my ‘wish list’ that I would one day like to stitch (and maybe a design or two already stashed!) but generally I only look one step ahead. That said one piece has quietly stayed in my mind from that first evening and I think that I have always know I would stitch ‘Loving Couple’ when I reached Phase VI.

Loving Couple is perhaps not the most impressive phase piece. Although Mr Duck is very handsome, the alternative Phase VI, Eternal Grace, could rival his beauty. The principle technique learnt, short stitch holding, is not one that I have wanted to learn over and above any other but I have always watched with interest when others have stitched this piece in class. I’m not sure why I have longed to stitch this unassuming design but as I was nearing completion on Himotaba, and the date of my March class drew closerer, I could feel my excitement building.

On the first morning of class I was sitting, with my needle threaded, eagerly awaiting my first lesson.

The Face

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I am sorry about the quality of the photographs. All week, the weather offered us challenging light for stitching and photography!

A dear friend has reached a significant stage on her Journey. Jane has just finished stitching Kusadama, her Phase X piece. Phase X is a graduation piece which encompasses all the techniques covered by Phases I-IX. Congratulations, Jane. I know how much this means to you and you know how much I admire your achievement.

Happy Stitching

Thursday, 8 April 2010


While life in the UK seemed to revolve around snow at the start of this year, a forum friend in Australia was melting in the heat and asking us to send some snow her way. I stitched this snowflake Travelling Page for her.

I covered a piece of sky blue satin with a piece of very pale blue organza to create an cool background. The snowflake comprises a variety of crystal beads, mostly silver lined so that they look icey and to give maximum sparkle. I embroidered the word 'Snowflake' in #1 silver.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 5 April 2010

Persistence is my Middle Name

Thank you for your advice and encouragement, I greatly appreciate it. It seems that I was not over the worst of my cold and have been a bit up and down all week. I went back to work on Monday but on Wednesday I came home and took to my bed again. Since then I have been gradually improving. We had planned to spend the long Easter weekend decorating the hall, stairs and landing (a project we have been threatening to do for 2 or 3 years). We have a least made a start although what we have done so far could more accurately be described as undecorating. With so little energy, I have only managed 2 or 3 hours work per day and then had to spend an hour or two stitching to recover. Shame! I knew what I needed to do to get this project finished, finish the dark pink blossoms. If I could get those done, the rest would be plain sailing. I did one or two a day and, little by little, I got through them. There are less than half as many pale pink blossoms and only a few of those are complete blooms, most have only 1, 2 or 3 petals and took hardly any time to stitch. Besides, I was highly motivated to finish them. During the class, Midori-san had demonstrated to me how the branches, stems and leaves should be stitched and I was keen to put what I had learnt into practice. I thought the technique for the main branches was particularly interesting. They are stitched in lines of staggered diagonal (very similar to stem stitch) but each line overlaps the previous line, effectively splitting the stitches. When Midori-san demonstrated this, I understood the method. I also understood the written instructions, but when I came to do it myself I could not transfer the information to to my hand. This happens to me when I try to draw or paint; my head knows what I want to produce but my hand refuses to follow instructions! Midori-san stitched the central section of branch. The two sections to the right are the first that I stitched. I think that it is difficult to see how our technique differs but believe me it does. I'm not sure at what point my hand finally came on board but the certainly all the vertical sections on the left are stitched as per instructions. The smaller branches where also stitched in staggered diagonals but here the stitches are longer. The leafs are just straight stitches. These stitched very quickly and tie the whole design together. It is a beautiful design. I don't think that I have done it justice. Certainly I enjoyed the kinsai class and, with hindsight, most of the stitching. I think my earlier despondency was largely due to my cold. I just have to do the finishing now and send it to Midori-san for the real finishing. Happy Stitching