Thursday, 20 June 2019

Inspiring Leith to Stitch

I don't know whose idea it was, but I'm going to blame Hannah.

A few weeks ago we started a stitching group at Leith Library (Thursdays 2.00pm to 4.00pm). We also do a 'Stitch and Chat' on a Monday morning (10:30am to 12:30pm) in the Bethany Shop in Duke Street,
(Sorry, I had to get the advert in there.)

The idea behind it was to stitch in a public place and encourage people of all skill levels, and none, to stop by. We advertised it as a free 'Self help' group, inviting anyone who stitches, or who wants to learn, to come along. There are two experienced crafters (that would be Sarah and me) in attendance, to provide advice or to help novices get started with embroidery, crochet and knitting.
It's been a slow start, but we now have a movable group of half a dozen ladies (and me), though they don't all come every week. I've still not managed to rope in any other men, but I'm working on it.

The group, Sarah is the lady in the blue headband, Hannah is taking the picture.

Anyway, as I said, I blame Hannah for this project.
"It would be really good if there was something people could try out at the Leith Gala," she suggested. At least I'm sure it was her. "I'm sure Jonathan can design something," Sarah dropped me in it.
I didn't dare to refuse.

Our groups are run under the heading of Inspiring Leith, and Leith inspired me (Sorry, bad pun) with this design.

I suppose it was the 'spire' part that struck a chord. Leith has many churches, and many church towers, but I can only think of one that has a proper spire. So it had to be there.
The design also had to be accessible and simple. The ground rules were straightforward. I would take it, along with a selection of yarns and flosses, to Leith Gala, and we would invite people to chose a colour and a letter and try needlepoint embroidery. The very brave also had the option of choosing different stitches.
The choosers did not have to consider what other colours had been used, they just had to choose their favourite. They would then start the letter and I would finish it later. I made another rule, which was that no matter how bad the stitching was, I was not going to rip it out.
When the colours have been chosen and the letters started, it's my job to come up with a background that brings it all together. No pressure then!

Hannah hiding from the rain.
 It rained. Of course it rained, but Leithers are made of stern stuff, or perhaps they just wanted to come in out of the rain. By the end of the day we'd had a bit of interest in the Monday and Thursday events, and a few victims (oops, volunteers).

They're an adventurous lot in Leith. So far we've had Basketweave, Cross-Stitch, Satin Stitch, Upright Cross and a simple Fan Stitch. (Maybe I should have kept the stitch dictionary hidden?)

I have agreed to bring "Inspiring Leith" to the groups and find new victims, so I'll post progress reports.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

US and us

Which, however you look at it, is bad grammar.

Remember what I said in my last post about commissions with no brief? Well you can't really refuse when it's your mother who asks. "Something small in quilting or embroidery," she said, "With some Scottish connection or emblem. For a friend in 'The Valley'."
She didn't have to say which one, I knew very well she meant The Shenandoah Valley.

I started with emblems. The Saltire was obvious, but it could have been a thistle or a unicorn, or maybe one of our dozens of castles. We had recently been on the west side of the big cold wet stuff and it occurred to me that apart from a common language the only thing that divided us was the sea and the sky. The land forms are surprisingly similar, coastal plains leading quickly into hills and mountains, but they look different because the colours are different.
One thing we did notice while in the USA was that the flag flies everywhere. I wanted to grab that feeling of national pride. We Scots can understand that.
Bang, crash, wallop. The Saltire won.

What I finally came up with was a picture in four quarters. To the top, because that was where it fitted best - otherwise there would only have been some red and white stripes - the flag of the USA, to the bottom, the blue of the Saltire. I felt that appropriate because it could also signify the Atlantic. To the right, the darker colours of the Scottish landscape, to the left, the softer, lighter shades of the US.
In my minds eye, the Scottish landscape on the west coast is more like a colour-block, while the east coast of the USA is more varied and shaded, so when I stitched the left hand side I used variegated threads, but used solid colour threads on the right. I decided that I would stitch the Saltire quarter in a variegated thread too, to show the turmoil of the ocean.
And the white of the Saltire goes from corner to corner, because whichever corner of the USA you go to a Scot will always find a warm welcome.

And what about the title? "US and us" is a depiction of the strong links between Scotland and the USA. It's also a play on language. In parts of Scotland the plural of you (singular) becomes youse, and the title could be read "Youse and us".

It took me 76 hours spread over about 8 months to design and stitch "US and us" and it was the first piece I submitted to the ANG Exhibit (Nashville).

Thursday, 6 June 2019


Glenda, a teacher. was about to retire and her colleagues wanted to create a special present for her. How they decided on a sampler I don't know, but my SiL volunteered that she knew someone who designed samplers.

When I was asked if I would design a "sampler" for Glenda I immediately thought of the Wizard of Oz - well you would, wouldn't you?
I was quickly disabused of that notion.
Questions were asked. What do you want on it? What size? Answer, "Don't know." That's a good start, I thought. "What does she like? What are her hobbies and interests?"
Elucidation. Hill walking, cats, the theatre, books, music, her garden and her church."
"You want me to include all of that?"
"Yes. And places she's lived. Can you do that?"
Well it was a brief of sorts. I discovered that the story started in Boreham Wood and ended in Rutherglen, which gave me a framework for the idea of a road zig-zagging up Britain, with motifs to either side.
Was I expected to stitch this? "No, so the instructions have to be clear enough for people who don't have much or any experience." It seemed that her colleagues were all going to do part of it.

Into design mode, I decided that the whole thing had to be done in cross-stitch and running stitch. I trawled my library for appropriate motifs (thank you Jo Verso) which I could amend to fit and decided that the border should be boot-soles to remind Glenda that she might be retiring, but that they journey goes on. I had to provide the master diagram, in colour, but I also provided stitch diagrams for the cross-stitch and running stitch on the assumption of a total lack of knowledge of the stitchers. It's incredible how much detail you have to go into. I take my hat off to all you professional designers and teachers. 

They sent me this picture of the finished sampler, and yes, the road is yellow brick.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

The Bear On The Chair

This was a request from one of my Sister-in-laws. 
Would I make a cot quilt for H? With a bear on it like your big quilt? With lots of bright colours?

Why not?

You can't have a bear floating in mid-air, and most bears that I know are fond of a comfortable chair, so there had to be a chair for the bear and he became The Bear On The Chair.

As it was for a baby, I kept it simple and washable!!! The materials were all cotton and the wadding machine washable so that it could be put through the machine. We (still) have a wide selection of quilting fabrics so I had a search and selected two fabrics with bears on for the body of the bear and another larger pierce for the border. Since it was for H, I created the background as a series of interlocked H's in bright blue, yellow and red, the Mother's favourite colours. The quilt was all hand stitched using English Piecing, in 1" squares and hand quilted 'in the ditch'.

For those who don't recognise the term, "English Piecing" is where you tack each piece of material onto paper, in this case 1" squares, then join all the pieces of the quilt top by hand before removing the papers. I love English Piecing because it gives sharp edges and accurate corners.

Looking back, I'm not sure I actually enjoyed making this quilt, but I was determined that it would be properly done. I spent 140 hours designing and stitching this and whether I liked the finished product or not, H's mother liked it. She even sent me a picture of H on the quilt - a picture I am not going to share - no man wants his 'Cute Baby Snaps' to go public.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Batique Out Of Hell

OK, I have to admit that while I was working on this I kept thinking about Meatloaf. (The rock musician, not the foodstuff.)

We have reached March 2004 and this is another "Patchworks Challenge" for Macmillan Cancer Support. The set fabrics were pieces of Batik prints.

Sometimes the brain makes odd little connections that lead to a design. In this case it sort of went; Batik is a method of screen printing from the far east. I once watched it being done in a factory in Malaysia and it's a fascinating process. Each colour is added separately by silk screen printing, then hung out to dry, so when you visit the factory there are yards and yards of cloth at different stages of completion hanging over rails.
From Batik my musings brought me to another eastern icon, the bat, a symbol of good luck. Of course I didn't stop there. I've always had a soft spot for bad Vampire movies, particularly those from Hammer Films where they would often use stock footage of bats leaving their cave at night and flying off into the moonlight (no doubt to visit Count Dracula).
These all came together in my mind and I ended up with the idea of stylised bats coming out of a dark cave in the bottom left, and climbing into the light of a full moon. (It's always a full moon in the best, or is it worst, Vampire movies).

Each bat is created from four uneven quadrilaterals. I had to draw and cut my own templates for those. The fabric was basted onto papers cut from the templates and joined in sets of four, two wings and two parts of the body. The central 'bat' motifs were worked using the challenge fabrics, I added the dark brown fabric from my stash, cutting it into random sized blocks and curving it to be the top of the cave entrance while the mottled green became the bushes hiding the mouth of the cave. It was all put together with wadding and backing and quilted along the outline of each bat . The binding came from my stash.

I had been getting asked the 'how long did it take?' question in recent times and had always had to admit that I didn't know, so with Batique Out Of Hell I decided to keep a note. It took 130 hours between March and May 2004. I now keep a note of how long any piece takes, and the materials used.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Bunny Christmas Stocking

Why would you have a Bunny on a Christmas Stocking?
I'm not sure either, but Jane-Beth picked this canvas up at the Silent Auction at the ANG Seminar in Lexington. I think she put in a bid because no one else had and she felt sorry for the Bunny.

Was she ever going to stitch this?
Probably not, so I did.

The Bunny is a painted canvas on 14 count. It came with no stitch guide, and no indication of the designer. If you recognise the designer please feel free to leave a comment so that I can give them the credit.

I had to make my own decisions about stitches and threads. First off, I didn't want to lose the fine shading on the canvas, so it called for lots of different threads. Looking back, I think I used nearly twenty different threads and braids. Because I didn't want to lose detail I used tent stitch on the carrots and the Bunny, except on his tie, weskit and hat band.
I used Fluffy Stuff and Appletons Crewel for the ears face and paws. The rest of the stocking was worked in Appletons and Silk'n'Ivory which I had purchased in Lexington for the good reason that I liked the feel of it and thought I'd like to try it. It's mere co-incidence that it worked with the stocking. There is also Kreinik gold braid and a bit of DMC perle.
For the egg in the Bunny's paw, I wanted just a slight sheen, so I used 2 strands of Appletons, lightly twisted with two strands of Décor.

The name band is tent stitch and satin stitch, the long stitches are held down by a grid of Kreinik gold braid, couched at the intersections with a blue Kreinik braid to match the letters.
The name is not is some strange Pictish script, it's the name of a Bear (Grumpy) who, being a bear, does not feel restricted to common conventions on the direction of letters or spelling.  His stocking, so of course I had to do it the way he signs his name.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Star of A'Tuin

Not really anything to do with Discworld.

The culprits are the same group of RPG players as The Chapter, but much earlier. We're talking December 2003.

They called themselves House A'Tuin as a tribute to Terry Pratchett, and their emblem was a central circle superimposed on two four pointed stars. They were not the most pleasant group of adventurers, not that they would have called themselves pirates, but...…

The background is a piece of cotton Halloween fabric. I chose this because the party was led by Drow. Those who read fantasy books will know what that means, but put simply, Drow are evil elves, sometimes called Dark Elves, who worship a Spider Goddess. When I saw the fabric I couldn't resist it! To give the cotton enough body to take the weight of the gold I backed it with a piece of calico before basting on the outline of the stars.
The stars are worked in couched Japanese gold with the couching in different colours to highlight the stars and circle.

It took nearly 4 months to design and stitch this.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Bluegrass Fantasy

Lexington, Kentucky, is in the heart of Bluegrass Country, so it seemed only reasonable that while at the ANG Seminar I should take a class called Bluegrass Fantasy.

Bluegrass Fantasy was designed and taught by Peg Dunayer. I was attracted by the title, but the way threads and ribbons had been combined to create the design also fascinated me. My fingers itched to try these new stitches and materials.

I see Seminar as a place to try new things and learn new skills. It's not just the classes, but when you get a large group of embroiderers in one place they will talk about embroidery, exchange tips and provide advice.

It wasn't all stitching, there was some eating, and there was the 'Tourist' bit. We went on a Coach trip to a Bourbon distillery - how could we not? The Bourbon did, of course, have to be tasted. I'm going to be controversial here, but I have to say that Bourbon is not a patch on a decent Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
We also made a visit to the home of Mary Todd Lincoln, which was only a short walk from our hotel. I think the volunteers running the house were a bit surprised to have a visit from two Scottish people who actually knew about Mary Lincoln.
And of course we just had to visit M's Canvas House. AND I became a Bag Lady. Yet again I was overwhelmed by the variety of threads, flosses, and, well just everything!

We had two weeks of fun, fun, fun, then, as the saying goes, we had to come home "Tae auld clathes an parritch."

Friday, 26 April 2019

Shoo Fly and Shadow

Another quilt? You might think so from the title, but this was the second class I attended at the American Needlepoint Guild Seminar in Lexington.

Shoo Fly and Shadow was designed and taught by Mary Lou Stransky, based on the quilt pattern of the same name.

I chose this class because I like quilt patterns and because it used lots of different stitches. Apart from Basketweave, there's Milanese, Nobuko, Diagonal Scotch and Upright and Horizontal Gobelin. Not only was it an exercise in learning new stitches, it was also a lesson on compensation.

I don't know how many hours I spent on this but I do remember that I didn't want to put it down once I had started. I'm sure I'm not the only person who can sit down for 'ten minutes at the frame' and discover that an hour has gone by.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

The 4th Wise Man

In September 2003, having been to an American Needlepoint Guild Seminar two years earlier in Washington DC, we went back again. Work, distance and cost kind of got in the way of going in 2002.
Seminar 2003 was held in Lexington, Kentucky and I knew it was going to be an interesting adventure. To start with, after a long flight, then a short flight, we arrived in Lexington late in the evening. We were waiting for the shuttle to our hotel. (OK, I was standing outside, in my kilt, having a sly cigarette - Jane-Beth, being much more sensible than I, was in the air conditioned terminal building.) A gentleman, presumably local, came along. He was in blue-jeans, cowboy boots, cowboy hat, all but the six-guns and holsters. As he came past he stopped, looked at me and declared "You ain't from around here, are you boy?" then he walked on. I managed not to break up with laughter until he was out of sight. Really, it wasn't what I was expecting, but it got the visit off to a jolly start.

The 4th Wise Man was the first class I took at Lexington. It was taught over two days by Dorothy Lesher and it took me from September to December to finish it.

If you don't know the story, basically, Atraban (that's him) is on his way to join the three Magi but he gets side-tracked because he spends some of the treasure he was taking to Bethlehem on helping others. There are various versions of the story, but they all have him spending all his treasure on other people and never getting to Bethlehem. The embroidery shows Atraban with his last piece of treasure, a pearl, in his hand.

It was the technique. not the story, that attracted me to this class. The background is not stitched, but drawn in with watercolour pencils. I hadn't even thought of doing such a thing, never mind tried it, so I had to have a go.
There were also tassels (never made one before this) and twisted cords (same), so apart from some new stitches there were three new techniques. I didn't know whether I would ever use these techniques again but I'm glad I have them in my armoury (if I can remember how to do it!).

This was the first time Jane-Beth and I had been in the same class. We hardly spoke the whole time, and we were sitting where we couldn't see each other's work, but we both managed to make the same mistake with the starting point of the brick pattern. Spooky!

Thursday, 11 April 2019


There's nothing like the Edinburgh Festival season; Jazz Festival, Film Festival, Fringe and of course The Edinburgh International Festival. During the Festival period, allegedly, real Edinburgh people go abroad for two months and rent out their houses to festival goers at exorbitant rates. Since I don't know anyone who does that, I'm prepare to believe that it's a vile calumny on the good citizens of our beautiful city. That said, I do tend to avoid 'going up the town' during The Festival.

Which brings me on to March 2003 and "Festivals"

This was another Patchworks Macmillan Challenge. I had seen the fabrics a week before the start of the challenge and they had not spoken to me, but when they became available the colours made me think about the view from my kitchen window, looking south towards Calton Hill, Arthur's Seat and over the New Town to the castle. Apart from the bright orange, the colours were mostly dark and subdued. It struck me that they could be cut and layered to look like the rooftops seen through the summer darkness and then various outlines of buildings and windows could be stitched on top of the fabric.
There is a massive fireworks display every year to accompany a classical concert, so I put in the orange from the pack as a narrow line to show the glow of low level fireworks, with circles of brighter fabric for the cascades from higher flying rockets. There are usually searchlights so I added the two bands of light coming from Calton Hill (on the left) and the castle (right) to make a St Andrews Cross. The pack included the blue star fabric at the top - I did not stitch all the little stars myself! As a wise person once told me, "Life's too short for stuffing mushrooms."

Festivals came out a bit 'rough and ready', I could have done a better job of the silhouettes and the hand embroidery, but I enjoyed making it, and that, after all is the important point. We should enjoy  our embroidery, even those bits that didn't go too well.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

I Finished The Chapter

For those who have been following the creation of "The Chapter" as documented in the Page of that name, it is finished and framed. It took me 120 hours to stitch this and now that it's framed I think it was worth the counting, the miscounting, the ripping and re-stitching.

Next I'll do something completely different.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Just For Fun

In 2002 I was asked if I would be prepared to act as the 'Class Angel' for ANG Cyber Classes. The class I was appointed to was called "Just For Fun" and was taught by Caela Conn Tyler.
The Class Angel looks after the 'paperwork' and is not required to take part in the class, but the techniques and threads looked interesting, so I signed up for it.

The techniques included beading, ribbon weaving and a wheen of stitches I had not yet tried. The kit also included threads I had never worked with including rayon and ribbons. One important lesson I learned was how to use a damp sponge to take the kinks out of Rayon threads.
The course started in April 2003 and I completed this in June 2003. It was, as the title suggests, lots of fun, and it also gave me the opportunity to see how much organisation goes into preparing a class.
Much respect to all teachers!

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Fawny of Eight

Bedroom Games was a bit of a marathon, but I didn't work exclusively on that. I stitched a number of other projects during the same period.

There was a time when I only ever worked on one project. "You can't be a real embroiderer until you're working on a number of projects at once," I was told. (No names, no pack-drill!)
So this may have been about when I became a 'real embroiderer'! It certainly helped me get past the 'godai'* of Bedroom Games.

I needed something smaller as a change from the quilt, and I knew that I really needed to increase my repertoire of stitches. I didn't want to do a traditional band or block sampler, so I came up with this.

I decided to call it "Fawny of Eight", a play on the heraldic "Gyronny of Eight" as it was all done using the same hank of Appleton's Crewel wool and it contained eight different stitches, not including the border.

Working round from the top right corner they are:
(Obviously) Basket-weave, Woven Stitch, Twill Variation, Horizontal Brick, Scotch Stitch, Florentine, Byzantine and Upright Brick. I have since learned that some of these stitches have different names in different places, and some of the names can be applied to another stitch - that's life!
Whatever the names you may know these stitches by, it was an excellent exercise in learning new stitches and working out how to compensate them.

I stitched this between March and July 2002. I think of it as a 'stash' piece because nothing new was purchased. The canvas was already in the house, and the Appleton's was left over from the chair I posted about in October 2018.

* 'godai': The point you hit on any large piece of work, no matter how much you love the design. Extrapolated from the phrase "God I hate this". It hits me at least once in every project, but the trick is never to let it overwhelm you because you know that if you push yourself past that stage and complete the project you (or someone else) is going to love it.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Bedroom Games


It's a quilt of course. The inspiration came from seeing a black-work chess board. I did consider, for a few moments, a chess-board quilt. (Hmm! Thinks! Maybe next year?)
For some twisted reason my mind jumped from chess-boards to board games, which then reminded me of childhood illnesses.
That might not appear to be a pleasant memory, but coming from a large family, when something like measles or mumps hit one, it hit us all. We'd all be put into the same large bedroom (you could fit in eight in bunk beds) and when we had recovered enough we would be given board games to play. (Let's not talk about the bad loser who would kick the bedclothes and upset the game!)

Leastways and whatever, it made me think of the games and how easy it might be to create the game boards in fabric. That led on to the question of which games. It didn't take long to select them, longer to decide which order to put them in.
The top row is Tiddlywinks, then Backgammon, then Noughts and Crosses.
The centre row is Nine-Men's-Morris, Chess and Solitaire.
The bottom row is Snakes & Ladders, Ludo and Go.
I suppose that the inner border could be used for a game too, and the outer border is a wonderfully dot strewn cotton that could be game counters or the patient's spots.

All the parts of the quilt were cut and folded using English Piecing, with each block completed separately then joined together with red sashing. The sashing between the boards is bias binding. The embroidered snakes, ladders and numbers on the Snakes & Ladders board were added after the hundred squares had been sewn together, but before it was joined to the other blocks. The motifs on the inner border, including four trains, a lightbulb and a tap were appliqued in place before quilting, but were not themselves quilted.

Making the boards was fun, putting it together less so. The cottons were firm because I don't remove the papers until I have completed the quilt top, but the bias binding kept trying to show off its snake like propensity to wiggle off on its own.
The quilting is worked in diagonal Vs starting from the centre of the chess board.

It took nearly 18 months to build this quilt. I started it in March 2002 and did not finish it until August 2004. This quilt is a full double bed sized quilt, and that's where it lives, on our bed.

Monday, 4 March 2019

A Smile of Relief

This small quilted hanging was worked as a challenge.
One of the Patchwork & Quilting shops decided to run a Challenge in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief.  The shop sold a pack of the Challenge Fabric and the purchaser was expected to create a quilt or hanging from it. We were allowed to use additional fabrics, but as much as possible of the Challenge Fabric was to be used. There was also a size limitation as the Challenge creations were to be exhibited.

I took up the challenge, but I didn't have the least idea what I was going to do.
(A recent conversation with Jane-Beth confirmed that when I start a project I often don't have a clue how to do what I want, in order to achieve the final result I want - yeah, so that's how I learn.)
So I looked at the fabric for a while, I sighed, I despaired, then I had an idea. Make something based on the Macmillan Logo.
But what? The CR of the logo at the time was a flowing script of green ribbon with the C & R knotting together. One of the phrases they used in their advertising referred to the smile of the patient when the Macmillan Nurse came to call. The Logo became the eyes and nose and the Challenge fabric became the face with smiling lips.

All I had to do was cut the fabric, piece the fabric, find a backing and quilt it. (Doesn't sound like much when you say it quickly.)

The design was made up of 1" squares using English Piecing. The only fabrics I added were the border, the red of the lips, the dark blue round the head and the two greens at the eyes and nose. The Challenge Fabrics were the pinks and lavenders of the face and the pale greys of the eyes.

I started this in June 2002 and finished it in September 2002. At the exhibition, and much to my surprise, someone asked if they could buy it. Well blow me down! Of course! They named a price and I said to make the cheque out to Macmillan's.

Thursday, 21 February 2019


It took me nearly a year to stitch this. I started it in June 2001 and completed it in May 2002. The design is from the JEC in Atlanta and is called Suehiro, or Golden Fan.

Design Copyright Japanese Embroidery Center

This is my Phase II piece. It was a big step up from Nejiri-bana (post of 14th September 2018). The second, 4th and 6th sections from the left are motifs I learned when stitching my Phase I. Compared to the rest they were the simple parts. The 1st, 3rd and 5th sections are worked in flat or twisted silk and then a further pattern stitched on top, while the 7th is couched Japanese Gold.

All things are comparative, that is to say that compared to 3 and 5, section 1 is comparatively simple. First I covered the area with flat silk satin stitch, the stitches running in the same direction as the weft, then I added the superimposed pattern. The pattern is called Sayagata (Lightning) and is achieved by couching a Japanese Silver metallic over the stitched area in a series of zig-zags in a traditional format. What's really clever about it is that all of the couched silver is one unbroken length.

Area 3 is a base of twisted silk which is then topped with a grid of thin metal threads couched at the meeting points to form a star like pattern known as Flax Leaf. The position of each of the superimposed threads has to be measured accurately (in millimetres) or the pattern will not work. Trust me on this, I know how many times I had to take back a thread because it was a fraction out.

Segment 5 is called Tie-dye. It is created by stitching the dark thread between and over (never through) the base of flat silk (again stitched with the weft of the fabric) and is achieved by careful counting.

The far right, 7th segment, including the circular end, is Japanese Gold, couched every other twist, working from the outside into the centre. You might ask why not work from the centre out? What can I say? It just doesn't work if you do that. The angles at the end will not meet properly and the circle will want to become an oval.
Whatever else you learn from what feels like miles of couching, you do learn patience. I suppose you also learn to be accurate first time. All it needs if for the couching thread to cross the gold at anything other than 90 degrees and it screams out at you, giving you no choice but to pick it all the way back and correct it. Yep, I had to do that a number of times!

At first sight many people assume that the background of the superimposed areas is applique, but every part of Suehiro is stitched by hand, including the cords.

I wasn't counting hours at the time, but looking back I consider that every hour I spent working on Suehiro was time well spent.

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'.

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.
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.