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.)