Tuesday, 15 June 2021


 Last time, I mentioned that I had been trying Hardanger. I started from the basics, using Janice Love's "Hardanger Basics and Beyond" and of course the support and advice of Jane-Beth who said that I should start with Kloster Blocks.
I tried to find an ISBN for the book, but I think it's self published. The back cover credit is to a shop called Love'nStitches in Athens, (Georgia, not Greece). One thing I loved about this book is that at the end of each section Janice gives instructions for left handed stitchers.

I always think of Hardanger as being white on white, but I decided that since I had no idea what I was doing I'd work with a coloured perle. I started with a vibrant orange on green. That was a disaster - vision wise - so I gave up and tried orange on white. Why orange? It just happened to be at hand, as did the teal and the red.

My first 'doodle-cloth'

Kloster Blocks are simple. (Left side of image.) Well the basic stitch is simple, but then you have to remember how to move to the next block without leaving a trailing thread on the back. Trailing threads are a no-no. It's not that Hardanger is 'double sided', but as it's used for table cloths and such like, the stitches should be well enough finished that it should be difficult to tell front from back. I'm not going to embarrass myself by showing you the back of my doodle-cloths.

My second 'doodle-cloth'

After Klosters, Buttonhole. I'd not tried that before. It didn't go well to start with, but it's one of those stitches you can get into a rhythm with - until you come to a corner. I got lost on them to begin with, but perseverance was rewarded.

My Third 'doodle-cloth'

After about 30 hours I have reached the stage of the image above and tried eyelets, which I had done before, wrapped bars (bottom right) and woven bars (top right) both new to me. I also managed to cut the wrong threads.
It still needs lots of practice, but 'The Mysterious Mr. G' of whom I have written before has decided that I am almost competent enough to make him a table-cloth. He may have to wait a little longer.

Speaking of whom, in earlier blogs I've mentioned his army of knitted bears, using which he plans world domination by teddy-bear. I recently received a picture of some of his minions starting their work.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

May? Already?

One and a bit years after our first lockdown things are starting to look more positive. I have had both vaccinations and Jane-Beth gets her second today. Lockdown is easing, little by little. The pubs are starting to open and I am getting back into the garden. Not my Dad's, the house has been sold, but I have a couple of friends who need what muscle I can provide, so with a bit of decent weather I will soon start to get rid of my lockdown flab. 
And the dentist has reopened! What can I say? I dislike going, but I know it's necessary, and I haven't been able to go since March (last year).

I seem to have let this blog slip since the arrival of Covid. It's not that I've been doing nothing, but the time has been sucked up by other projects.
I have recently become a columnist for Needlepointers, the magazine of the American Needlepoint Guild. I was sort of volunteered for it, and it's been an interesting experience. The feedback has been positive too, which is a bit of a boost for the ego.
In an earlier entry I mentioned that my "Flame Fan" design has been selected as a class for the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar in 2022. I can see at least one column for Needlepointers and a future blog entry or two coming out of that!

"Would I mind if the other designs were offered to the Distance Learning Team?" I was asked. Of course I didn't mind. The ANG Workshop By Mail team asked if they could have "Golden Gyron". Ab-so-lootley! So it will be appearing in Needlepointers in a few months and will probably run from February to April 2022.

"Golden Gyron" is 5" x 5" and is worked entirely in gold, with the 50th anniversary of ANG in mind, but also as a sampler of stitches aimed at the less experienced needlepointer. I'm hoping it will go down well.

Work continues on 'The Big Project' which I hope to have finished for Seminar 2022. This is my first trial of how I might finish the beasts. The idea is to have them hanging, with the animal on each side, but with a different colour of background. I need to work on it a bit more! Luckily I have a couple of beasts that I'm not going to use, so I have material to practice on.

I've also been trying Hardanger, but my efforts so far are so execrable that I'd be embarrassed to put in a picture. Maybe next time.

On the down-side, no in person American Needlepoint Guild Seminar again this year. I'm not sure yet whether I will sign up for any of the on-line classes. However, I remain hopeful that next year at Tucson will go ahead (and that we'll be able to travel from Scotland).

Friday, 26 March 2021

Things you find in odd corners.

I was searching for something else when I came across this piece. It wasn't exactly that I had forgotten it, but once its purpose had been filled, I put the box in a corner.

A year and a half ago we made one of our regular visits to The Georgian House to attend a talk on 18th Century dress. One of the young ladies giving the talk was working on a piece of embroidery, so of course I had to go and speak to her. (No names, it wouldn't be fair to embarrass anyone.)

She had never tried surface embroidery and it wasn't going well. Someone had told her to use one length of thread without explaining that there were six strands. I don't think I need say more than that. She had also managed to get a massive and unentangleable (not sure that's a real word) knot. My heart went out to her. I explained that she should only be using one or at most two strands of the six, and that she was using far too long a length of thread. It was more fingertip to underarm than fingertip to elbow. She was keen to learn how to do it properly, so I said I'd come back the following week with a partly stitched piece.

As usual, I got carried away and by the time I returned I'd stitched most of this:

It's a flower spray based on a design I found in "18th Century Embroidery Techniques" by Gail Marsh, ISBN 978-1-86108-476-7. It's a pretty cool book, with lots of diagrams and pictures. The petals are worked in a single strand of Soie d-Alger using silk shading.

Let me say here that I hate doing silk shading on canvas, but I do like a bit of surface shading on other fabrics. 

We talked about transferring designs. She had heard of pricking and pouncing, but not how to do it. My advice was 'Don't'. I suggested that she trace the main outlines of her chosen design on thin tissue paper and baste it through. In my opinion it's better than prick and pounce and much better than drawing the design on the fabric, and the tissue comes away easily if you use short stitches.
We talked about weight of thread, the above is all worked with one strand, the joys of French Knots, and stitch direction for silk shading. I also advised outlining areas such as the petals in a stem stitch to give a smooth curve and a firm edge.
Of course I also showed her how to do some of the stitches.

AND I hoped I hadn't bored the young lady to death.

The finished piece measures about 6" across and lives in an i-pad box.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Am I A Happy Bunny?

Ecstatic, might be a better word, but also nervous, a little frightened and feeling well pleased with myself. 

I submitted three proposals for classes to be taught at the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar in Tucson, 2022, and one of them, "Flame Fan" has been selected. I am going to be teaching at Seminar! 
Cool, but worrying! It's a tick on my bucket list, something I've wanted to do for years just so I can say I've done it, and I'm looking forward to it with just that sense of trepidation.

Next steps? It's well over a year away, but I still need to tidy up the stitch guide and find some local embroiderers to pilot the class. I also have to gather the class materials and find out what I need to do about visas that allow me to work in the USA. And there will be all those things I haven't thought about yet!

Will I get the teaching bug?
I don't know. I may be a terrible teacher, or it may all go swimmingly. Only time will tell.

Since I don't know the rules, I'm assuming I shouldn't share the selected design with you. All I'm saying at this point is that it's worked with variegated threads and a gold metallic. Well, you know me, I like a bit of bling.

On bling, since I can't share "Flame Fan", I thought I'd share a bit of bling with you.

These are part of my current BIG project. Planning ahead, it probably will not be finished until 2022.

As you can see, I've looked at heraldry again. The silver and gold are from my collection of Kreinik metal threads, the colours, or tinctures, are Soie d'Alger. Then there's this bit.

The cute dragon is all worked in Kreinik metallic threads. It's worked on congress cloth, using #8 braid, which is maybe a little on the thick side, but I wanted to give the figure bulk as well as bling. The dragon is worked in Tent Stitch, to get the detail, and is about 3" tall. I wasn't going for even-ness of stitch here, but for the sparkle as the figure moves.
I can almost hear you thinking "what's the nutty Scotsman at now?
The background is, not surprisingly, Soie d'Alger in Basketweave. 

This project has gone through starts and stops and disasters. The metal threads were no problem. We have a large collection of Kreinik metals gathered over the years. The BIG DISASTER was the backgrounds to the figures (there are a number of them). Having carefully calculated how much thread I needed, I discovered I had miscalculated. I tried to get more of the same, but the dye-lots had changed and I just knew I'd not get a match. 
Solution? I may have to re-work all the backgrounds I've completed. I doubt if I have sufficient of some of the metals to totally re-stitch all of the figures, so I'll just have to rip out the backgrounds that don't match.
Frog-stitching - what fun (not). I'm not looking forward to it, but it will be an improvement when it's done.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

What's in a Name?

Last night, Jane-Beth mentioned that it was over a month since I had last updated my blog. A month? When I looked, it was over two months. Where does time go? I mean it's not that I've been doing nothing, but these are, as the politicians and commentators tell us, Unprecedented Times, and we're probably all a bit out of kilter.

It's been nearly a year since the Pandemic hit the UK. and it's been a year unlike any other that I can remember. That's despite many of my 'friends' claiming that I'm so old I remember The Black Death ("Not enough people left to bury the dead.") of 1384.
You may well have guessed that since I am writing this, we have not been smitten by Covid. That's mostly down to Jane-Beth, who has kept me inside most of the time. I have been Locked Down, Shielded, Protected, and now I'm back in Lock Down again. Despite the arrival of vaccines I fully expect to remain in Lock Down until at least May. It's not that I'm a pessimist, but it takes time to inoculate over Sixty Million people.

We had a bit of a relaxation of the restrictions over the summer, which did allow me to go and visit my Dad and get his garden tidy. Gardens, aren't they incredible? Before the pandemic I spent five years bringing some semblance of order back to a garden that hadn't been as much as weeded or pruned for at least ten and maybe nearer fifteen years. Between April and July I couldn't visit him because he lived on the opposite side of the River Forth. When I got back in August it was like the garden had grown two years in three months!
I was glad I was able to get back to visiting him. I'm not sure he actually knew who I was by then other than 'a young relative who comes to do the garden'. Old age and dementia had taken its toll on Dad, and at 93 years old, and never having recovered from a stroke he had some years ago, Dad took another stroke in October and didn't recover. Pandemic restrictions meant that only immediate family and grandchildren were able to attend his funeral, but we gave him a proper send-off. Dad had spent years in the military, starting during WWII, then later as a Naval Chaplain, so he had the flag-draped coffin with the officer's cap and his medals on top of it. No hymns allowed, everyone masked, and only the Minister allowed to speak, but he went off to the music of Eternal Father (the Naval Hymn) and Sunset. Yes, I got a bit choked. I miss him, but it's for the best. He knew he was, as he said himself, 'aould an' ravelled' and 'abun fit til gang'.
Apologies, but I felt that I had to share that, if only for my own benefit.

"So what have you been doing?" You might well ask. I've been working on a few pieces that might become classes, and as ANG members might have spotted, am about to appear in the next issue of 'Needlepointers'. The Editorial team asked if I would submit a project and I offered them this:

Watch out too for "Thoughts From A Far Country.

And moving rapidly on, A QUIZ.
What is the name of this stitch?

I call it Dinnaken Stitch. Why? Well when I was stitching this:

I was asked what the stitch was. Now that one stumped me for a moment. I couldn't remember where I had found it or what it was called, so I said "dinna ken" (translation, "I don't know").
Afterwards, I went through more stitch books than I care to think about - our embroidery library's a bit like an Aladdin's cave - and I couldn't find it in any of them, so it became "Dinnaken" Stitch.

And with couching:

So this is the quiz.
Can you name that stitch?

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Or nue flower

I don't often go on classes in the UK, but in 2017 I did take the opportunity of a class on Or Nue, at the  Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The class was taught by Helen McCook, a Royal School of Needlework graduate.

The design is based on a detail from the painted wall decorations on the pillars of the upper gallery. If you have the opportunity, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is worth a visit just for the architecture and decoration. Of course, it's also full of portraits!

For some obscure reason I did not record the notes and timings I usually keep on pieces. No idea why. The gold is Japanese Gold #2, the flosses are DMC stranded cotton using one strand, stitched on blue satin. The design is only about 5 inches across. Helen taught us various types of fillings and explained how they could be used to emphasis shape and depth.
It was a fun class, with lots of interaction and lots of discussion about influences, from Arts & Crafts, back through Restoration and Jacobean to the Eastern influences brought in by the arrival of Indian and Japanese fabrics and embroidery.

This was never meant to be one of those pieces I would hang on the wall, but once finished it needed protected. I didn't want to place it under glass or just put away in a drawer and forgotten about, and I did want it to be portable but safe. I found the perfect storage for it, an I-Phone box.

Thursday, 8 October 2020


Who or what is a Kaitlyn?

It's 2017, and she's a who. Kaitlyn is the grand-daughter of the lovely woman who cleans my Dad's house. So how did I get involved in making something for her? It's a bit of a convoluted story.
'Gran', as I'll call her, is only supposed to do the heavy cleaning, but we all know that she spends longer with Dad and does more for him than she gets paid for. Elder Brother, otherwise referred to as The Major Domo was trying to find some indirect reward that she might accept as a recognition of this. Had we any ideas? Well I did.

Occasionally, when across to visit him in my capacity as Head Gardener (for those who remember The Herbs, they call me Bayleaf) 'Gran' would be there and we would chat about all sorts of things. She was fascinated that I embroidered and knew stuff about Japanese things as Kaitlyn was 'into' Japanese things and was decorating her room in a Japanese sort of style, loved Kimono and so on. It was coming up to a Birthday (or maybe it was Christmas) and 'Gran' was trying to find something in a Japanese style for Kaitlyn who wanted 'a Japanese Scroll' to decorate her wall. I suggested to The Major Domo that I could stitch a scroll using Japanese embroidery techniques, which 'Gran' could give Kaitlyn as a unique gift.
Offer made, offer accepted.

First, of course, I had to come up with a design. I decided that a simple scroll with her name in a Japanese script would be just the thing. I looked up her name on a few translation sites and found Kaitlyn in Kanji and Katakana. It looked very 'heavy' in Kanji, but the Katakana had a lighter feel to it, more suited for a young girl (she was just approaching her teens). 
Translated, Kaitlyn means 'purity' so my design had to have a clean and unencumbered look. I looked at name 'chops', which led me to the idea of a simple border in red with the Katakana in black, edged with couched silver, on a white background.
I drew out my design and offered it to TMD.

"Go for it," he said
I did. I decided that the best fabric to use would be Shioze as it is quite heavy, but easy to stitch on (the prominent weave helps with maintaining the angles of the stitches). Then I had to frame up. As I had intended from the start, this was to be stitched in the manner of Traditional Japanese Embroidery, so the cotton end pieces had to be stitched to the silk Shioze and then wound drum tight and stretched on the frame. Once the silk was mounted, I made a stencil of the design on tracing paper and attached it using magnets while I copied a running stitch outline of the design.

If you've never seen one before, the frame may look a little different to what you're used to. The point is to keep the silk as tight as possible during the stitching process, so the rollers at the end are split to give added grip and the fabric is stitched along the sides to ensure that it is well stretched. Incidentally, Traditional Japanese Embroidery is worked from the side.
Having transferred the pattern, 

I was ready to start stitching.
Following the rules, I began with the Katakana. These were stitched in black flat silk which was either worked as flat silk or twisted by hand by me where I wanted to use a twisted silk. Each symbol was worked in a different stitch.

Then the border was added. The tissue paper is there to protect the embroidery. It always ends up a bit tatty and torn as I only uncover that part of the piece I am working on in that stitching session.

Then the silver was couched round each of the Katakana, and gold on the inside and outside of the border.

And still it wasn't finished. 

When the stitching is done, the frame gets turned over for the first time. The manner of starting and ending threads in Traditional Japanese Embroidery means that there is no weaving through the back, and no big knots. Once it's on its back it needs to be starched, steamed and dried. This has to be done very carefully as the starch should only go on the back of the embroidery, otherwise it might stain the fabric.

The finishing touch, once it was off the frame, was to turn it into a scroll by attaching it to some heavy (furnishing) fabric and a hanger.

It took me 60 hours to design and stitch Kaitlyn, which measures approximately 14" x 24". I enjoyed working on it as much as I enjoyed the look of pleasure on "Gran's" face when I gave it to her.

Also, 'Gran' comes up trumps by providing an absolutely unique present.