Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Big Stitch

Saturday 1 December 2012, 11am–4pm

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford in partnership with the Embroiderers’ Guild

Join us for a celebration of all things embroidered with events and activities taking place around the Museum suitable for all ages. Study the history of embroidery in the special exhibition and in the Ashmolean’s permanent galleries which house one of the finest collections of textiles in the country. Add your own contribution to the world’s longest embroidery and help us set a new world record; see both cutting-edge and traditional embroidery demonstrations; take a guided tour or learn more in a lecture; and enjoy stitching activities for all ages. Bring your own project, or start something new just in time for Christmas. Experts will be on hand to help you improve your stitching or to get you started if you’re a complete needle-novice.

Some Japanese embroidery friends and I will be demonstrating Japanese embroidery in the Threads of Silk and Gold exhibition and in gallery 35.

If you are coming to The Big Stitch, drop by and say hello :-)

Friday, 16 November 2012

No. 10 Downing Street

In the spring of 2013, the Oxford Branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild will be holding an exhibition of members work. I did not manage to submit anything for the last exhibition, so I am hoping to do so this time but I am already heavily committed to other projects. In an effort to include work from as many members as possible, as well as the main exhibit there will be an additional exhibit. Every member has been asked to produce a piece of work 5 x 7 inches in dimension, in any technique of their choosing on the subject of doors. Members were asked, if possible, to submit this piece of work by the November meeting so that photographs could be shown at The Big Stitch on 1 December, 2012 at the Ashmolean Museum.

I have known about this project for a few months but, of course, did not get on with it straight away. I did not want anything to slow my progress on the Goldwork sampler! My original idea for this project was to do the Sanctuary Knocker of Durham Cathedral in gold work. When I eventually started my piece, only two weeks before the November deadline, I realised that I would not have sufficient time to do anything as elaborate as that (as an aside, see this beautiful rendition of the Knocker in Goldwork). My plan B was much less elaborate and, I thought, really simple. I decided on a representation of, perhaps, the most famous door in England, No. 10 Downing Street. A white number 10 on black silk – simples!

I found an image of the door and enlarged it so that the number 10 was an appropriate size but the image was so pixelated as to be useless. I used drawing software to recreate the digits with really sharp outlines and printed this onto thin copy paper. I wanted my embroidered digits to be as sharp as possible so rather than trace the design onto tissue paper, I used the copier paper as a template and carefully couched #4 silver thread around the outline. This looked like it was going to work well until I tore away the paper. Even though I scored the paper with the tip of my tekobari to help it tear more easily, the process pulled and distorted the stitches. Instead of perfectly formed digits the result was a mess!

© Carol-Anne Conway

I printed out a fresh copy of the design and place a small piece of tracing paper on top, then used a needle to prick holes, closely spaced around the outline. I used this pricking to transfer the design onto the silk with white pounce powder. This worked well except that I had not got the design on the straight grain of the fabric. The grain is near impossible to see through the tracing paper. The zero looked ok but the number one was clearly not upright but I was able to rectify this by hand. Again, I couched #4 silver around the outline hoping that this would give a crisp outline to my satin stitches.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I wanted the stitched numerals to look perfectly white with none of the black background showing through so I laid stitches of white silk inside the outline, working perpendicular to the direction my top stitches would follow. Finally, I satin stitched in white silk working over the couched outline.

Now, I thought that I had come up with a really simple design but I had overlooked the fact that two of the most difficult things to stitch are a straight line and a perfect circle. Any minor deviation from true sticks out like a sore thumb! I am reasonably happy with the number one but the zero – well, let’s just say it could be better.

© Carol-Anne Conway

It doesn’t look too bad if you don’t get too close.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Slow Going

The past couple of weeks have been very busy with very little time for stitching. I have worked on the bird thimble holder when I have had a little time but I am making very slow progress.

© The Essamplaire/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Threads of Silk and Gold

Some months ago I received an email from Dr Clare Pollard, Assistant Keeper of Japanese Art at the Ashmolean Museum. At the time Clare was preparing a catalogue for a loan exhibition of Japanese ornamental textiles of the Meiji era taking place in the autumn. Although Clare had done a fair amount of work on Meiji art she professed to not knowing as much about textiles and asked if I would be willing to visit the Ashmolean and have a look at the some of the embroideries. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.

Silk tapestry wall hanging
Peacocks with paulownia, cherry, magnolia and peonies,
from a series One Hundred Flowers and One Hundred Birds
in Late Spring and Early Summer
Kawashima Textile Company
Silk and metallic thread
H 230 x W 362 cm
© Private Collection

A couple of weeks later, I found myself up close and personal with some of the exquisite embroideries in the collection. I was a little bit concerned that I would not be able to provide the level of expertise required for such a prestige exhibition and the style of the embroideries, which were created during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912) specifically for the export market, were distinctly different from the type of embroidery I am familiar with. However, I need not have worried; I was able to identify all of the stitches and techniques used and answer all of Clare’s questions.

Over the following weeks I provided Clare with notes about the stitches and techniques of Japanese embroidery to assist her in writing that section of the catalogue and edited some of the entries describing the details photographs of the embroideries.

Embroidered wall hanging
Cranes, wisteria and cycads
Ribbed silk (shioze) with embroidery in silk and metallic thread,
silk brocade border
c. 1905
H 201 x W 279 cm
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

During my visit to the Ashmolean, Clare had asked about my interest in Japanese embroidery and I had told her about my studies, my tutors and my fellow students. We discussed other ways in which Japanese Embroidery UK might become involved in some of the events planned around the exhibition, in particular a study day that would coincide with the opening of the exhibition and an event called The Big Stitch. Clare had asked if I would give a talk about Japanese embroidery on the study day. I have never given a talk and the idea filled me with dread so I asked if any of my tutors would like to do it. Unfortunately, the study day coincided with the start of an embroidery class and at first it looked like none of the tutors would be available that day. Then, much to my relief, Jane said that she would be available and was happy to do it. Phew!

When Clare had first contacted me in April, the opening of the exhibition seems such a long time away but, as is always the way, time has flown by. On Thursday evening Jane and I attended the Private viewing of the Exhibition ahead of the official opening on Friday morning. Even though I had seen a few of the embroideries before, I was totally blown away by the splendour of the exhibition. I had view three or four framed embroideries and a couple of wall hangings. The hangings were spread on table and were not the largest or most impressive in the exhibition. When we walked into the gallery and saw the wall hangings beautifully hung and lit they looked spectacular. I think that Jane and I were in stitcher’s heaven.

Embroidered hanging scroll
Hawk on a snowy pine branch
Silk with embroidery in silk thread, paper
and silk brocade mount, wooden roller
H 137.5 x W 64 cm
© Kiyomizu-Sannenzaka Museum, Kyoto

The following morning we returned to the Ashmolean for the study day. There was to be a series of lectures all relating to the exhibition, culminating in Jane’s talk about the stitches and techniques. While Jane gave her talk, I would sit beside her and demonstrate. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures but I could not stop thinking about our spot and all day I had a knot of anxiety in my stomach, while beside me Jane appeared to be as cool as a cucumber. During the afternoon, due to technical difficulties and extended question and answer sessions, the lectures over ran slightly. Finally, it came to our turn but only 30 minutes remained for our planned 1 hour talk and we knew that the event had to finish promptly to allow staff to set up for an evening event. It seemed like we had barely begun, when we told we must finish but Clare suggested that we move upstairs to the exhibition gallery and continue there. As Jane could not use the power point presentation she had prepared, she conducted a tour of the exhibition and explained the stitches in context. Meanwhile, I set up my frame in a corner of the gallery and fielded a barrage of questions and demonstrated time and time again how to make a twisted thread. Over an hour later, the crowd finally subsided and Jane and I were finished. Wow! What a day. It had not gone according to plan, but I don’t think that we could have planned it better. Jane was an absolute star!

Embroidered four-fold screen
Peacock and peahen
Probably by Nishimura Sōzaemon, Chisō
Silk with embroidery in silk and metallic
thread, wooden frame with lacquered decoration
1900 to c. 1910
H 172 x W 264 cm
© Kiyomizu-Sannenzaka Museum, Kyoto

I am truly honoured to have been involved in this exhibition, even if in a very small way. I’ve been telling friends and family that I am now a consultant to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford ;-)

Threads of Silk and Gold continues until 27th January 2013 and Japanese Embroidery UK will be back at the Ashmolean on 1st December to take part in The Big Stitch.

Embroidered panel
Young woman reading a book illuminated
by orange light
Silk with embroidery in silk thread,
original wood frame
With label ‘S. Nishimura’
c. 1890–1900
H 31.4 x W 24 cm
© Kiyomizu-Sannenzaka Museum, Kyoto

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dressing the Bird

The body form is covered entirely in detached buttonhole stitch on a silver wire. The instructions mentioned that starting is a little bit fiddly. I found it much more than a little bit fiddly. I took 3 attempts to get going! One of the reasons that I did not work on this while on holiday is that the stitches are tiny and I need really good light and magnification to see what I am doing. The whole project is really quite small.

© The Essemplaire/Carol-Anne Conway

© The Essemplaire/Carol-Anne Conway

I was concerned that my stitching was too dense and therefore covering the silver wire entirely. There seemed little point using an expensive and beautiful thread if it did not show.

© The Essemplaire/Carol-Anne Conway

Given the difficulties I had starting in the first place, I was loathe to start over but I was even more loathe to stitch the entire body and not be happy with it. It took me another two attempts to start the second time, this time keeping my stitches a little looser and more spaced out.

© The Essemplaire/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bird Thimble Holder

I’m not doing so much stitching in the evenings at the moment but I do have a small project that I have been working on. When I say small, I am referring to its dimensions. In terms of work and hours I don’t think it counts as a 'small' project!

I really must stop surfing the web because I keep finding irresistible online classes like this Bird Thimble Holder by The Essamplaire. The kit arrived several weeks ago but the first lesson was not published until mid-September, just two days before I left for a week’s holiday in Portugal. Although I took it with me, I did nothing while I was away. When I returned home I was very keen to get started.

© The Essamplaire/Carol-Anne Conway

The first step was to make the body form. This is made from two pieces of linen stitched together and stuffed with wadding. The instructions said to make the body a firm as possible.

© The Essamplaire/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Friday, 2 November 2012

Progress Report - November

I’ve just returned from a Japanese Embroidery class in Garstang. It was wonderful to meet up with friends and spend four days stitching but it always amazes me how exhausting having fun can be!

With the gold work sampler finished and work resumed on a couple of other projects, now seems like a good time to make a progress report.

When I last wrote a report back in April, I was in a quandary about what to work on next. My dilemma was that I wanted to work on my Phase V beading, Pouchette, but would like to put it onto my 39” frame. I currently have Queen of Flowers on that frame and am loath to take it off even though it would fit onto a smaller frame. I solved the problem by purchasing another 39” frame!

No sooner was the last thread fastened on the gold work sampler than I was lacing the Pouchette into the new frame and this has become my morning project. It has taken a day or two to re-find my focus so little progress has been made thus far but I am beginning to settle back in to it.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I worked of Queen of Flowers at Garstang. There were three qualified tutors there so it would have been daft not to take advantage of their knowledge and expertise while I was there. Although it does not look as if I have made much progress with this piece very much, I put in a lot of stitching time. Fuzzy effect is a slow process! I am a little uncertain about the two leaves I completed but want to put other leaves around them before I come to any decision about them.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I cannot believe that I have nothing else to report! Apart from the Tulip Slip that I finished in June, all of my stitching time has gone into the gold work sampler!

Happy Stitching