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).

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.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Fools Step In

In 1988 we inherited a partly stitched tablecloth. Only one corner had been started, there were no threads and no instructions.

Freestyle, I thought, not a countable ground, I thought. Why not, I thought? You have to give it a try, don't you! So what did I know about this style of embroidery? Nothing, but we had books of stitches and the most important of my embroidery resources, Jane-Beth.

I didn't so much step as leap in feet first.

I did have one guide, the outline was printed on the linen.  A small portion had been stitched, but even to my untutored eye the stitching was poorly executed, too loose in some places and so tight in others that it pulled and puckered the linen. I carefully unpicked what had been done, carefully pressed out the puckers and started again.

The cloth is about 3' square, the floss is stranded cotton. I learned how to do running stitch, chain stitch, satin stitch and French knots and how to secure my ends on the reverse. I discovered that French knots are a pain in the neck and it takes a lot of practice to make them all the same.

The quilt behind the tablecloth is Jane-Beth's handiwork, a full floor to floor double bed quilt in 1" hexagons, all done by hand!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Do I qualify now?

I have always claimed that I only work on one project at a time. Apparently that's JUST NOT RIGHT!
Apparently you can't claim to be a real embroiderer unless you have multiple projects on the go.

I just had a count up in my head. Currently I am working on:
The Passionate Pineapple (Whitework)
Have You Not Seen My Lady (Full sized bed quilt in 1" squares) now at the quilting stage.
Untitled (Possibly for ANG Seminar 2019 or 20) (Needlepoint on congress cloth) at the design stage.
Chapter House (Needlepoint) at the design stage
I also have a pile of knitted teddy bears to sew up and stuff
And there's a bit of a quilted bench runner somewhere.


Totally unrelated, on Tuesday we went to an exhibition of Scottish samplers from the Leslie B Durst collection and the National Museums of Scotland;
Lots of samplers and an interesting video presentation. Worth a visit if you live close enough.

Thursday, 25 October 2018


Remember the Danes? Back in the Dark Ages the Danes invaded England and the Anglo-Saxons gave them gold to go away. Not being stupid, the Danes concluded that if the Anglo-Saxons were able to pay them not to raid England one year then they would ask for more next year.
My mother liked her Dolls House Carpet so much that, like the Danes, she asked for more. "I need one for the drawing room, one for the dining room, and one for the master bedroom. And one for the nursery."
Did I say it was a large house?

She chose these from the pattern book. The first is based on a Kazak rug. The coin to the side is a twenty pence piece and the carpet measures about 6 inches by 4 inches. 

The second carpet is based on a traditional Megedia Geordez (Rumanian) prayer rug. With the tassels it measures about seven inches by 4 inches.

The third carpet, measuring 6 inches x 4 inches is a Heriz design.

Like the Holbein carpet, theses are all Susan McBaine designs, and all stitched in DMC Medici. It was a long time ago and I'm not sure what I learned from these except:
1. I still had problems counting;
2. If you do a project, the prayer rug in this case, with a lot of background and you stitch part of it in tent stitch and the rest in basketweave your backside looks ugly and;
3. I was NOT going to stitch stair carpets!

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Passionate Pineapple

Well the pineapple's complete! What I have not said about it so far is that it is stitched on 28 count Antique White linen using Ecru DMC perle 8 and 12. The finished pineapple is 5½ inches high, 3 inches wide.
Having got this far, I'm going to put on a Nun's Stitch (Or is it Nuns' Stitch) edging.

And another lesson!
When I took it off the hoop there was a double crease in the linen that took an age of careful pressing on both sides to remove. Next time I'm working on a ring I'll loosen it off when I'm finished stitching for the day.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Fur Fabric and Fibre Fill

This fine upstanding fellow (when upstanding) is about 14" tall.

I was in a fabric shop and there was a poster challenging people to make a bear for their 1987 "Teddies for Charity" appeal.
"You could do that," suggested my wife.
"Naw," I replied.
"Of course you could," she challenged. "I have just the pattern."
Well sometimes a boy just had to accept the inevitable. What was not already in our stash was purchased. (I'm not sure there was that much 'purchasing'!) As the bears would be going to a children's hospital I decided it was reasonable to take the coward's way out and make him 'unjointed'.

I am NEVER going to make another stuffed toy. It is, to use a good Scots phrase, 'jist a fittir', but in a short(ish) time fur fabric and fibre fill became:

"What are you going to call him?" asked she.
"That's up to the child who he goes to live with," so he went off with a label that said;
CLINT - The Bear With No Name.

Where he is now I don't know, but he did teach me how important it was to a bear that he or she have all their pile running in the same direction and all their seams secure enough that they can eat copious amounts of hunny.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

164 and 3/2 Eyelets

The latest on the Whitework project:

Ten hours in and I have completed all one hundred and sixty four eyelets and three half eyelets.

Lessons learned?

First, watch your tension. I wasn't used to working on a ring and there are times I forgot to check the tension on the linen. Result, squint eyelet!

Second, work in the same direction. When I started, I worked the first row from top to bottom and the second from bottom up. I decided it didn't look right so I ripped it out and worked all the rows from top to bottom. Maybe just me, but it felt better.

Third, avoid eyelets in large numbers.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Achieving Harmony

It's like this. There was this old tatty chair I had inherited from somewhere. It could only be described as having reached a state of "well loved". The cover was more fray than fabric, the stuffing was coming out and at least one of the springs had sprung. Then there was the loose arm and the shoogly leg.

But it was my favourite chair!
What should I do?
Well there was this design of a duck in Gay Ann Rogers book!
What is it they say about fools and brave men treading?
Yes, I decided that if I could embroider a cushion I could just as easily embroider a chair back, and if you're going to do the back, you might as we'll do the seat too.
Well you do, don't you?

It took me two years, from January 1985 to January 1987, but I did it. I don't know how many hours I spent on this, back then I didn't keep a note of time. When the back and seat were ready I stripped off the old cover, sorted the springs, reset the leg and secured the loose arm, then I sanded it all down, varnished and re-stuffed it, and attached the embroidery.

I call this piece "Harmony". 

The Mandarin duck on the back is taken from Gay Ann Rogers "Needlepoint Designs From Asia" and is based on a detail from a painting by Ito Jakuchu (1716 - 1800). In Japanese art the Mandarin duck is a symbol of married happiness. The seat is my design and is based on the kanji for household harmony.
(If it's not, please don't tell me, it would break my heart.)
Both roundels are worked in tent stitch, the outer background is a woven stitch and the rest of the chair is covered with gold velvet (left over from a pair of curtains). I used Appleton's crewel wool and 14 count canvas for both parts.

I should have taken a picture of it at the time! This one was not taken until a few years later when the chair had seen daily use. You live and learn.

What did I learn?
That anyone who embroiders a whole chair is either highly dedicated or slightly nuts, possibly both. If you have embroidered a whole chair I take my hat off to you!
That Libraries are great! I found books on furniture restoration and upholstery and Japanese and between them I felt I had the confidence, if not the skill, to design the seat and complete the project.
That steady application of patience gets the job done;
AND that miles of background might be boring, but it's necessary to do it with the same attention to detail as the design.

Thirty years later it looks a little more aged and there are a few catches on the stitching, but it's still a darn comfortable chair.

And before you ask, yes, I made the curtains too, but they only lasted thirty years and two apartments.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

And back to now.

As I said in an earlier post, this summer we went to Washington DC to the ANG Annual Seminar and I took a class on Whitework with Sandie Cormaci-Boles. After seven hours of stitching spread over a number of evenings, I have got this far!

How do I know it was seven hours?
I keep a timer on the wall next to my stitching chair.

One of the most common questions I'm asked is how long something took, so for some time now I have kept a note of the hours I spend on a project. In addition to being able to answer the question, it's also a good guide on what monetary value you should place on your work even if you only calculate it on Minimum Wage.
When you add together the time it has taken us to learn the techniques and create works of needle art, not to mention the cost of "just a few threads, dear", it's a big investment and even though it might be a hobby it still has as much 'value' to us as another person's 'hobby' collection of antique motor cars.
AND I set the timer alarm for segments of 45 minutes to remind me to get up and move around. It reduces the creaks groans and cuss-words when I do stand up.
(And I'm afraid of being scolded by my Chiropractic.)

Thursday, 27 September 2018

And then I made a carpet

The cushions had gone well and I was gaining confidence, so why not?

Okay, it was a doll's house carpet.
It measures about 5" by 6" and is based on the carpet in Hans Holbein's portrait of George Gyscze (painted 1532).
It's worked in 2 strands of DMC Medici on 22 count mono canvas using a design by Susan MacBaine from her Dover book "Needlepoint Rugs for Dolls Houses" ISBN 0-486-23388-x.

It was a request from my mother. She had a large dolls house, unfurnished and could I make her some carpets?
Did I dare to say no?
How difficult could it be?

It wasn't that easy after all!
Nothing to do with the instructions, more the lack of ability of the stitcher.

This was where I first learned that not all threads act in the same way, that you have to treat each one with the respect it requires. I also learned that I needed to take more care over my tension and the stress on the canvas.

It looked fine, but I knew it wasn't good when I took it off the frame and it immediately went from an oblong to a trapezoid. Luckily, I'd already read up about blocking needlework and with a bit of judicious pinning down I managed to (almost) get it back into its proper shape.

Mother still liked it, but like the Danes, she asked for more.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Knitting Kninja

Sometimes I wonder if our stash has evolved into a life form in its own right. The other night I was settling down to watch "Upstart Crow" when I felt as though I was being watched.

I looked up and there he was, a Woollen Warrior in full Ninja mode.

He's not easy to see, but isn't that the point of being a Ninja?

I await with some trepidation the arrival of the Yarn Yeti.

If you have not come across Upstart Crow, its a comedy about William Shakespeare. Every episode is built around one of his plays. It's into series three but earlier series can be found on the BBC I-Player. No knowledge of Shakespeare's plays necessary but it helps with some of the jokes.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

I discover

Tent Stitch.
You thought what?

I had tottered on the edge, but had not yet fallen. For a start I had to work for a living, moving to London, then Edinburgh, then Aberdeen. That was where fortune smiled on me and I met JB, my Better Half. I had wandered away from embroidery and then suddenly there was someone in my life who could knit and sew and, poor delusional child, she seemed to like me.

One evening she was stitching on something and I asked how it was done. She showed me how to do Tent Stitch and the jaws of the embroidery demons began to close around me, dragging me into the depths of their warm flossy maws.

Having discovered the soothing flow of yarn through canvas, having stitched line after line of tent stitch, I wanted more. Then she showed me Gay Ann Rogers. "Needlepoint Designs from Asia, ISBN 0 7090 1554 2. I chose a pattern I liked the look of. 
Thunk! The trap was sprung.

Did I have a clue where to begin? Of course not.
Was I worried? Of course not. I knew nothing, but how difficult could it be? There was a chart, and a list of colours with little symbols to show what colour went where. It's only when you start to learn that you realise how little you know and fear of the unknown creeps in. So off I set, to Christine Riley's embroidery shop in Stonehaven (now closed - the shop, not the town) and purchased the required Appletons crewel wools.
Fortunately JB had been a customer there since childhood and when she explained to Miss Riley what I was looking for, Christine could not have been more helpful.

The design is based on a Japanese Imari porcelain bowl of the late Edo (Tokugawa) period, and is worked in three strands of Appleton's Crewel wool on 14 count canvas.

Framing up was fun, NOT. I didn't know any better, but JB came to my rescue and after a couple of attempts I had the canvas square on the roll-bars and the roll-bars fixed in the ends of the frame.
Heart Stopping Moment.
Where should I put my first stitch? Which colour first?
The learning curve was steep.
The first thing I learned was that I am always going to have that 'First Stitch Fear'. It doesn't matter what it is, I always end up sitting staring mindlessly at the frame for a good ten minutes before I make that first plunge of needle through canvas.
The second thing (unintentionally) was that shoving a tapestry needle under your finger-nail can be painful.
Really, I learned so many of the basics when stitching this. How to start a thread, how to finish a thread, what order to work in. I didn't know until it happened that bringing a white wool up in a hole it was to share with a dark coloured wool, already stitched, had a good chance of bringing some shreds of the coloured thread with it. Lesson, do the lighter colours first, starting with white.
I also learned one of the most important lessons - how to rip out without destroying the stitching you want to keep. How do you do that? Carefully!
And I learned how relaxing it could be.

Hook, line and sinker!

I stitched two of these between January and October 1986, one for my mother and one for Senior-Sister-In-Law, and once I had turned them into cushions I was on the hunt for my next project.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Travel Broadens the mind

And the soles of the feet.

We like to walk. When we were in Washington we walked the length of the National Mall and visited almost all the memorials. That's one awesome space.

I was deeply impressed by the scale of the  WWII memorial and the perfect simplicity of the Vietnam memorial wall, but the Korean War memorial with its statues of an exhausted looking patrol and the ghostly figures on the wall demanded that the passer by stop and think.

Looking round, I wasn't the only one drawn to ponder on its significance and meaning.

Another day we walked from our hotel to the National Cathedral (in a rain storm). I can't say that all the stained glass windows were to my taste but there were some stunners. I particularly liked the Space Exploration window. Lots of embroidered kneelers in the various chapels and well worth the visit. The d├ęcor was a little too "Spikey High" for my Presbyterian tastes, but beautiful from an artistic perspective. We couldn't see Darth Vader for the rain but we did discover the cafeteria.
And on the way back it rained on us again!

But we were there for seminar and there were classes to attend. I had three fascinating days in Jo Ippolito Christensen's classes and I started to learn a new skill- whitework - with Sandi Cormaci-Boles. It's called "Passionate Pineapple", and every now and then I'll share a picture of my progress.

If I achieve nothing else, at least I'll know how to do eyelets!

And then we flew home. There was major turbulence during flight, but I was watching Pacific Rim, Uprising so during the big fight scenes it felt like getting 4D for free. Cool!

Now, as the saying goes, 'It's back tae auld clase and cauld parritch!'

Long ago in a place far away

Hong Kong to be exact, in typhoon season.

I was there for two months during which time we had two major typhoons. You don't go out in a typhoon, believe me. I had to cross a courtyard during the eye of the storm (too long a story) and it was one of the most eerie feelings, no rain, no wind, no noise.

So what do you do when you know you are going to be stuck in your apartment for two days and you don't want to watch the rain being driven through the concrete walls? You have an embroidery party. Well my mother and her friend did. They showed me how to do what became known in our family as "Australian Cross-stitch" because her friend was Australian. I'm sure it has a dozen other names. Before then, my talents had been limited to sewing on buttons and badges at my boarding school. The gingham table cloth below was my first real attempt at embroidery. It wasn't perfect, in some places it wasn't even good, but it was fun - in a tedious, mind calming way. I still have the table cloth, it's old, it has inherited a number of stains that will never come out, but although I wasn't hooked yet it just needed someone to cast the fly and reel me in.

Not that I spent all my time stitching. It was Hong Kong, it was the early 1970's, I was fresh from incarceration from the age of nine in an all male boarding school and I knew nothing. I sort of even knew that I knew nothing.
I did the tourist things, I went to the tourist spots and climbed The Peak, I crossed on the Star Ferry and went to the border with China. And I discovered that girls were different! The only women in my life until then had been mother, aunts and grannies. Girls were definitely DIFFERENT.

It had to happen!

It had to happen eventually. Peer pressure from friends and fellow embroiderers has finally dragged me kicking and screaming into the Twentieth century. If it goes well I may even dip my toe into the Twenty-first.

So what's he going to talk about? Hand Embroidery, mostly. Over the years so many people have asked if I have a blog or a web site that I decided it was TIME.

The latest (first) news is that I have recently returned from the American Needlepoint Guild annual seminar in Washington DC. This is the eleventh time I've attended seminar and as always it was great fun. There were hundreds of other Needlepointers and there was enough beautiful needlepoint on show in the Exhibit to make your head spin.

Did I win?
Well yes. And got another verbal buffeting about not being on-line, so here it is:

Unicorn Sporran, designed and stitched by Jonathan G Brown

I don't make any claims to be a photographer!

The sporran front is stitched in basketweave on Congress Cloth using two strands of Soie d'Alger. The background is a grid of green filled with blue, a nod to the main colours in my kilt and the Unicorn uses three whites, two golds, a silver and of course a red. The sporran was made for me by a well known Edinburgh sporran maker.
Why a unicorn? I wanted to make a sporran front and the Unicorn is a Scottish heraldic beast. The original design had a wide diadem for a collar but when I sent it to the Lord Lyon's office I was told I could use a collar but not a diadem.
My sporran was awarded First Place in the Non-Professional Adaptation Class and was also awarded the Wearable Art Ribbon. Both ribbons have beautiful hand stitched centres. Thank you, ladies!

It didn't happen overnight, I've been doing needlework of various kinds for over thirty years. It's been an interesting, sometimes disappointing, often funny adventure and I plan to share the printable bits of it a little at a time, along with pictures of my work.
Incidentally, the white background is the reverse side of a hand made double bed quilt, of which more later.

So why embroidery?
Honestly? It was supposed to help me stop smoking. What can I say?  I'm sure some ancient Greek philosopher said that failure in one venture can lead to success in another, and if he didn't, he should have.
We all have a spark of creativity in us. I can't sing, I don't play an instrument and I can't draw a straight line with a ruler, but I did discover that I could manipulate threads and design embroideries. It's just a case of finding the right art for you.

And this is how it all began...…