Monday, 21 February 2011

Poppy Pouch, side two

I rarely enjoy making or embroidering the same thing twice. Stitching the second side of Poppy Pouch is feeling a bit of a chore but I have been chipping away doing a few minutes most mornings and a little longer when I get the chance.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I like to think that I learnt something on the first side and that my stitching has improved. Certainly, I think the rows of couching look more consistent with fewer gaps between the beads. I don’t think there is any visible difference in my stitching on the flowers but it feels very different. At first I found it difficult to judge where to bring my needle up so that the beads would be correctly positioned, it could take 2 or 3 attempts to get it right. Now I often get it right first time and when I don’t, a second attempt is usually all that is needed. I am also getting better at judging how many beads are required to fill a space. I am much less inclined to try to cram in one more bead. All in all, I feel it is coming more naturally to me.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Although I had a lot of stitching time this weekend, I did not make as much progress with Poppy Pouch as I hoped. I could not really settle to it and kept looking for other things to do. I also had a little time for stitching this morning. I knew that I could not stitch a whole petal in the time available but thought that I would be able to manage the small leaf. I really enjoy doing these leaves and they look very 'leafy' when they are done. The stitching went well and I was able to complete it without rushing. A very satisfying morning’s stitch!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Festival of Needles

In my first ever post I said "As far as I know, I was born with a needle in my hand." If that was true it would have been one of my mother’s sewing needles. They were all I used for many, many. Basically, if the thread went through the eye of the needle, and the needle went through the fabric, I used it.

My first "embroidery" needle came with a kit. My first ever embroidery was not a kit but most of my early ones were and from those I collected together a variety of embroidery needles. I began to realise that there were different types of needle and, to a small degree, what they were suitable for but provided I could, I still stitched with the first needle I laid hands on.

When I think about my sewing kit, there are many tools that I would not like to part with but I could probably make do without or find a substitute. The one tool that is totally indispensible is the needle, yet until recently I barely gave them a thought. I think that is partly due to the fact that I obtained most them for free. I don’t even recall buying any before 2005. I may have done but they were so cheap and insignificant that I really don’t remember. But I remember very clearly the needles that I acquired on Monday, 14th February 2005. They were bought and paid for in advance but this was the day I received my own set of handmade Japanese embroidery needles.

Handmade Japanese needles stored in their needle felt (on the top edge).
Machine-made needles on bottom edge and a pin (for no particular reason)

From the beginning Jems (Japanese embroidery students) are taught to value and care for their needles. They are expensive and not readily available; you can’t get them from your local needlework shop. The needles are stored in a block of lamb’s wool felt to prevent them from rusting. The eyes of the needles are hand finished; there are no burrs to snag your silk. The points are also ground by hand; they are very sharp and very precise. A clean needle glides through the fabric like a hot knife through butter and they are by far the best needles I have ever used.

Lacing needles and a sinking needle stored in the back of the needle felt

In recent years I have developed a far greater appreciation of my needles but I still don’t think that I fully appreciated them until a year ago. That is when I first heard of Hari-kuyo. Reading about this ancient festival caused me to stop and evaluate my relationship with my needles, what the really mean to me.

Size 2 and 3 machine-made needles for bead embroidery stored in a seperate needle felt together with a flat head pin, two handmade needles
(and some more pins for no particular reason)

When I sit down to stitch, I exhale a long, contented sigh. When I pick up my needle, I feel my shoulders relax and as I begin to stitch all thoughts of the minutiae of daily life drift away. Tamura-san advocates a short time spent in meditation before stitching. For me time spent stitching is like meditation, it feeds my soul. I have finally come to value my needles, all of my needles, for what they give to me.

This evening I will be cleaning and sorting and giving thanks to my precious needles.

Happy Stitching


Members of Stitchin Fingers are holding a Festival of Needles.

Susan has blogged about Preparing for Harikuyo.

Jane has blogged about Harikuyo, Festival of Broken Needles on Japanese Embroidery.

Thursday, 3 February 2011


orts [ɔːts]
pl n
(sometimes singular) Archaic or dialect scraps or leavings
[of Germanic origin; related to Dutch oorete, from oor- remaining + ete food]

On the first Japanese Embroidery course I attended, I collected all of my orts in a neat pile on the edge of my frame and threw them into the rubbish bag at the end of the day. Seeing me do this, a fellow student remarked that I should keep all of the silk orts and when I have enough use them to stuff my velvet pad.

I noticed that other students had ort boxes on their frames so when I returned home I made myself an origami ort box. By the time I hav finished stitching Hanayama my box was overflowing with silken scraps. In preparation for my second Japanese embroidery course I emptied the silk it into a plastic bag. It this has become one of my silly rituals to empty the ort box into the plastic bag whenever I complete a phase. There has been some overlap with the two non-phase pieces that I stitch but generally the contents of my orts box pertain to my current phase.

Some members of Stitchin Fingers started an orts jar at the beginning of the year which led me think about my bag of orts. I decided that they deserved a nicer home than a plastic bag. I found a simple jar with a plain lid to keep them in.

I noticed that the orts in the bag had formed layers that represented each phase. They tell a story of my journey and I want to try to preserve that.

Hanayama and Suehiro have become so compressed that I could not easily separate them. Phase II builds on the techniques learnt at Phase I so used the same colour silks for the blossoms and leaves on both phases. I can see some gold threads among the silk. Now I have a separate orts box for the imitation metal threads and yet another for the real gold orts.

This little bundle of threads is from Flutterbies. I expected there to be a lot more than this, especially of the blue silks. I thought that it had taken several attempts until I was satisfied with the wings of "The Blue-Eyed Boy". A quick read of the relevant blog posts showed that I had stitched three practice wings on a test fabric, which I still have somewhere, which accounted for the lack of spoilt silk in the orts bag. (I love having a record of my stitching on this blog that I can refer back to.)

The next layer is Venerable Friends. I don’t see any gold in here so I must have started a separate box by then. I see lots of orange from the big central chrysanthemum. That doesn’t surprise me, I found that very challenging. There is far less waste than from the earlier stages. This is in part because I am doing less reverse stitching as I progress but it also reflects that I am more able to reverse stitch without damaging the silk and can reuse it rather than discard it.

Ah! Did I say I was getting less wasteful of my silk? You wouldn’t think it to look at the next two layers. The first is Himotaba. I remember that I did a lot of reverse stitching on Himotaba, sometimes doing and redoing a short length of a cord several times. Silk is incredible resilient but it can only take so much abuse. There comes a point when the only thing you can do is toss it in the orts box and start again with a fresh length of silk. In addition, the way some of the cords are stitched, you inevitably pierce the silk on the back of the fabric. With the more intricate cords, the easiest way to reverse stitch is to carefully cut through the stitches and pluck out the short lengths of silk.

I didn’t do as much reverse stitching on Loving Couple as the quantity of waste silk suggests. Most of this phase is stitched using variations of short-stitch holding which is near impossible to remove without spoiling the foundation. As with some of the cords, it is simplest to carefully cut through the stitching and pluck it out. I think some of this layer consists of orts from Riches which is stitched in similar colours to some of the Ducks palette and was stitched at the same time.

One phase is missing entirely from the collection. Karahana teaches gold work and most of it entails couching long lengths of gold round and round without a break in the thread. Only a short piece at the beginning and end is wasted. There were a few more orts from some of the other techniques used but all of the real gold went into a separate orts box.

After a little reminiscing, the orts when into their new home, layer by layer. I was surprised that they filled the entire jar. I quite like the idea of having all the orts for Phases I-X in the same jar. I don’t whether to squish these down or to look for a bigger jar.

Happy Stitching