Doodlestitching

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, Stitches with tags , , , , , , , on August 17, 2018 by suetortoise

I do like making bookmarks. They are small enough not to take too long, big enough to be satisfying, and very suitable as carry-around projects.

They are also great for just doodling with stitches. This one is on 14 count Aida fabric in cross stitch and slanting Slav, with a buttonhole stitch edging. I made it up entirely as I went along, starting with the edging, then positioning my main shapes and finally filling in the smaller shapes and the background grid of cross stitches. That’s a very relaxing way to stitch – no pattern to follow, no pressure. Just do it!

This bookmark was worked with two strands of a fine spun-rayon thread, in white, deep pink and a variegated pink/grey. But it could just as easily have used stranded cotton, silk, or anything that would make a plump cross stitch on this fabric.

Aida is a very ugly fabric, so I made sure I didn’t leave any holes completely unstitched, even though there is quite a lot of ground showing between the spaced crosses. That allowed me to take advantage of Aida’s sturdiness and ease of use, while avoiding its harsh, mechanical look. I used cotton thread for the cord that holds the tassel, for strength. The back was not perfectly neat, as I wasn’t planning ahead, so I backed it with some lightweight iron-on interfacing. I stitched it down around the inside of the buttonhole edging so it won’t pull away if the glue loses its grip over time. 

Another good thing about bookmarks is that they only take a little fabric, thread and time. If they go completely wrong you haven’t lost much and you may well have learnt something useful. You can afford to experiment and try out ideas. I wasn’t expecting this one to ‘work’ – but I’m very pleased with it.

So if you want a little challenge, take a strip of fabric, pick a few colours, decide on few stitches and just design as you go. See what happens when you just relax and doodlestitch. (Warning; this can be addictive!)

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Needle Threading 101

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , on July 13, 2018 by suetortoise

I once saw a picture that I would love to have used for the start of this post, but I’ve failed to track down a copy. It was a nineteenth century engraving of little girls in infant school, learning to thread needles. It was entitled ‘Needle Drill’. So you will have to imagine the two rows of children in white pinafores and the looks of concentration on their faces.

What struck me about that picture was that the children were obviously being taught to poke the thread (held up in one hand), through the needle’s eye (held up in the other). That’s a very hard way of doing it! Even a stiff thread is difficult to thread into a needle when both are held in the air. Most of our embroidery threads and yarns are flexible, soft, fluffy or flossy, often used in multiple strands. They are very resistant to being poked into needles!

There’s a much, much easier way to do it. It’s quick and it usually goes right first time. It’s almost essential for threading stranded threads or soft yarns easily. It doesn’t require a needle-threader or extra-sharp eyesight. I know the chances are that many of you reading this already know a good method that works well for you: either this one or a very similar method. If you don’t need the how-to pictures, feel free to skip the rest of this article.

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To Talk of Many Things

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, out and about, science fiction, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 29, 2018 by suetortoise

So what has happened since my last post in March.

I went to the annual Sewing for Pleasure event at the NEC in Birmingham in March was well worth visiting, and an excuse to meet up with Rachel of Virtuosew Adventures. We enjoyed looking at the trade stands and the exhibits. Perhaps nothing as impressive as last year’s court costumes, but there were some fine old kimonos on show, and a display of embroidered panels that were a collaboration between European textile artists and Afghani embroiderers. Both of these displays were worth seeing – as was Rachel’s crochet bag on its first outing.

I managed to restrain myself fairly well. Here is my loot from the day:
The strange brown plastic thing is a lucet – an impulse purchase thanks to a very persuasive ‘luceteer’, Ziggy. My own attempts at making cord have not been very successful yet, and I suspect that this gadget will end up in the back of a drawer. I don’t seem to have the knack.

Easter was spent at the British National Science Fiction Convention, Follycon, in Harrogate. Appalling weather, endless rain, cold winds and even some snow, but I had a fine time. Some good talks, including Kim Stanley Robinson on Galileo and Nick Jackson on some female mathematicians. And we had an Easter bonnet parade at a splendid Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A fairly successful art show for me, and my stitching workshop on ‘Darned Planets’ went surprisingly well. A dozen people learnt how to do some simple pattern darning to create a textured area on a card (one of my samples is at the start of this post), and I learnt how few people know how to thread a needle easily. (I could do a post on that if anyone is interested.) Here’s the group busy making their planets, in an unsettlingly-mirrored room in the Majestic Hotel.

Another highlight of that weekend was a concert by Jon Boden and two of his Remnant Kings, just for us. About a month later, I saw him on stage at Theatre Severn with the whole group. A fine noise they make, too! At the end of May I saw the excellent Celtic band Breabach there. Last weekend it was Ralph McTell and Wiz Jones getting amazingly complex sounds out of a couple of guitars. (The usual album stall outside in the interval seemed to be selling as many guitar-tab books as CDs.)

Sometime last year, I was looking at some illuminated manuscript illustrations online, and found one that I very much want to do as a piece of embroidery. It’s from the Aberdeen Bestiary and is the illustration to The Wolf. The photo on Wikipedia is HERE. It’s going to be a long-term project, preceded by several practice pieces. The first one is just the small wolf standing on the sheepfold roof. I started it before Easter but struggled with it. I could not get the shading on the wolf to look right. In the end, after a lot of unpicking, I left it for a month and came back to it fresh. This time it went much better. I was happy.

Until I took it off the hoop, that is. I used lemon-cream coloured silk dupion for the base fabric, tacked over Egyptian-cotton sheeting – the double layer was very easy to stitch through. The thread is all silk – a mixture of Chinese silk and Devere Yarns 06 silk. Despite having a heavy build-up of silk thread in the shaded areas, it had stayed very flat in the hoop. No puckering. I was very pleased. But as soon as I got the damp cloth and warm iron on it, ready to mount it – disaster. Between the legs, under the tail and head and below the roof – horrible puckers in the unstitched silk fabric. Pinning it out damp did not solve the problem. I was nearly in tears by this time. The next day I very slowly and carefully cut away the cotton backing outside the stitching area. (Trying to separate the layers between the legs was fraught, but I did manage to get my scissor-points through the cotton without damaging the silk – eventually.) Then I blocked the silk and got rid of most of the puckers. A second firm pinning out, pulled tight over the foamcore mount board, and it looks okay. Well, okay-ish. (I resorted to gluing the fabric down on the back of the board before removing the pins, just to be extra sure it woud stay put.) I am very glad that this was only a sample, not the whole piece. I guess I’ve learnt a lot in the process!

Now I am looking forward to starting a new small project. I think it will be counted thread for a change, before I go back to another silk piece. I found some light grey 32 count Zweigart linen in a charity shop last month, and it keeps waving at me and asking to be used. I shall consult my books and resources and ponder….

One final thing: the WordPress stats tell me that I get a lot of visitors to this site, but very few visitors leave comments or ask questions. I do like to get some feedback on my blog posts. Otherwise it feels like I am just talking to myself and the one or two (very welcome) regular comment writers, and I get discouraged. And, as always, if there is something you would like me to write about – embroidery techniques in particular – let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Going for Gold

Posted in Embroidery, museum, Needlework, out and about, Stitches, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2018 by suetortoise

Hanny Newton (standing on left) and about two thirds of our workshop group busy with their stitching.

I have just spent the day at an excellent goldwork workshop, here in Shrewsbury.

Hanny Newton is RSN trained. She produces beautiful work: combining technical excellence with fascinating simple design. Have a look on her website – although photography never does goldwork full justice. She’s a very good tutor: inspiring learning by experiment, rather than pedantic coursework, but able to give lots of tips and pointers.

I have never had a great urge to get into goldwork as such – although it is hard not to be a little tempted after today’s workshop. However, this day was focussed on couching, and knew I did need help with that! I’ve let myself down with bad couching when I have wanted to edge silkwork with metal thread (an effect I really love), so I went hoping for help and tips. I wasn’t disappointed. I have come home with lots of good advice about the thread to use (fine passing) and how to get it to sit neatly in place – and to stay there.

We were in a beautifully light room, in the barrel-vaulted attic of a medieval mansion house, part of Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery. We were one storey above the Corbett Bed, and I think that some benign influence from that feast of stitching percolated up to inspire us.

It was a relaxed and friendly day, everyone enjoyed it and learnt from it. My humble efforts are hardly worth showing here, but I was there to learn, and I hope that I can practice and do better. You can see rather wobbly lines of couching, some playing about with buttonhole stitch as a couching technique (one of the triangles is detached buttonhole stitch) and an attempt to couch down a big twisted cord, going from very visible stitches to hidden stitches. That one was not much of a success (I was getting tired by then), but all the experimenting was valuable.

Thanks to Hanny for an excellent day’s stitching, and to Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery for setting it up for us and providing refreshments. More please!

On Friday I am off to Sewing For Pleasure at the NEC in Birmingham. I will be touring the embroidery supplies stands looking for fine passing thread!

Just a quick one!

Posted in Christmas with tags , , on December 24, 2017 by suetortoise

Happy Christmas from The Tortoise Loft

Normal service will be resumed soon, I promise. Meanwhile, here is the tree on my windowsill. Thank you for your comments and emails during the year – they make the blog worth doing.

Silk from China

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , on June 20, 2017 by suetortoise

As regular readers will know… (Hello, Regular Readers of Tortoise Loft – The Blog. Thanks for sticking around!) My usual go-to silk thread is DeVere Yarns lovely 06 silk. Fine, smooth, filament silk with a very slight single twist to make it manageable. It comes on neat cardboard bobbins and in a good (and slowly increasing) range of colours. I can highly recommend it.

I’ve recently got hold of some Chinese filament silk through eBay. I thought you might like to have a look at it.  Thread purchases from eBay can be somewhat of a lucky dip – I’ve bought ‘pearl cotton’ that was actually spun rayon (very nice rayon – I use the thread a lot) and ‘real silk’ that was just filament rayon. I didn’t want to pay a high price for the Chinese ‘silk’ without knowing what it would be like. I’ve been hankering after some for a year or more. Fortunately I got a pack for the minimum bid price recently. (This was on my third attempt – previously I’d been thoroughly outbid.) Continue reading

The Stash

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by suetortoise

I’ve been wanting to write about “stash” for a while: those boxes, drawers, cupboards and bags full of fabrics and threads, half-finished projects, purchasing failures, patterns, kits, books and equipment that accumulate around embroidery and craft people. Stock that we so often find ourselves embarrassed by and apologising for. Creative textile people generate stash. Most of us end up with far more than we can use in lifetime (and still don’t have quite the colour or type of thing we want for the next project).

“I’ve got far too much stuff, I’m sorry!”

Stop apologising for stash. It’s a resource. It’s stock. It’s the educational toy you can play with to learn new things, try out new stitches and techniques. It’s the bits and bobs you can spare to get a child or a friend started on the hobby, or provide just the right thing for someone else’s project. It’s an emergency supply for when you can’t afford or can’t find materials to use. It’s sheer inspiration: textures, colours, weights, combinations: options that you can get to know and that will suggest uses and ideas and become part of your mental toolbox when you design. Riches to be quietly proud of, not some sort of waste that needs using up like kitchen left-overs. With a few exceptions, fabric and threads will stay good and stay usable for a long, long time. Enjoy it, look at it, play with it, learn it.

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