Thursday, 14 February 2019

Atlantic Crossing

This post is NOT about the Rod Stewart album of the same name, though I must admit to having owned a copy of it.

In August 2001 Jane-Beth and I attended our first ANG Annual Seminar, held that year in Washington DC, well actually on the other side of the Potomac in Alexandria.

Mind-blowing? Well, I had never seen so many stitchers or so much floss in one place, and then there were the needlework shops! I was overwhelmed (and probably overspent). There were threads and flosses I'd never heard of, canvas in different sizes and colours. I fell in love with the USA within the first few days!
Seminar was an experience I'll never forget. I think I was in awe of just about everything I saw and everyone was kind to the two strange speaking foreigners. I was able to take design and colour classes with some of the most respected teachers, and of course I had to take one class with a project.



This is Tony Minieri's La Torre Teapot, based on the La Torre clock tower in Kansas City. It is stitched on Congress Cloth using Silk ' Colours, Fiore and Kreinik Bijoux. I learned a number of new stitches and discovered that UK English and US English can be two different languages.

Being in foreign parts, I had to wear my kilt. It was a great ice-breaker, but it did lead to one amusing 'phone conversation. I overheard one of the ladies calling her friend, and in answer to an unheard question, reply, "There are four guys here, three of them are Gay and the other one's wearing a skirt!" Was I offended? Not in the least. I'm not that easily offended.
And it's an amusing story to share with fellow embroiderers, guaranteed to get a laugh if I use it when I gave a talk.

We had time for a little sightseeing too, including a walk up The National Mall and a visit to part of the Smithsonian. I'm not sure whether the highlight of the day was seeing Oscar The Grouch or the apple pie in the cafeteria.

Seminar ended, we came home and we knew we'd go back again.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Chalet School Goes To It

I'm not quite sure what they were going to, but judging by the cover it may have been a vegetable market.

Having sold a few charts of the first Chalet School cover for The National Osteoporosis Society, I thought I'd have another shot. This one did not go so well. I couldn't get the detail right and the faces just wouldn't do what I wanted them to.

Lesson learned?
If you are going to go for detail either go big on the finished size of your design or small in the count of your canvas. Or do I mean that the other way round? I think what I'm saying is that if it's a very detailed piece you need more holes to the inch. If I was doing this again, which I will not, I would have made it larger and I would have done it on Congress Cloth. Knowing what I know now, and with 20-20 hindsight, I'd also have looked at threads other than DMC Medici. This was designed to be simple for a beginner (not sure I achieve that either) and if I had been more experienced and doing it for myself I might have considered using other stitches for effect.

We stitch and learn.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Crewel Twist

We are definitely into the new century now, March 2001 to be precise, and it was time for another new experience.

Jane-Beth had joined the American Needlepoint Guild and had taken part in a couple of their Workshops by Mail and Cyber Workshops. She pointed this one out to me and suggested that if I too joined ANG I could take part in the Cyber Workshop. When it comes to embroidery, Jane-Beth is my number one enabler and cheerleader.
I had already tried Jacobean Crewel Work and it did not take much persuasion as 'Jacobean Fast Forward' was stitched on Congress Cloth and used a number of threads I'd never even heard of.



'Jacobean Fast Forward' is a Barbara Jackson design using wool, silk and metallic threads. The introduction to the Cyber workshop began "Take a 17th Century design and then fast forward it to the 21st Century for your fibres."

The workshop was held entirely by e-mail and on the internet. Because everything was on line it was easy to go back and forth to earlier parts of the class when I needed a reminder of how to make a stitch or how many strands of whatever fibre to use. There were diagrams and photographs of each part of the design as it was taught. I think it's a great way to learn at your own pace.
I learned a 'wheen' of new stitches and was introduced to a number of new (to me) fibres and how they worked. The whole experience was great fun, even when the stitching didn't go well, and I met, virtually, many new friends. It also inspired me to attend the ANG Seminar in Washington DC that year, where I not only had the chance to meet Barbara, but to sample the wide variety of threads and other materials available in America, and to attend classes with some of the best Needlepoint teachers in the USA.

For sure, from my first visit I fell in love with US embroidery shops.

Friday, 25 January 2019

World Domination By Teddy-Bears

Deadlines! Don't you love them?

"We need these sewn up and stuffed, ready to go, by a week on Wednesday."
'These' were thirty knitted teddy-bears. They needed their seams sewn, stuffed, faces added and scarves fixed in place in two weeks.
It wasn't quite drop everything else to get it done, but it was a close run thing.

Jane-Beth knits the bears for Craft Tea for Charity, I get the 'fun' of sewing them up and finishing them, then they go off to various refugee camps.

At least that's the story I'm being told!


Personally, seeing Mr. G. Bear addressing his 'troops', I think he's planning World Domination By Teddy-Bears.


This is the second cohort he has sent out into the world and no doubt there will be more, then one day, at a given signal, they will all rise up and take over. The best advice I can give you in the event of Teddy-Bear Insurrection is that you keep hunny and smackerils handy to placate them.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Something Different

Shortly before the Millennium, Jane-Beth graduated as a teacher of Traditional Japanese Embroidery (Nuido)  through the Japanese Embroidery Centre in Atlanta. This is, in my opinion, her masterpiece.

It is called Sake Boxes and is based on one of the 17th Century Konbin No Fukusa. Fukusa are highly decorative gift covers which are placed over the gift before it is presented.
It's a large piece , two feet high, and a bit over a foot wide. Everything you see is hand stitched in the traditional style using flat silk threads and gold.
And yes, that fabric behind the embroidery is silk woven with gold.

Photo. by permission of Jane-Beth, Design © Japanese Embroidery Center, Atlanta
When she graduated, and this is how I remember it, I made a comment that if she was going to teach Japanese Embroidery then she should find a numpty (translation; idiot, not clever, know nothing, ham fisted - any or all of the above) to practice on. Again as I recall it, her reply was 'I have your first phase piece ready for you'.
Ooops!

To be honest, I was quite keen to try it. This is the result, my Japanese Embroidery Phase One, "Nejiri-Bana" (Twisting Flower).

Design © Japanese Embroidery Center, Atlanta

In Phase One I learned how to mount the silk fabric on the frame. The fabric is stretched through and around split dowel rods until it is drum tight, then it has to be laced onto the side bars of the frame and the lacing pulled as tight as you can get it, to stretch both the warp and weave. The weave has to be kept at right angles to the side of the frame.

The basic thread for Japanese Embroidery is flat silk. You learn very quickly to treat it with respect. If you don't, it can become quite obstreperous.

Sometimes the silk is worked flat, sometimes you need to use a twisted silk, in which case you have to twist your own. In Phase One I learned how to lay flat silk using a Tekobari (Tr. Stroking Needle), and how to twist multiple strands into a perle-like thread. This involves gripping one end of tightly twisted silk in your teeth (I'm not aware of a better way to hold it taut) while you twist the next part. Don't let it go loose, is the big lesson. If you let it go it springs back into a knotty coil and you have to start again.
I also learned that you have to be patient, disciplined and focused. Let your mind wander and you lose rhythm and your stitches go anywhere but where they should.
In Phase One you learn how to stitch the basic flowers used in Japanese Embroidery. Working clockwise from the top they are; Chrysanthemum, Maple leaves, Cherry Blossom, Plum Blossom and Pine Trees.

While I was working on this Phase Jane-Beth was invited to display and demonstrate Japanese Embroidery under the "Something Different" section of the Lace Guild annual get-together in Scarborough. Guess who got to do the demonstrating?
Well it certainly was "Something Different", a YOUNG MAN in a KILT doing JAPANESE EMBROIDERY. It certainly gathered a crowd.
It was fun, but it was also freezing in the demo area. My hands were so cold I could hardly stitch and at one point I dropped my 'snips' point down onto the silk. They bounced, but only after piercing the fabric.
Disaster!
What do you do when the point of your scissors make an inch long hole in your silk?
Once I stopped panicking and realised that the rip was not getting any longer I came up with a solution. Add a second cord.

It took me a year to complete Nejiri-Bana. It taught me patience, and the importance of being disciplined and accurate in my stitching. I also learned that the best way to start a period of stitching is to sit at the frame and think of nothing for ten minutes. It clears the mind and allows it to focus on your stitching. I apply these lessons to every piece I stitch or design, and I'd be lost without my Tekobari.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Never again

I call this quilt "6 Bears +1".
I know! Three posts back I swore I'd never make another quilt. This is it, or at least one of them.


I started work on this in June 1998 and didn't finish it until June 2000, not that I worked exclusively on it.

"6 Bears +1" was inspired by a series of events. First, we were tidying the family stash and I kept finding fat quarters with 'bear' patterns. They started to shout "use me". Of course, I was so busy tidying that I refused to be distracted. Almost! The bears of course had their own ideas. Somehow they managed to wriggle about until they were in a different pile to the other fabrics. "Use me!" they shouted louder than before.

My first idea was to make a quilt with a series of intersecting bears or bears inside each other like a Russian Doll. (That may still happen.) Then, leafing through a newspaper I saw mention of the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). Flash of inspiration. I thought it would make an interesting 'hidden' motif which could be linked to the bears on the front by the quilting as seen on the back.

Out came the pencils, paper and fabric. And the eraser!

From the start I never had any expectation that this would be anything other than a full sized double bed quilt, so I started with a rectangle slightly smaller than the bed and marked in the stars and connecting lines of the constellation. I wanted the main design to be fully visible when laid on a bed, but I knew it would also need a border. I had already decided on the shape of the bear(s), but not the number, but when I looked at the stars I could see that with a little jiggling they would sit over the noses and eyes of five small bears. (Size being comparative, the small bears are each 20" high.)
The sixth bear seemed to sneak in there as a shadowy outline, linking the other five.

Then I began to allocate fabrics to bears. The blue chequered background is all from the same two pieces of fabric (blame my photography), and each solid bear is created from two fat quarters. The one in outline is all the same fabric. When it came to the border there was no question that it would be "Bear's Claw", and that there should be four claws for each of the bears on the front.

"6 Bears + 1" was entirely hand stitched using English Piecing. The centre of the quilt is worked in 1" squares, the border in larger squares and triangles. The quilting is deliberately open, with a bear set in a circle centred around each star and a metallic thread linking the stars.
I think that was the point, as the last of the quilting went in, that I realised I had made a basic error. The stars on the back would be reversed! As we say in Scotland; "Eedjit!" Some things just can't be fixed. I'll know better next time (maybe).

This was the first piece of work that I ever exhibited seriously and it received an Honourable Mention from the judges. It now resides where it was always intended to, on our bed. Quilts, after all, are for keeping you snug and warm.

On which, I wish you all a happy, snug and warm (or cool and air conditioned) New Year.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Back to School

And back in time.

Do you remember the Chalet School stories by Elinor M Brent-Dyer? I had never heard of them until I met Jane-Beth, who has a large collection. The first book in the series, and there are many, is called "The School at the Chalet". I have not read the book, but I did like the cover. It has a deceptively simple design, with a mellow water-colour feel to it. In fact I liked it so much that I wondered if it would translate into needlepoint.



I worked on this from June 1998 to March 1999 and probably spent as much time creating the chart as stitching. I found the most difficult part to chart was the clothing on the two figures. It took a number of attempts to get the folds and wrinkles in their dresses close to the shading of the original. Selecting threads to maintain the feeling of water-colour was not easy either, particularly on the "white" dress which, after long consideration was really shades of blue.
The canvas is 18 count, the yarn is two strands of Appletons Crewel wool. The picture is worked entirely in tent stitch and measures seven inches by eleven inches.

The Chalet School books have a large following, including embroiderers. Soon after completing this I was fund raising for the National Osteoporosis Society. One of the ways I raised money was to sell charts through the magazine run by Friends of the Chalet School (who also own the copyright to the cover art).