Thursday, 17 October 2019


This summer, as reported in my entry of 27th August, we attended the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar in Houston, Texas. One of the classes I attended while we were there was "Allegro". This was designed and taught by Debbie Rowley of DebBee's Designs.

I had various reasons for choosing this class. We met Debbie in Edinburgh in early 2019. We had an enjoyable lunch at the National Museum of Scotland and talked for ages about embroidery. After meeting her I thought it would be fun to go on one of her classes. When the class schedule appeared on the ANG website I liked the look of Allegro, I think it was the shapes and colours that attracted me. The piece uses a number of Jean Hilton stitches. I had never tried Hilton stitches, so that was a third good reason for selecting the class.

I finished Allegro this week. It measures 8" square on 18 count canvas and it took me 62 hours to stitch.

Did I enjoy the class?
Immensely. Debbie is a great teacher. I loved that she used videos to demonstrate the stitches, projecting them large on the screen, working them at an angle where her fingers never obscured the stitch she was demonstrating.

Did I like the Jean Hilton stitches?
I think I am going to have a love-hate relationship with them. I really like the way the curves are created by using quite long straight stitches, but I had major issues with counting and thread length. Once I had worked out that if you keep the shape in your mind the first stitch is the only one you need to count. After that the others follow it round in sequence and the Jessica Stitches become less terrifying.
I think my main difficulty was with the thread lengths. I tend to use the 'finger-tip to elbow' measure when preparing threads for stitching, Hilton stitches need longer lengths. I suffered from knots, fraying (mainly because I had to keep unpicking) and loops.

Did I enjoy stitching Allegro?
Yes and no. Overall, I loved it, but it was a struggle. I thought the 'Double Fab Doubled' in the centre was difficult until I started on the Parallelogram Jessica Stitches (the dark green ones). It's not that the method is any different from the smaller Jessica, but to do each one with a single thread requires a length of over 100 inches. I just couldn't handle that, but after numerous knots, curses and restarts I found the best way was to use half that length and do each one in two parts. It was still a very long thread compared to my usual, but definitely easier to control. (Though no doubt I looked silly with my arms stretched out to keep the thread taut and stop it knotting, twisting or unravelling.) The Parallelogram Jessicas alone took nearly 14 hours.

Will I use Hilton Stitches in my own designs?
You never know! I may have found them frustrating at times, but Debbie has made Hilton Stitches interesting and less daunting by creating and teaching this beautiful design.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Fire and Brimstone

"You've never made anything for your father," said Mother.
(Father is a retired Church of Scotland Minister and Military Chaplain. What do you make for an 'Auld Kirk Meeneester'?)
"What do you think he'd like?" I enquired.
"A cushion?" suggested Mama.
So I made him this cushion cover. It is 14" square and took me 36 hours.

It is based on a famous painting by Sir David Wilkie, sometimes labelled as John Knox preaching at Mary Queen of Scots, but actually he's preaching to The Lords of The Congregation. It shows him, as we say, "geeing it laldy". John Knox is an important figure in the history of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland and had a reputation as a 'Fire and Brimstone' preacher.

I created the 'ground in one inch squares using English Piecing.
The purple represents the dark recesses of hell where, in his view, the unenlightened would be condemned for all eternity, the gold-yellow represents the enlightened, 'ie' those who agreed with Knox and would therefore be raised up to paradise on the last day of judgement. The diagonal band of red and yellow represents the Knoxian words of wisdom and the threat of damnation thundering from the pulpit and bringing enlightenment (or fear) to those who listen The colour scheme reflects the general trend of lighting in the Wilkie painting.
I then embroidered the outlines of some of the figures from the painting, starting with John Knox at the top right and representations of the congregation at the bottom left. The female figure in the purple area might be seen as a reference to Knox's "Monstrous Regimen of Women"

He loved it!
Mother loved it. "Typical minister", she commented, "Up in the pulpit six feet above contradiction."

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Flame Fan; Earth, Fire & Water

Flame Fan began as a rough doodle shortly after we visited an exhibition of Royal fans at The Queens Gallery, Edinburgh, in March 2006. The original sketch was of a single fan, with curving flames. I liked it, but knew it needed more thought.

Thought does not always go in the direction we expect. What I thought I was thinking about were the elements of the design, shape, colour, texture, size and so on. What I actually found myself thinking about were the basic elements of fire, water and earth.

I don't recall why, but something I had seen or read made a connection in my memory and  I found myself thinking that 'out of the darkness came chaos, out of chaos came order'. I don't know if that's a quote or if I made it up, but that got the design moving.

The centre of the design is a triangle of black felt (darkness). The threads that cross the felt disappear into the three triangles where they become random (chaotic). The random nature fades towards the colours chosen for the 'flames' and the flames appear in an ordered manner out of the chaos as Earth, Fire and Water, the three ancient 'elements'. All three fans follow the same design apart from the colours.

I used Needle Necessities Floss Overdyed in six different shades for the flames and the triangles, and couched the outline of the fans in metallic threads from the family stash. The flames within the fans are stitched in a bargello pattern. The insides of the fans are filled with a running stitch using a fine machine embroidery gold metallic, but the rest of the canvas has been left unstitched.

Flame Fan is stitched on 18 count canvas and the framed piece is 20" square. It took me 102 hours to design and stitch. I exhibited this piece at the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar, 2007 in Baltimore. No prizes, but a positive and helpful critique from the judges.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Venerable Friends

In this blog I have been writing (mostly) about my work in order of completion. Some pieces take longer than others. I started Venerable Friends in January 2005, but it doesn't appear here until September 2006.
Why did it take so long? It just does sometimes.

Copyright Japanese Embroidery Center, Atlanta

Venerable Friends was my Phase III in Traditional Japanese Embroidery. It took time, discipline, sweat and tears, but thankfully no blood was spilt. By the time I was finished it had been re-titled Venomous Friends.
As with each Phase Piece, there are new techniques. In Venerable Friends I learned how to stitch Shippo, and equally important, how to make them all exactly the same size. If they're not, it doesn't look right. Shippo are the circles and ellipses at the top centre.
The purpose of Phase III is to teach the student about 'superimposed work', so it also includes 'Woven Stitch', on the scroll, padding under the cherry blossoms and some of the chrysanthemum petals, and a Higaki pattern in gold over brown at the bottom of the open book.

Why Venerable Friends?
The design consists of four books and a scroll. Books and scrolls contain knowledge, knowledge should be respected. It is your friend and will stay with you all your life. Respect for age and knowledge (wisdom) is embedded in Japanese culture. Thus, books and scrolls containing knowledge should be treated with respect (veneration).

Venerable Friends measures 12" by 10" not including the mount and frame. Although it took me over a year and a half to complete, it actually took 100 hours of stitching.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Petite Nosegay

Drawing back from my recent adventures, we rush back in time to 2006.

At the Nashville Seminar of ANG in 2005 I took a class with the late Sandy Rogers. The class was interesting, educational and informative but I had a definite love-hate relationship with the embroidery.

The design was pretty and I particularly wanted to learn more about silk shading, and I wanted to take a class with Sandy. So what was the problem?
Mental Block!
I 'm stuck with this idea that Needlepoint goes through the holes in the canvas, linen or whatever, and that you don't pierce the canvas unless it's to secure your thread. In this class we used chenille needles and seemed to be piercing the canvas with almost every stitch. I just couldn't get my head round it!

As you can see in the large flower, I really didn't get the hang of silk shading on canvas. Silk or heavy linen yes, but not canvas. I blame me, not the teacher or the design.
I soldiered on and finished it even though it took well into 2006, but it has never reached the stage of being framed. Perhaps one day I'll revisit it, until then it can stay in the drawer, flat, and wrapped in acid-free tissue paper.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Pineapple Welcome

So why is a pineapple welcome?
As I wrote in my Artist's Statement for the 2019 Seminar Exhibit;

In 2018 I took Sandi Cormaci-Boles "Passionate Pineapple" class at Seminar. I enjoyed the class immensely and by the time I had finished the "Petite Pineapple" practice piece and the "Passionate Pineapple" I was so enthused by eyelets that I wanted to design my own version.

Pineapples are a traditional sign of welcome dating back to time immemorial (or at least the 17th Century). I wanted to do something with Sandi's Petite Pineapple and it was only a short step to the idea of WELCOME, but replacing the O with a pineapple. I also wanted to use colour. By lucky chance, Welcome has the same number of letters as the rainbow has colours; Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow and Red. Initially I considered working the letters in eyelets, but while working on the designs it struck me that creating a block of eyelets with the letters unstitched in the centre of each block would give a much more interesting effect and a more striking finish.
I liked that, but decided that the single word lacked visual balance and needed something at the ends, so I added two more pineapples and border.

The ground is 28 count linen. The letters are all worked in eyelets over 4 threads using DMC #8 Perle. The pineapples at either end were worked with a variegated Anchor #8 Perle which reminded me of the piles of well ripened pineapples I occasionally saw at the side of the road in my childhood. The border is a variation on Smyrna Cross, with the X worked over 4 threads and the + over 2 threads. AND all the materials used in this piece came from my Stash!
I am indebted to Sandi for allowing me to incorporate her "Petite Pineapple" into my design and encouraging me to create "Pineapple Welcome".

Framed, Pineapple Welcome is 24" x 14" and took 85 hours to complete. I laced it onto the back-board and it was mounted and framed by Renaissance Framing of Edinburgh.

And a ribbon! Second place. I was surprised and immensely pleased. As one lady said of it, "It deserves a prize for bravery if nothing else! A whole piece in eyelets!" Then she looked at me as though she considered that I might be slightly nuts.
I was asked why pineapples were a sign of hospitality. I have to admit that I have no idea, I think it was the exotic nature of the plant, suggesting wealth and comfort; and the earliest I have heard of it being used as a sign of welcome and hospitality is in the UK and the American Colonies in the mid 17th Century.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Where have I been?

It's nearly a month since my last entry, so I kind of hope you've missed me.

So where have I been? Texas. To be exact, Houston, where we were attending the American Needlepoint Guild 2019 Seminar. Houston was cool but hot. I think it cracked 100f every day. We arrived a few days early as I had to hand in my entries for the exhibit, so we had time to make some visits. We did so slowly. It was too hot to do anything quickly, or to stay outside for very long, so we decided we would brave Houston's public transport system. We anticipated a struggle and discovered that it was anything but! It was easy to use, with flat rate fares, clean vehicles, polite and helpful staff and clear direction boards. And in Downtown there were the free Orange and Green buses.

We took the free bus to the tram and the tram to the Fine Art Museum, and we took the free bus to the bus to a needlepoint shop, Chaparral. Everything connected within a block. There was a short hot walk to Chaparral, but it was worth it. Floss Overload! They were lovely people, maybe a bit surprised to have a Scottish couple appear in their midst, but they couldn't have been more helpful. Yes, I fell in love with THE WALL OF KREINIK and just had to indulge.

The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park was a fascinating step back in time We visited three houses including The Old Place. built in 1823, and an example of the homes of the earliest settlers from the north. Not all the houses were open due to on-going work, but we were given a tour of the San Felipe Cottage, built 1868 and an example of the style of building and furniture brought in by the German immigrants. The third house was recent (I suppose that depends on the age of your building) being from 1903 and is furnished with all the latest gadgets of the period. All but one of the ten buildings were relocated to the park to protect them. If you like pretty parks (clean and green with lots of water features) and old stuff, and you're in Houston, take a look.

Another day, another Museum. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts is massive. We knew we would never have time to see it all so we had to be selective. Pre-Columbian, South American, East Asian, then there was American (US) art and we were out of breath. We chose to look at those areas we don't see as much of in Scotland. Of course we had to stare for an age at the Tiffany window, and you can't go to an 'old stuff' repository without stopping to look at the Mummies.

Discovery Green, across the street from our hotel, was indeed a discovery. I can recommend the ice cream at The Lake House.

But we were there for Seminar. I'm not sure I can find words to explain 'Seminar'. Three hundred avid Needlepointers from all over the North American continent and usually a sprinkling from other continents, all talking embroidery, design, colour theory, all sharing tips and tricks. There are classes with the best teachers and there is an exhibition 'The Exhibit', where we show off our work. I entered two pieces, The Chapter (see Pages, The Chapter for the full story) and Pineapple Welcome.

The Chapter was awarded a Third Place in the Original Design Non-Professional category.

Pineapple Welcome was awarded Second Place in the Adaptation Non-Professional category.

There were classes to go to of course, so there was some stitching. I took 'Allegro', a three day class with Debbie Rowley (Debbee's Designs), and 'Arrival of Spring', a two day class with Gail Stafford. No doubt you'll hear more about the Pineapple and the two classes in future entries.