Thursday, 23 July 2020

Phase IV

But not the movie.
Does anyone actually remember the movie? Seventies, Sci-fi, ants doing strange things and a mad ecologist.

No, this is Phase IV of my occasional forays into Traditional Japanese Embroidery or Nuido.

I took up Nuido for a number of reasons.
Partly it was because I understood that I needed something with strict rules and disciplines to counterbalance my tendency to let my own designs run too far ahead of my ability. I like to push my boundaries and try something new in each piece I design, but there are times when I try and pile in too much 'new'. One well executed new idea is better than three or four poorly executed.
Partly it was because I liked some of the designs and colours and I could see that if I learned to use them properly I would see how they could fit into my own work.
Partly it was because Jane-Beth needed a 'numpty' (know nothing/idiot) to practice her teaching technique on.

So, Phase IV. This Phase IV piece is called "Embroidery Sculpture" or, in Japanese, "Shishu Chokoku". It is a Japanese Embroidery Center design.
The flowers and leaves are worked in Japanese flat silk. In Japanese Embroidery only a flat silk is used, and where a twisted thread is required, the practitioner has to twist it themselves. That's fun (or not). To twist a thread, you have to split the required thickness in two, twist half of it in one direction and hold the end between your teeth while to twist the other half - of course the first half has twist tension on it and if you let it go it will spring away in some uncontrollable direction, curl up on itself and then you have to start again. Then you have to twist the two halves together in the opposite direction.

"Embroidery Sculpture" Copyright Japanese Embroidery Center, Atlanta

"Embroidery Sculpture" is less about the flowers and leaves and more about the metals and precision couching. The gold and silver threads are non-stitchable, They are too thick to go through the silk fabric on which they lie, so they have to be couched, and the couching is part of the design so it has to be accurate to give the angles the correct shapes.

I started "Embroidery Sculpture" in April 2010, and finished it in February 2015. Sometimes you just have to not hurry! In real time, it took 166 hours, or 21 days based on an 8 hour stitching day. It measures 14" by 18" not including the frame.

I exhibited this at the Royal Highland Show in 2015 and was awarded 1st in Class and The Agnes Bryson trophy for best piece of needlework in the exhibition. BIG YAY!

I don't often talk about value, but the lady presenting the awards asked me to explain it to her how it was done, then she asked how much it would cost if it were for sale. Without a blink I said £2000. But that was back in 2015. I think she was a little shocked.
I do that to people. If they don't stitch, they don't always understand how long these things take, or how long it takes to gain the experience in order to do them.  Yes, it only took 166 hours, but what about the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, that you spend learning how to do it?
Thought for the day, put a realistic value on your needlework. Not that I sell anything, but if asked, I generally consider that twice the minimum wage is a good start, then adjust upward for difficulty, originality or just for the sheer hell of it.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Watching Chicago Go By

As is my habit at ANG Seminars, I signed up to do a few shifts at the 'Hospitality Desk'. It's always good for a laugh and a joke and a gossip, and you learn a bit about the place you're in and advice on what you should try and see 'while you're in our city'. In Chicago we were constantly told that the place we MUST visit was the Art Institute.
We went. It was hot, it was Labor Day weekend and the queue went along the front of the building, up the side, and then doubled back.
Neither of us is good standing in the sun for three-quarters of an hour, so we had a look round the shop and ran away.
What we did find to amuse and fascinate was the Chicago Architecture Center.

We only saw the ground floor, but it held us fascinated. There was a model of central Chicago, with a light show changing the time of day, and there were big screens carrying street-cam views of the city and all sorts of data. You could stand and watch the road and rail delay reports as they were reported, even the number of potholes reported and repaired. They repair potholes quick in Chicago. If you want to sit, relax and watch a whole city go by in real-time, its worth a visit, but my favourite part was the model.

Despite all the changing lights and moving screens, it was actually quite restful.

I did do some embroidery. I took a class in Goldwork, "Golden Endless Knot", designed and taught by Michele Roberts. There was pre-work, so I arranged for it to be sent to the hotel, to be collected on arrival. I'm not saying there was a lot of pre-work, but there was.
By the time I'd done the pre-work I didn't want to see another Montenegrin Stitch EVER!

Class was great. We learned how to create height through padding and how to handle different golds. We stretched and laid purl and chipped bright. Michele taught us about different types of gold,  how they were best used and what other uses they might be put to. She also entertained us with a fund of stories and asides.

The swag is highly padded and covered in 'chippings', the line visible on top of the swag is of Swarovski crystals. This piece is full on bling, and much as I had to struggle with the Montenegrin Stitch, it is still one of my favourite pieces.

"Golden Endless Knot" was designed and taught by Michele Roberts. It measures about 14" by 11", and it took me 106 hours to stitch.

Friday, 26 June 2020


In 2014 I took a fossil to the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar in Chicago.
I also took Jane-Beth.

Chicago is big and tall, and The Magnificent Mile is a bit breath-taking. That might have been something to do with having to walk with my neck twisted up to look at the architecture. The city is filled with new glass monoliths, but the older 'skyscrapers' in the centre are a glory of early 20th Century architecture. They're not just buildings, they are works of art. I particularly liked the reliefs on the walls, so I'm putting in pictures of a few of my favourites.

To appreciate Chicago, you really need to accept the crick in the neck.

Of course the main reason for going to Seminar was to stitch, to learn and to exhibit my latest piece of needlepoint.
In 2014 I exhibited "Ammonite"

"Ammonite" started life as a spiral doodle. It was a boring meeting. The spiral was joined by some curved lines and it reminded me of an ammonite. I love the shape of the ammonite, the regularity of the shape and the blending of colours where different chemicals have seeped into the shell and fossilised it.
When I got home I decided to up-scale it into a design roughly based on this fossil:

At an early stage I decided that although Ammonites have a regular mathematical progression in the expanding size of their compartments, my maths was never going to be up to the challenge, so I decided to go for effect rather than accuracy. My intention was to capture the spirit of the ammonite and produce a piece of work that was instantly recognisable as the fossil, not an exact copy of any specific fossil.

Ammonite measures 6" by 6" and took 100 hours to design and stitch. It is worked in basketweave on 18 count pewter canvas. The outline and the dividing lines between the chambers are done in Kreinik braids. The infill of the chambers is Soie d'Alger. I used six different colours on the infill of the chambers. To achieve the look of the chemicals seeping into the fossil I blended my threads. As the colours fade into each other I started with four strands of one colour, then three of that and one of the next, then two and two, then one of the first and three of the second.
The background, the 'mother stone' also uses thread blending to define the variety of shades and colours found in any piece of stone.

I was quite pleased with this, and so must the judges have been as they awarded it 2nd in Class. It's always nice to get the recognition.

Ammonite was later published as a chart, with instructions and stitch guide, in Needlepointers, September 2015, Volume XLIII, Number 5

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Inspiring Leith, The Final Stitch

Early last year we started a self-help craft group, Leith Friendly Crafters, at Leith Library under the auspices of Inspiring Leith. The group was advertised as being for all skill levels and none. The idea was that local people who wanted to learn to knit, crochet, quilt or embroider could come along and someone in the group would teach them the basics.

In June last year my friend Hannah suggested that it would be a good idea if there was something people could try at Leith Festival, and could I design something?
Well, yes.
That was the start of "Inspiring Leith".

This is Hannah, at Leith Festival, hiding from the rain. The framed canvas has the basic design drawn on it, waiting for anyone to show an interest. It poured wet all day, but Leithers are hardy folk. Rain, snow, hail, thunder, they will still go to the Festival.

I started this with no real colour plan or stitch guide, only a book of stitches and a box of different colours and types of thread - wools, perle, variegated and self coloured. The point was to encourage and enthuse, and I felt that giving them the choice people would feel more part of the project.
To further encourage them, I made a note of the given names of everyone who chose a colour, stitch and letter and promised that they would all get a mention when the hanging was completed.
After the festival, our group continued to meet in Leith Library and I continued to invite passers-by to have a shot, choose a colour and stitch a little.

As you can see, it brought out some interesting colour combinations, and surprisingly little white and green, the colours of Hibernian, the local football (soccer) team. Once the letters and the tower were completed I had to decide how it was to be finished.

As it was to be a hanging, and frequently moved, I didn't want it to be too heavy and bulky, so I decided that a skip stitch in a neutral shade was the best option. Luckily, I had in hand a good deal of a fawn Appletons Crewel wool which, on testing, took nothing away from the lettering or the tower.

I finished it with a colourful bias binding.

I was impressed by some of the stitch choices, and though I thought some of them might not be that appropriate to the letter, I went with them, showing them how to do the stitch and giving advice where it was needed. Here are some close-ups of the chosen stitches.

I had promised that everyone who worked on this would have their name recorded, so I wrote them on a large sheet of paper, pinned and tacked it to a piece of calico and stitched through it using back-stitch, then I attached it to the back and put on the binding and hanging loops.

So there you are, Angela, Louisa, Georgia, Gordon, Anna-Maria, Christine, Hannah, Muhammed, James, Eva, Eshal, Alice and Sanya. When you see Inspiring Leith hanging, you can point to it and say "I did some of that," and if anyone doubts you, your name is on the back.

Next week I shall be handing this to Hannah, and I believe that its first outing will be at the Inspiring Leith stall at the old police box at Shrubhill (Leith Walk) on Saturday 27th June (11.00 am to 2.00 pm).

I didn't count how many hours this took as it was a community project, but it was great fun and I met some lovely people. It was, incidentally, a great way to use up part of my 'Stash'.
So why not boogie down to your local library and see if they have any craft groups, and if they don't, start one.
I certainly intend to be back at Leith Library when Lockdown is lifted and Jane-Beth lets me out again.

Thursday, 4 June 2020


As "The Doctor" might say, it's a timey-wimey thing.
Somewhere in the Covid Lockdown I have lost a season. There I was, tending my Dad's garden through the winter, watching the first snowdrops and daffodils poking their green stems above the ground, and suddenly we're fewer than three weeks away from the longest day.
So I missed the mass of daffodils, golden or otherwise, that seem to erupt from every part of his garden.

Not that I've been idle during Lockdown, there's a whole big bit of stitching to be completed by 2021, and I'm working on 'Inspiring Leith'. I want to finish it in the next two weeks.

Maybe it was my mother's love of daffodils that inspired me to take "Daffodil Hill" by Lois Kershner at the 2013 ANG Seminar in Philadelphia.

As I'm sure I've stated previously in this blog, I don't do 'realistic' designs, by which I mean I don't design landscapes or figures. Maybe I'm afraid to try, or maybe its because when I get an idea and start to scribble, the outcome tends to be a little towards the abstract. Of course that might be down to my inability to draw a straight line with a ruler.
But I do like to have a go at other designers' landscapes.

"Daffodil Hill" was the first of two 'landscape' classes I took at this Seminar. Apparently, Daffodil Hill is a real place, with field after field of different types of daffodil. I'm sure Mr. Wordsworth would have been highly impressed.
What lessons did I take away from this class? Lois showed us how to show depth of field with shades and stitches and I learned how to make different sizes of French Knots to enhance the three dimensional effect. Honestly, I'm beginning to enjoy French Knots. Perhaps I need to see a therapist!

Daffodil Hill measures 7" by 5" and is on 24 count canvas and took 49 hours to stitch.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Wisteria Wednesday

Eight weeks into Lockdown. I miss some of my usual activities, but we are all finding ways to live with the restrictions.
I'm missing my visits to my Dad, and I'm missing getting out into his garden and getting some good healthy exercise. When they lift the Lockdown I may have to hire a flock of sheep to eat their way across the lawns. We speak on the 'phone, but it's not a substitute for physical presence and I'm looking forward to being allowed to travel again.

How am I surviving without going stir-crazy? Well I've always been crazy, so I'm a natural for surviving this period of confinement, but I do get taken out for a walk round the industrial estate across the road. It's quiet, with plenty of space for 'social distancing' should we happen to meet anyone else.
Jane-Beth christened it "Wisteria Wednesday" because one of the things we like to do is walk past the side of the Ferrier Pumps Ltd building. They have a beautiful garden along the front and side of the building and on a Wednesday we like to take a walk along the road to see how the Wisteria is coming along. Thus, Wisteria Wednesday.
We are really impressed that Ferrier have created this little haven of beauty. Why not drop into the 'News' section of their website, and scroll down to the entry about the garden. Kudos to Ferrier for their garden and their community sponsorship.

My photograph, their Wisteria
And where does embroidery get a look in? I don't know yet, but maybe I'll break one of my own rules and design something based on their garden.

I have of course been doing lots of stitching. Every Monday morning and Thursday evening our craft group gets together for an hour or so by Zoom (thanks to Bethany Christian Trust and Inspiring Leith) and I work on my Inspiring Leith piece.

I have reached the background! I have decided that to keep the weight down so that it can be a hanging or a banner, the background will be a diagonal skip stitch in two directions. The finished embroidery will measure 15½ by 17½ inches.
At this rate I shall have it finished by the time the Lockdown restrictions are lifted to a stage where Jane-Beth feels it is safe for me to go out alone.
So, Christmas then.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

How many sleeps 'till Christmas?

In this case, -2334.

I stitched "Santa" and "Mrs Santa" in 2013 for the American Needlepoint Guild Auction of that year. All funds from the auction go to the Education Fund. This funds projects to make the public more aware of Needlepoint, to encourage them to try it, and to raise its profile as an art.

These were painted canvases, without a stitch guide, so although I had to pretty much follow the general colours indicated, I was able to choose my own stitches.

I have to admit now that I enjoyed stitching these little fellows so much that I forgot to record just about everything about them. I do recall that I mostly used DMC Medici, and the background is Soie d'Alger. I made their bags from some Christmas material I had on hand, and filled them with small sewing items. Each had a pair of scissors, some threads, not all of them visible in my pictures, and a roll of 'something to stitch on'.

Sometimes it's fun not to think about time and just let your needle run with your imagination.