Thursday, 13 December 2018

I get Crewel

Any visit to a craft show brings shoppertunities. In October 1998 just such an opportunity arose - a Knitting and Stitching Fair. As any good Vogon Space Marine will tell you, "Resistance is Futile". I went, I saw, I purchased.

One of the exhibitors was Phillipa Turnbull of the English Crewel Work Company. (Now The Crewel Work Company.) She had a large frame with a partly worked length of crewel work on it and was inviting people to try. Who could resist? Well me for about two minutes until the devil at my shoulder (or perhaps it was Jane-Beth) urged me on. So I sat down at the frame. That brought some expressions of surprise from a group of 'ladies of age' who were also inspecting the embroidery. I threaded the needle, they murmured doubtfully. I chose my spot. They made a comment about moving away "so as not to embarrass the young man". Now one thing I don't get easily embarrassed about is stitching in public. There followed a shocked silence as I stitched a flower petal. I'm not saying it was perfect, but it left a few mouths gaping. I don't think I'd worked out that 'men don't do embroidery' (same as women don't become motor engineers!?!)

Anyhow, having tried it, I decided I wanted to try more so I purchased a kit with a good variety of stitches and a simple stitch guide and took it off home clutched to my heaving chest.

I think I was actually patient enough to wait until the following weekend to start! At that time I was not counting hours, but I know it took three months. I finished it in January 1999 and made it into a wall hanging.

I learned a whole bucket full of new stitches. Chain Stitch, Satin Stitch, Fly Stitch, Seeding, French Knots, Couching, then there was Stem Stitch, Short and Long Shading and Padding. (Rod for own back, I did select a kit with pretty much all the standard stitches.)

Did I enjoy it? Yes.
Would I do more Crewel Work? Yes

Knocking on a year or so, I was attending a talk given by Phillipa. I'll not say where. Questions were invited and I asked one. I can't remember the question now but I still remember the reaction.
I had barely finished asking the question when a stentorian voice from the far side of the room boomed out "A MAAN?"
For a moment I felt as thought I was in a performance of "The Importance of Being Earnest". Next thing a woman actually walks round the hall and looks at me to see that I really am a man. I really couldn't help laughing.
Perhaps I should have been angry, perhaps I should have said something, perhaps someone from the group should have sought me out and apologised for the sexist behaviour of their member. None of the above happened.
But maybe that evening was the spur I needed to start entering exhibitions, to prove that a man can be the equal of a woman in the needle arts.

Friday, 7 December 2018

First and Last

Back in the late 80's Jane-Beth completed a large hexagon quilt. I mentioned this in an earlier post.
When she finished there were a large number of hexagons and many small pieces of fabric unused. It will come as no surprise that I decided I'd have a go at making a quilt too. My 'how difficult can it be?' mode kicked in.

If you've never made a quilt, it's really not that difficult, it just needs patience and perseverance. I started work on my quilt in October 1989 and did not finish it until September 1990. To give you an idea of scale, it's a double bed and the hexagons are 1" on each side.

This was all cut and stitched by hand using English Piecing.
First I had to cut the paper templates for the hexagons. The cotton fabric then had to be marked. This required a second template slightly larger than the papers. (You can make you own, but templates are available at any quilting supply shop.) Once it was marked the cotton had to be cut and basted over the paper  templates, folding the seams over the paper to give a good straight edge. Lets not say this is mindlessly boring, but with a little practice you can park your brain and catch up on all those TV programmes you've recorded.

This was always meant to be a purely functional quilt so I put the hexagons together in a random fashion. The only 'order' I applied was to avoid having two hexagons of the same fabric together, except along the top where I put in my initials and the dates. The hexagons were joined by hand, another slow and laborious procedure, but needing little enough concentration and providing more opportunities to catch up on the TV, watch videos or hold a conversation. I joined the hexagons in blocks of 8 by 8, then joined the blocks together into larger (16 by 16) sections and so on until the top was complete.

Then came the fun bit of removing the basting and the papers.

When the top was completed I made a sandwich of the top, the wadding and the backing fabric and basted that together. It needs space, but what a good reason for moving back all that furniture and giving the carpet a good clean.

A quilt is not a quilt without quilting. I needed to quilt it and I did not have a quilting frame. My ingenious (?) solution was to hang it over an old wooden gate-leg clothes horse. It worked, except that I had to do most of the quilting standing up. Word of advice, don't try this!

What did this teach me?
Patience for a start. I think only the thought of the wasted time and fabric stopped me giving up, but I learned to persevere too.
Accuracy. As I put the hexagons together I learned that it was vital to double and triple check that the points of all the hexagons meet the points of their neighbours. Even a single out of place point or uneven edge shouts at you from a distance.
Portability. If you make a quilt top in small sections the part you are working on can be quite easily carried about.
That I would never make another quilt. (Don't laugh.)

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Alien 1990

Not part of the ALIEN franchise.

What can I say? No more toy making? I fell off that wagon. In the late 1980's ALF, short for Alien Life Form, appeared on our TV screens. Someone bought the pattern and someone else made it up. ALF disappeared from our screens and from our house but is rumoured to be living under an assumed name in quiet obscurity, somewhere in the east of Scotland.

Beyond admitting guilt for making him, I really have nothing to say about ALF, so moving swiftly along...…..

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Chapter

In an earlier post I mentioned some of the projects I am working on. This is one of them.

Instead of dotting the story of this piece throughout my blog I have created a page which I will add to as I work through the project. I am regularly asked why I stitched a particular design and how long it took, so I will be commenting on that and on my trials and tribulations as I progress (or don't).

I know, I'm probably certifiably nuts to do this. So many things can go wrong. The design might not work, the colours might not fit together the way I expect, and I may just fail to count correctly. In short, it could be a disaster!

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Tea Anyone?

Inspiration can come from all sorts of places. In 1987 I was given a present of a small book of examples of Japanese woodcuts in the Ukio-e (Pictures of the Floating World) style. One of the woodcuts was by Utagawa Toyoharu (1733-1844) and was titled "Interior and Winter Landscape: A gay party, men and Geishas".

Despite my lack of experience I decided that I would like to render the image in needlepoint.

I began this project in March 1988, starting from the 6 inch by 4 inch, postcard sized picture in the book. Not quite as clueless as heretofore, I realised that the figures were very detailed and that to do them any justice they must be stitched on a high count canvas, with a finer thread. The rest of the picture did not feel, to me, as though it needed the same level of detail. Somewhere along the line I made the first design decision. I would work the figures on 22 count and the rest on 11 count. Not being particularly aware of other flosses or yarns, I stuck with Appletons Crewel and DMC Medici.

Back then, with no computers, limited access to photocopiers and no digital nothing, it all had to be done by hand. I have alluded to my lack of ability to draw, but if you seek hard enough you can find a solution. My solution was the pantograph. Using one, I traced the outlines of the figures onto graph paper expanding them to the size required, and filled in the detail by eye. Each figure was charted and stitched separately apart from the two overlapping figures on the right which were completed as one piece. All the figures were worked in tent stitch on 22 count canvas using 2 strands of DMC Medici and appliqued to the background.

The background was drawn out on graph paper by hand and eye. It was stitched on 11 count using 3 strands of Appletons. The background is mostly tent stitch, but with a flash of bravery (or boredom?) I essayed into different stitches for the Tatami matting and the bamboo porch behind the figures. The completed project, not including the mount and frame, measures 27 inches by 13 inches. The standing Geisha is about 11 inches in height.

Was there a lesson to be learned?

First, let's start with frames. Scroll frames are a pain. At no time can you see the whole canvas, and every time you move the canvas you have to re-lace it, and keeping it suitably taut and even is not as easy as it looks. I found that the further on I got with the project the more I was struggling to stop the canvas going out of shape. I partly solved the problem by padding the unstitched areas, but only partly! It was some time later that I discovered the joy of stretcher bars and thumb tacks.

Secondly, there's size. Size matters! I failed to leave sufficient extra space beyond the area to be stitched. At times I was working so close to the side bars that I had difficulty in controlling the needle and ending threads. (Of course that might just have been me.) Now I always leave at least a two inch space between the edges of my design and the edge of the canvas on all sides. (That extra couple of inches also means that you can do quick doodles in the corners if you don't have a doodle cloth handy.) That extra two inches can mean the difference between satisfaction and frustration.

I also learned how fiddly it is to try and join two pieces of canvas invisibly, though I did cheat by planning (or more likely by luck?) to have the join run vertically behind the standing figure. I also discovered that in general, picture framers have little experience of framing needlepoint.

I started "Tea Dance - Nippon Style" in March 1988 and did not complete it until June 1989. I learned so many things about designing and stitching during this project, and though today I can look at it and see many things I would do differently now, it still hangs in our sitting room and I am still proud of it. One day perhaps I will revisit it. I still have the original design sheets somewhere!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Gopher It

I really can't think why I made Gordon The Gopher except that it was a rest from a large project. He may have been purchased at a charity event, or perhaps he was intended as a present, but somehow once he was finished he decided to take up residence on the bedpost and he's still there.

Gordon T Gopher was a character in a popular children's TV show in the UK in the 1980's. The design is by 'Kid's Stuff'.

When I finished Gordon I returned re-invigorated to the large project I was working on, Tea Dance.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Pineapple Progress

The Passionate Pineapple is completed!

The only decision I need to make now is how to display it. I can't decide whether to frame it or to make it the centre of a cushion. I'll probably go for the former, but wouldn't four of them look good in the centre of a larger cloth, maybe edged with a row of smaller versions?
Trapped into another large project? Sigh!

The pineapple is worked ono 28 count linen using DMC perle 12 and 8. The fruit is worked in eyelets and satin stitch and the border is Nun's Stitch. I wasn't at all sure about it when I chose this as one of my classes for the ANG Seminar in Washington DC, but I have really enjoyed working on this piece.

Passionate Pineapple was designed and taught by Sandi Cormaci-Boles.