Saturday, 3 August 2019

Egyptian Flower

Nashville, Tennessee, 2005. We will reach a current date at some point.

This piece is called Egyptian Flower and was designed by Toni McKelley, who taught is as a class which I attended at the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar in Nashville.

I chose this class for a number of reasons. Obviously I liked the design, but there were stitching techniques I wanted to learn and threads I had heard of but never used. It has a number of interesting design elements, many which would have worked on their own, but when brought together they make a brilliant overall design. (I happen to know that this is coveted by at least one of my brothers. I may let him have it.) I love the interplay of the solid colours behind the variegated central cross and the vibrancy of the outer cross. (On second thoughts maybe I'll just keep it on my wall a bit longer.)

I decided that I would not stitch any background to Egyptian Flower. Instead, I placed a reflective glossy white sheet of heavy paper behind it to reflect the grid of the canvas. The final framed size is 20" square and it took me 72 hours to stitch.

The dark line near the bottom of the flower is NOT part of the design. It's just my poor photography skills.

Nashville. What can I say? The hotel was humungous, the rooms were larger than our apartment and the covered gardens were stunningly colourful. There were shoportunities and a chance to do some sightseeing.

We did not go the The Grand Ol Opry, nor did we go on a wheel-boat ride. We did go to The Hermitage where I spent a pleasant half hour with one of the docents discussing the military merits not of Andrew Jackson, but of Marshall Ney. What's the link? Both were cavalry men, and General Jackson kept a portrait of Marshall Ney on his wall. I also learned a bit about Andrew Jackson too!
Our other big tour was to Franklin. We visited Carnton, the house that stars in "The Widow of the South" and spent a quiet time of reflection in the cool quiet of the cemetery. After that it was a walk across parts of the battlefield to the town where we got lost in a quilting emporium for at least an hour. It might have been longer, but we had to catch our ride back to Nashville.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Flying Geese

Based on the quilting block of the same name, I designed and stitched Flying Geese in 2005 for entry in the Royal Highland Show 2006.

The class description in the schedule was "Sampler - Birds", and from within the convolutions of my brain came this. "Sampler"; Websters Dictionary defines a sampler as "a practical example of needlework patterns". Tick. "Birds", well Geese are birds. Tick

The background is a Beaty Stitch variation, the triangles are Jacquard, Hungarian, Byzantine and Oriental stitch. The right hand side is the reverse of the left. Apart from being (I thought) an interesting and attractive design, it is also an example of how to get a different effect by reversing a stitch, and an exercise in compensation (and we all love working out those compensating stitches).
Flying Geese was worked in Soie d'Alger on 18 count canvas. It measures 5" by 5" and took fifty hours to design and stitch.

I thought I had pretty much hit the schedule description with this. The judges didn't agree. It came last. The winner was a colourful and beautifully worked cross-stitch picture of hens and a rooster.

Despite my disappointment, I got a great deal of enjoyment out of designing and stitching Flying Geese and my mother, who was an avid quilter, enjoyed having it on her wall and showing it off to her friends.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Christmas Lights

I stitched this in October - November 2005. It was not for Christmas, but for the American Needlepoint Guild charity auction 2006, a good six months away at that point.

One thing I try to be 'well ahead on' is DEADLINES. Mostly they're self imposed, sometimes it's for an exhibition or a gift, but I always like to be finished well ahead of time. I hate to be in the position where there is a deadline looming and the stitching isn't finished, there's still the finishing or framing, the artist's statement to write or other paperwork to be completed. Not that I'm compulsive about it, but if I can I like to have the completed piece in my hands a good month ahead of the deadline. (Sad or what?)

This hit the deadline with time to spare. It's actually about 3" x 2" and stitched using metallic and rayon threads to give it a gloss. The background is worked in a very fine machine embroidery thread and is much less open in reality than the image suggests. (I make no claim to any photographic skill.)When held with a light shining on it the bulbs reflected the light and looked as though they were on.

I don't know how this was finally finished, how much it was sold for, or what happened to it, and I don't really need to know. The important thing, for me, was to "give something back", even if it is only time and a few threads.

Thursday, 11 July 2019


I made this small wall hanging in 2005, and it's only as I write this that I remember why I made it.

It was to be entered in the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh in 2006. The Highland Show is a big annual event and the Handicraft section always has an overall theme, with sub-themes for different crafts. The theme for 2006 was, I seem to remember, "Air" and the sub-theme for Patchwork and Quilting was "Kites".

The background is completed in 1" squares, the kites were appliqued on.

Did I win a prize? Not a chance! When I saw the other entries I knew I just had not achieved a high enough standard. I had spent 120 hours on this, and looking at it compared to the other entries I could see that it would have been much better if I had spent another 20 hours on the quilting.
What I did learn was that Patchwork and Quilting is more likely to mean 'patchwork and QUILTING' than 'PATCHWORK and Quilting'.
With 20/20 hindsight, I'm not sure that my colour and fabric choices were the best either.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

"Roses," said St. Elizabeth

St. Elizabeth's Apron, which is the title of this hanging, was the 2005 Patchworks McMillan Challenge. The challenge title was "Roses" and the fabric was a rose print.

I dithered over a number of ideas, then, while reading a Hornblower novel I came across a reference to St Elizabeth's roses. That was the trigger. I knew the story (vaguely), but I went to the inter-web to check it out.

One story about her relates that St. Elizabeth (1207-1231), Queen of Hungary, was a Christian given to good works. She would take food to the hungry, clothes to the poor and medicines to the sick. The King, not necessarily having the same values, and watching her drain his coffers, put his foot down. He threatened that if he ever caught her doing so again he would have her beheaded.
The story goes on to say that she continued to do so and one day, when her apron was filled with bread for the starving, they met in the street. "What's in your apron?" he demanded. "Roses," she lied. "Let me see!" Feeling the cold edge of the axe on her neck, Elizabeth opened her apron and the bread had changed to roses.

I based the colour scheme on a depiction of St. Elizabeth. It shows her in a red dress, with a blue over-mantle and a white apron. I chose a red 'mille-fleure' cotton for the dress to extend the rose theme and to indicate that as a lady of high rank she would have had access to exotic fabrics. I retained a solid blue for her mantle, blue being the colour that indicated purity and is associated with pious Christian maidens. The apron is formed from a large piece of white fabric. This was draped as though round the waist and being used to carry bread, then pinned and tucked into shape.
The rose fabric was ironed onto a backing to stop the roses fraying when they were cut out. Each rose or small bunch of roses was cut from the fabric and appliqued to the apron in a cascade, as though the apron had been opened and the roses were falling out.

The roses probably took about one third of the 97 hours I spent on this piece, which measures 24" on each side. I finished it off by hand embroidering the title, which I don't normally do, and making a bias binding from the remainder of the rose material.

There is a post-script to this story. A lady who worked for me was retiring to spend more time in her garden. She, like Elizabeth, was having a second chance. (Nothing to do with an irate axe wielding husband, she was in recovery from cancer.) I knew she had seen and liked the hanging, and as she grew roses it seemed an appropriate leaving present.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

White Blossoms

October 2004. Sometimes when I look at a piece I have stitched I can't believe it was so long ago.

I started White Blossoms (small design) on a class as Hawkwood. The design is by Shuji Tamura of the Japanese Embroidery Center and it was taught by Tamura-San, Kazume-San and Chikako-San, an apprentice from the centre in Japan.

Class included morning talks in which we were told about the historic, spiritual and artistic background to Nui-do.

Design Copyright, Japanese Embroidery Centre

I don't always remember to put sizes on these pictures - I really should - but for reference, the large white outer circle with all the flowers inside it is only 4½ inches across.

I loved working on this even though I managed to break a sinking needle. It's a beautiful design, but if you don't like stitching Japanese Knots (similar to French Knots), don't even think about it. Not only is the smaller chrysanthemum stitched almost completely in them, they appear in the larger flower circle and some are even hidden under 'blister' work. Without exaggeration I can say that there are hundreds of them.

It too me 90 hours between October 2004 and January 2005 to stitch White Blossoms.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Inspiring Leith to Stitch

I don't know whose idea it was, but I'm going to blame Hannah.

A few weeks ago we started a stitching group at Leith Library (Thursdays 2.00pm to 4.00pm). We also do a 'Stitch and Chat' on a Monday morning (10:30am to 12:30pm) in the Bethany Shop in Duke Street,
(Sorry, I had to get the advert in there.)

The idea behind it was to stitch in a public place and encourage people of all skill levels, and none, to stop by. We advertised it as a free 'Self help' group, inviting anyone who stitches, or who wants to learn, to come along. There are two experienced crafters (that would be Sarah and me) in attendance, to provide advice or to help novices get started with embroidery, crochet and knitting.
It's been a slow start, but we now have a movable group of half a dozen ladies (and me), though they don't all come every week. I've still not managed to rope in any other men, but I'm working on it.

The group, Sarah is the lady in the blue headband, Hannah is taking the picture.

Anyway, as I said, I blame Hannah for this project.
"It would be really good if there was something people could try out at the Leith Gala," she suggested. At least I'm sure it was her. "I'm sure Jonathan can design something," Sarah dropped me in it.
I didn't dare to refuse.

Our groups are run under the heading of Inspiring Leith, and Leith inspired me (Sorry, bad pun) with this design.

I suppose it was the 'spire' part that struck a chord. Leith has many churches, and many church towers, but I can only think of one that has a proper spire. So it had to be there.
The design also had to be accessible and simple. The ground rules were straightforward. I would take it, along with a selection of yarns and flosses, to Leith Gala, and we would invite people to chose a colour and a letter and try needlepoint embroidery. The very brave also had the option of choosing different stitches.
The choosers did not have to consider what other colours had been used, they just had to choose their favourite. They would then start the letter and I would finish it later. I made another rule, which was that no matter how bad the stitching was, I was not going to rip it out.
When the colours have been chosen and the letters started, it's my job to come up with a background that brings it all together. No pressure then!

Hannah hiding from the rain.
 It rained. Of course it rained, but Leithers are made of stern stuff, or perhaps they just wanted to come in out of the rain. By the end of the day we'd had a bit of interest in the Monday and Thursday events, and a few victims (oops, volunteers).

They're an adventurous lot in Leith. So far we've had Basketweave, Cross-Stitch, Satin Stitch, Upright Cross and a simple Fan Stitch. (Maybe I should have kept the stitch dictionary hidden?)

I have agreed to bring "Inspiring Leith" to the groups and find new victims, so I'll post progress reports.