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.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

US and us

Which, however you look at it, is bad grammar.

Remember what I said in my last post about commissions with no brief? Well you can't really refuse when it's your mother who asks. "Something small in quilting or embroidery," she said, "With some Scottish connection or emblem. For a friend in 'The Valley'."
She didn't have to say which one, I knew very well she meant The Shenandoah Valley.

I started with emblems. The Saltire was obvious, but it could have been a thistle or a unicorn, or maybe one of our dozens of castles. We had recently been on the west side of the big cold wet stuff and it occurred to me that apart from a common language the only thing that divided us was the sea and the sky. The land forms are surprisingly similar, coastal plains leading quickly into hills and mountains, but they look different because the colours are different.
One thing we did notice while in the USA was that the flag flies everywhere. I wanted to grab that feeling of national pride. We Scots can understand that.
Bang, crash, wallop. The Saltire won.

What I finally came up with was a picture in four quarters. To the top, because that was where it fitted best - otherwise there would only have been some red and white stripes - the flag of the USA, to the bottom, the blue of the Saltire. I felt that appropriate because it could also signify the Atlantic. To the right, the darker colours of the Scottish landscape, to the left, the softer, lighter shades of the US.
In my minds eye, the Scottish landscape on the west coast is more like a colour-block, while the east coast of the USA is more varied and shaded, so when I stitched the left hand side I used variegated threads, but used solid colour threads on the right. I decided that I would stitch the Saltire quarter in a variegated thread too, to show the turmoil of the ocean.
And the white of the Saltire goes from corner to corner, because whichever corner of the USA you go to a Scot will always find a warm welcome.

And what about the title? "US and us" is a depiction of the strong links between Scotland and the USA. It's also a play on language. In parts of Scotland the plural of you (singular) becomes youse, and the title could be read "Youse and us".

It took me 76 hours spread over about 8 months to design and stitch "US and us" and it was the first piece I submitted to the ANG Exhibit (Nashville).

Thursday, 6 June 2019


Glenda, a teacher. was about to retire and her colleagues wanted to create a special present for her. How they decided on a sampler I don't know, but my SiL volunteered that she knew someone who designed samplers.

When I was asked if I would design a "sampler" for Glenda I immediately thought of the Wizard of Oz - well you would, wouldn't you?
I was quickly disabused of that notion.
Questions were asked. What do you want on it? What size? Answer, "Don't know." That's a good start, I thought. "What does she like? What are her hobbies and interests?"
Elucidation. Hill walking, cats, the theatre, books, music, her garden and her church."
"You want me to include all of that?"
"Yes. And places she's lived. Can you do that?"
Well it was a brief of sorts. I discovered that the story started in Boreham Wood and ended in Rutherglen, which gave me a framework for the idea of a road zig-zagging up Britain, with motifs to either side.
Was I expected to stitch this? "No, so the instructions have to be clear enough for people who don't have much or any experience." It seemed that her colleagues were all going to do part of it.

Into design mode, I decided that the whole thing had to be done in cross-stitch and running stitch. I trawled my library for appropriate motifs (thank you Jo Verso) which I could amend to fit and decided that the border should be boot-soles to remind Glenda that she might be retiring, but that they journey goes on. I had to provide the master diagram, in colour, but I also provided stitch diagrams for the cross-stitch and running stitch on the assumption of a total lack of knowledge of the stitchers. It's incredible how much detail you have to go into. I take my hat off to all you professional designers and teachers. 

They sent me this picture of the finished sampler, and yes, the road is yellow brick.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

The Bear On The Chair

This was a request from one of my Sister-in-laws. 
Would I make a cot quilt for H? With a bear on it like your big quilt? With lots of bright colours?

Why not?

You can't have a bear floating in mid-air, and most bears that I know are fond of a comfortable chair, so there had to be a chair for the bear and he became The Bear On The Chair.

As it was for a baby, I kept it simple and washable!!! The materials were all cotton and the wadding machine washable so that it could be put through the machine. We (still) have a wide selection of quilting fabrics so I had a search and selected two fabrics with bears on for the body of the bear and another larger pierce for the border. Since it was for H, I created the background as a series of interlocked H's in bright blue, yellow and red, the Mother's favourite colours. The quilt was all hand stitched using English Piecing, in 1" squares and hand quilted 'in the ditch'.

For those who don't recognise the term, "English Piecing" is where you tack each piece of material onto paper, in this case 1" squares, then join all the pieces of the quilt top by hand before removing the papers. I love English Piecing because it gives sharp edges and accurate corners.

Looking back, I'm not sure I actually enjoyed making this quilt, but I was determined that it would be properly done. I spent 140 hours designing and stitching this and whether I liked the finished product or not, H's mother liked it. She even sent me a picture of H on the quilt - a picture I am not going to share - no man wants his 'Cute Baby Snaps' to go public.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Batique Out Of Hell

OK, I have to admit that while I was working on this I kept thinking about Meatloaf. (The rock musician, not the foodstuff.)

We have reached March 2004 and this is another "Patchworks Challenge" for Macmillan Cancer Support. The set fabrics were pieces of Batik prints.

Sometimes the brain makes odd little connections that lead to a design. In this case it sort of went; Batik is a method of screen printing from the far east. I once watched it being done in a factory in Malaysia and it's a fascinating process. Each colour is added separately by silk screen printing, then hung out to dry, so when you visit the factory there are yards and yards of cloth at different stages of completion hanging over rails.
From Batik my musings brought me to another eastern icon, the bat, a symbol of good luck. Of course I didn't stop there. I've always had a soft spot for bad Vampire movies, particularly those from Hammer Films where they would often use stock footage of bats leaving their cave at night and flying off into the moonlight (no doubt to visit Count Dracula).
These all came together in my mind and I ended up with the idea of stylised bats coming out of a dark cave in the bottom left, and climbing into the light of a full moon. (It's always a full moon in the best, or is it worst, Vampire movies).

Each bat is created from four uneven quadrilaterals. I had to draw and cut my own templates for those. The fabric was basted onto papers cut from the templates and joined in sets of four, two wings and two parts of the body. The central 'bat' motifs were worked using the challenge fabrics, I added the dark brown fabric from my stash, cutting it into random sized blocks and curving it to be the top of the cave entrance while the mottled green became the bushes hiding the mouth of the cave. It was all put together with wadding and backing and quilted along the outline of each bat . The binding came from my stash.

I had been getting asked the 'how long did it take?' question in recent times and had always had to admit that I didn't know, so with Batique Out Of Hell I decided to keep a note. It took 130 hours between March and May 2004. I now keep a note of how long any piece takes, and the materials used.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Bunny Christmas Stocking

Why would you have a Bunny on a Christmas Stocking?
I'm not sure either, but Jane-Beth picked this canvas up at the Silent Auction at the ANG Seminar in Lexington. I think she put in a bid because no one else had and she felt sorry for the Bunny.

Was she ever going to stitch this?
Probably not, so I did.

The Bunny is a painted canvas on 14 count. It came with no stitch guide, and no indication of the designer. If you recognise the designer please feel free to leave a comment so that I can give them the credit.

I had to make my own decisions about stitches and threads. First off, I didn't want to lose the fine shading on the canvas, so it called for lots of different threads. Looking back, I think I used nearly twenty different threads and braids. Because I didn't want to lose detail I used tent stitch on the carrots and the Bunny, except on his tie, weskit and hat band.
I used Fluffy Stuff and Appletons Crewel for the ears face and paws. The rest of the stocking was worked in Appletons and Silk'n'Ivory which I had purchased in Lexington for the good reason that I liked the feel of it and thought I'd like to try it. It's mere co-incidence that it worked with the stocking. There is also Kreinik gold braid and a bit of DMC perle.
For the egg in the Bunny's paw, I wanted just a slight sheen, so I used 2 strands of Appletons, lightly twisted with two strands of Décor.

The name band is tent stitch and satin stitch, the long stitches are held down by a grid of Kreinik gold braid, couched at the intersections with a blue Kreinik braid to match the letters.
The name is not is some strange Pictish script, it's the name of a Bear (Grumpy) who, being a bear, does not feel restricted to common conventions on the direction of letters or spelling.  His stocking, so of course I had to do it the way he signs his name.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Star of A'Tuin

Not really anything to do with Discworld.

The culprits are the same group of RPG players as The Chapter, but much earlier. We're talking December 2003.

They called themselves House A'Tuin as a tribute to Terry Pratchett, and their emblem was a central circle superimposed on two four pointed stars. They were not the most pleasant group of adventurers, not that they would have called themselves pirates, but...…

The background is a piece of cotton Halloween fabric. I chose this because the party was led by Drow. Those who read fantasy books will know what that means, but put simply, Drow are evil elves, sometimes called Dark Elves, who worship a Spider Goddess. When I saw the fabric I couldn't resist it! To give the cotton enough body to take the weight of the gold I backed it with a piece of calico before basting on the outline of the stars.
The stars are worked in couched Japanese gold with the couching in different colours to highlight the stars and circle.

It took nearly 4 months to design and stitch this.