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...…