Sunday, 20 May 2012

Beading Class - Pouchette

In early March 2012, we received the devastating news that Matsukawa-san was unwell would not be able to travel to Atlanta for the bead class. Our first concern, of course, was for Matsukawa-san and I am happy to report that her health is improving and we wish her a full and speedy recovery. On a personal level I was so disappointed that I would be denied the opportunity to meet and study with Matsukawa-san. Fortunately, the Center had arranged a substitute tutor so at least the classes could go ahead. Ms Kiyoko Uematsu is an extremely experienced Japanese embroidery professional from the Kurenai-kai workshop who teaches both silk and bead embroidery. We were very fortunate that Uematsu-sensei was able to step in at such short notice and to have her as our tutor.

For Phases I-IV you are supplied with a design outline printed onto plain fabric, a set of beads and a picture of the finished item. Following your tutors instructions and with reference to the picture you basically replicate the original. It is beading to a pattern but the first four phases are designed to teach technique.

Phase V is totally different. Prior to the first class we were offered a choice of five printed fabrics. Two of the fabrics had small floral motifs on a black background. The remaining three fabrics all had paisley type designs. The one that leapt out at me was available in two colour ways; one in lovely, soft shades like a faded tapestry, the other in more vibrant colours on a black background. I am a bit of a ditherer when it comes to making decisions. The small flowers on the first two fabrics reminded me of the smaller motifs on Floral Melody but the paisley designs also reminded me of Floral Melody, for any one of them I could see myself looking to Floral Melody for inspiration. Two fabrics jumped out at me. I thought that choosing one of those would be taking the easy option but in the end that is what I went for. On display in the classroom was a finished bag in one of the fabrics I liked most. It had been exquisitely beaded by Adele and I knew if I chose that fabric I would be sorely tempted to replicate her work so I decided against it. The fabric I finally chose was the one that had leapt out at me in the first place. There were seven students taking Phase V. Six of us chose this fabric; four opting for the black background and 2 going with the beige version.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

There was a sample selection of beads for each fabric design. We could change any or all of the beads if we wanted to. If choosing the fabric was difficult, selecting the beads was 10 times harder for me. I have absolutely no confidence with colour. A couple of beads in the sample pack looked out of place to me but everything I tried to replace them with looked totally wrong or made the palette very flat. In the end I decided to start with the beads as provided and see if any ideas presented themselves as I worked.

It took all morning to make my selections, frame up and stitch transfer the outline to the fabric. I was still feeling unwell and was having trouble sleeping. I was very relieved when we stopped for lunch but I just wanted to BEAD!!!!

Invigorated by some food, a cup of green tea and a walk in the garden I was raring to go.

The main difference between Phase V and the earlier Phases is that the student decides for themselves how to bead the design; which beads and what techniques to use where. It is a very daunting prospect. The main thing that had attracted me to this fabric was all of the swirling gold lines. I decided that I wanted to emphasis those so I began by couching a row of gold lined crystal beads along one of the motifs. This turned out to be a very good starting point. For me, couching is a very relaxing technique so this settled my nerves and allowed me some time to contemplate what I wanted to do next. The problem is, there is no time to plan the overall design. Phase V class is only 3 days so you choose your fabric, you choose your beads and away you go.

Because of the no photography rule at the Center, I took my frame back to the hotel at the end of class. This gave me a chance to take pictures but also to think about what I would work on the following day.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Phase V class lasted for three days and was very tough. It would have been difficult enough if I had been firing on all cylinders but my sore throat had developed into a hacking cough that conspired with the jet lag to keep me awake for much of the night. I was feeling very under the weather and it took all of my resources to get through the day. I didn’t feel that I had made much progress but at least I liked what I had done.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Japanese Embroidery Center

The Japanese Embroidery Center is located in a very pleasant suburb north of Atlanta. The area is slightly hilly and heavily wooded. There are many lovely and individual properties nestled among the trees but you get a sense that the Center has its own unique character when you see the bamboo grove at the entrance of the driveway.

In the short walk to the front door you are transported from Atlanta to Japan. Like many of its neighbours, the Center is built on a split level. The entrance hall at the front is at ground level. From here you pass through the reception rooms into the classroom at the rear of the building, all on the same level, to find yourself high in tree canopy. Although surprised the close proximity of the forest, I immediately fell in love with this space. The whole of the external wall is floor to ceiling window and the sights and sounds of the forest surround you. The slight downside to this is that the classroom is a bit gloomy and I prefer to work in good natural light.

Lessons begin at 10.00 am and end at 3.30 pm with an hour for lunch but the classroom is open from 9.00 am until 5.00 pm most days. There is no talking during lessons. Talking is discouraged at the Bournemouth class I attend each year so I have become used to this and I prefer it to a noisy classroom. I find it more relaxing and I can focus better without the distraction of conversation. However, there is plenty of conversation during lunch time and this is a good opportunity to become better acquainted with fellow students and the tutors. I had met several people via the internet before the class and it was great to finally meet them in person.

Every day we were severed a culinary treat prepared for us by Mika-san. Some days we enjoyed a sweet desert but my personal favourite were the savoury bamboo dishes she served us. The bamboo shoots came from the garden. I don’t know if every type of bamboo is edible but I think that the thin ornamental bamboo that I have at home would make very slim pickings. Another lunch time treat that I tried to fit in most days was a stroll around the garden. There was a stepping-stone path behind the house, below the classroom windows. Here I waited to spot some of the wild life that makes in home in the garden. The squirrels and chipmonks were very entertaining as they preformed acrobatics amongst the branches. I had spotted a couple of deer from the classroom one morning but they never put in an appearance during my lunchtime strolls. I most enjoyed the birdlife. None of the birds were ones I recognised from home and I have no idea what many of them where but I was able to identify the red cardinals and the bee-eaters both of which were raising chicks.

The first day I spotted some blue-tailed lizards sunbathing on a wall but as it turned cold and grey after that, they were not to be seen again but nearly every day I spent a short time watching a baby bunny nibbling the tender spring shoots.

Even before taking the classes into account, I really enjoyed my time at the Center. It is an idyllic setting for some stitching time. There is inspiration to be had from the lovely garden as well as the exquisite embroideries that adorn the walls and are set into glass topped tables. There were fresh flowers beautifully arranged (I believe by Mika-san), the flowers and foliage taken from the garden and refreshed most days. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the Center so I have no pictures of the interior except for this one, taken with permission, of a flower arrangement in the entrance hall.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Gone with the Wind

We had allowed one day between the flight and the first day of class to rejuvenate. One thing that we wanted to do, if we were not too exhausted, was visit the Margaret Mitchell House. This turned into more of an adventure than we had bargained for! I had looked up the location on Google maps and it said that Peachtree Street was a mere 2.8 miles from our hotel. What it failed to say was that there are at least 3 Peachtree Streets in Atlanta!

When our taxi arrived he didn’t know of the Margaret Mitchell House and his sat-nav was not working but he thought that he knew where Peachtree Street was. When we had travelled about 10 miles we asked if he knew where he was going; he assured us he did. After about 20 miles we were very concerned and asked if he was certain he knew where he was going; again he assured us that he did. After 30 miles we asked him to stop the taxi. After some discussion he agreed to telephone the Margaret Mitchell House and confirm that he was headed in the right direction. He said that everything was fine and we would be there soon. Finally we pulled up outside a smoked glass building surrounded by skyscrapers in Downtown Atlanta. Sue and I looked at each other and simultaneously turned to the driver and said this is definitely not the right place. At that point we said just take us back to our hotel, we’d had enough. Dave, the taxi driver, was adamant that this was the right place; he didn’t want to take us back to the hotel and for us to have had a wasted journey. He redialled the house and after a short conversation drove around the block to the back of the smoked glass building. There in the shadow of the skyscrapers was the turn of the century house where Margaret Mitchell had lived and wrote "Gone with the Wind”.

We enjoyed the tour of the house. The guide gave us a great insight to Margaret’s life and her work. I was very interested to learn that Margaret had tried to make the book as historically accurate as possible but also to tell the tale from a female perspective. Women are all too often lost in the retelling of history. Historians, mostly men, have tended to document the battles and politics of history, both of which were dominated by men. I have recently read two books by Philippa Gregory (ok, I’m trying not to get too feminist about this but spell checker does not recognise Philippa as a correctly spelt word, instead it has offered me Phillip, Phillips, Philip, Philips and Philippe – Microsoft please note that WOMEN do exist). I have always enjoyed historical novels, especially those that at least have one foot in reality. "The White Queen" and "The Red Queen" (both by Philippa Gregory) are about the maternal and paternal grandmothers of King Henry VIII, I thoroughly enjoyed both of them. Visiting the house has made me want to read "Gone with the Wind" but looking at the size of that book and knowing how slowly I read, maybe I will just watch the film again.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 7 May 2012


I cannot believe that it is over a week since I returned from Atlanta! The time I spent in Atlanta galloped away at an even more indecent pace. Looking back, I cannot recall exactly when I decided that I would make this trip. I know that I was captivated by Japanese bead embroidery when I first laid eyes on the book "Bead Embroidery Bag" by Reiko Matsukawa. I was aware that Matsukawa-sensei was teaching bead embroidery annually at the Japanese Embroidery Centre but at that point in time at trip to Atlanta for a 3-day bead class seemed preposterous!

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

In 2008 I learned that a newly qualified tutor was about to begin classes in the UK. Within days I had signed up for my first class and in November 2008 my journey in JBE had begun. By spring 2009 I had completed Phase I and booked a class for Phase II. By the autumn the same year I was moving onto Phase III. My progress slowed during 2010 when my mojo went missing for a few months but it was Poppy Pouch that relit my fire and got me stitching again.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Late in 2010 a few things happened that may have started me thinking that I needed to go to Atlanta. Even though Poppy Pouch was far from finished I took a class to start Phase IV. Floral Melody is the piece depicted on the cover of "Bead Embroidery Bag", the piece that I fell in love with when I first saw the book, this rekindled my enthusiasm for bead embroidery. I think it was around this time that my UK tutor informed us that she intended to immigrate to New Zealand. And about the same time we learned that Matsukawa-sensei would not be teaching a class at the JEC in 2011 due to bad health. All of a sudden it looked as if my opportunity to learn Japanese Bead Embroidery was coming to an end; this spurred me on to progress as quickly as possible through Phases III and IV. When the 2012 bead class was announced in June 2011, I knew without a doubt that I was going to America.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

And so it was that on April 14 2012 I found myself in Atlanta with my good friend and fellow beading enthusiast, Sue. I was exhausted from the journey, feeling desperately ill with a throat infection and more home sick that I had felt in my entire life.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Progress Report - April

For the first few weeks of the year I made a concerted effort to finish some of the projects that I had already started or committed to. I did well. The most important finish was Floral Melody. I had to complete this in order to enrol for the Phase V class. I finally complete Floral Melody at the end of January but I could not afford to take a break in my stitch schedule, I wanted to complete Camellias by the end of February so that Frame One would be available for me to begin Phase VIII at my Japanese Embroidery class in March. I did the finishing and removed Camellias from the frame the weekend before the class. At that time I was in the very unusual position of having three Japanese embroidery frames with nothing on.

I tend to work on a large project, usually Japanese embroidery or bead embroidery, in the mornings and at weekends. I like to have something smaller and less time consuming for the evenings. In January I concentrated on completing all of the Round Robin Doodle Pages and sent those off. I also stitched an overdue Colour Challenge Chinese Whisper page. These were all for swaps I had signed up for on the Embroiderer’s Guild member’s forum.

I then turned my attention to an on-line class – Chinese Flower by Trish Burr and before that had ended I had signed up for another on-line class – Purple Pansy by Tanja Berlin ... and before I had finished that I signed up for Susan Elliot’s e-course, Harikuyo needle book.

By the end of March, I had not completed every WIP (work in progress) but I had dramatically reduced them. By the end of April, I had started four new projects!

Phase VIII – Queen of Flowers has gone onto Frame One and was started at my annual Japanese embroidery class in Bournemouth.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Bridge Between East and West on Frame Two has not been out of the portfolio. Frame Three travelled to Atlanta with me for Bead Class and held Phase V, Pouchette for 2 weeks. I’ve had to take it off the frame to bring it home.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I rented a frame from the Center to do the Special Project so this also has had to come off the frame for the time being.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I took a Needlework Nibble to Atlanta, thinking that I would work on it in the evenings. As it turned out, I had very little time or energy for anything in the evenings but I have made a start with it.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

At the moment I am in a bit of a quandary what to do next. I would like to work on all of the projects that I have started recently but I need to focus on one. I would most like that one to be the Pouchette but it is slightly too long for the smaller frames so needs to go on Frame One. I don’t really want to take Queen of Flowers off the frame, although it would fit onto the smaller frames. There is also another project that I would like to work on, the Gold work Master Class sampler. I have mounted the fabric for this project onto Frame Four but it is not yet started. Decisions, decisions!

Happy Stitching