Puzzling out a Mexican sampler

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, whitework with tags , , , , , , on May 13, 2020 by suetortoise

Back in 2015, I was looking at Mexican samplers online, and saved and printed a picture which showed some cut and pulled openwork in the top left of one example. It’s a late 1800s Mexican sampler, but I don’t know any more than that. I don’t know which exhibition or saleroom or museum collection it came from. (I thought that it was the Cooper Hewitt, but I can’t spot it in their online collection, so I am probably wrong. I have been looking, and I will keep looking, because I really don’t like to put pictures on this blog uncredited. If anyone recognises it, please, please let me know!) This is it:

I came across the print while tidying up, just after the start of the Covid 19 lockdown, and thought it would be a good project while I am spending so much time at home. I really fancied some fiddly whitework after finishing Tom. Trying to figure out the patterns from this rather battered and frayed piece, of work is quite a challenge. I decided to use some 32 count Zweigart écru linen, stitched with a matching Sajou Fil Dentelles au Chinoise (which is a size 80 cotton lacemaking thread). This is a thinner thread in comparison to the weight of the fabric than that used by the long-ago Mexican schoolgirl.

There are eight pattern squares. I have now finished the first four. To give you a taste of the fun I am having,  here is my printout of the first of these squares, which is what I have to work from:

And here it is on my fabric:

They are not all quite as bad as that one, but most are quite a puzzle! I didn’t like the chain-stitch silk edging, which has not really helped preserve the edges of the squares, so I did a narrow padded edging instead. That seemed to take forever, but I eventually got to the fun bit. I suspect that the original is leave 3 cut 2, as it looks about right, but it’s a bit of a guess. Anyway, I settled on that. The “squares” on the original vary from 15 x 11 groups of three to 16 x 16. I have used 16 x 16 throughout, for neatness.

Readers of my Facebook page, or of Mary Corbett’s Needle’n’Thread Facebook group, will have seen this project progressing. I am now working on the remaining four patterns, which I am repeating at both ends of the row, to make a longer, more balanced piece, six squares long and two deep. It might turn into a small table runner, or it may stay as a sampler. I wasn’t really expecting it to work out so well, but so far, so good!

Have you got a Lockdown Project in progress?

Tom of Oswestry

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , , on April 1, 2020 by suetortoise

In my last post, I talked about the workshop that Tanya Bentham of Opus Anglicanum blog ran at Ewe & Ply in Oswestry. (Yes, once upon a time we could do things like that, children.) I didn’t feel like stitching at the start of the virus lockdown, I was too stressed. So it has taken me a while to get back into it, but then I was eager to pick up a needle again. Tom is finally finished, and here he is:

I struggled to get his head right. About three or four unpickings. Fortunately the linen was sturdy enough to take that much punishment. The original drawing was just the cat, bow and arrow and a plain hillock for him to stand on, but I wanted a little more. I wanted smaller arrowhead. I wanted a bird on the arrow, and that turned into a robin. Then I wanted flowers at the bottom to echo the robin’s orange-red breast, and they sort of took on a life of their own. 

Anyway, I am very pleased with the end result. This is a big piece by my usual standards, the stitched area is 20cm high. I wanted the linen to be less obviously white. I couldn’t dye it now it was mostly stitched, but I eventually solved that by using a bright canary yellow card beneath the fabric. It warms the background just enough, although I can’t get it to look right in a photo. I haven’t taken him off the frame and mounted him yet. I am really pleased with Tom, and I hope to get him properly framed eventually. When we have framing shops again…

Meanwhile, someone wanted a chart for the virus for a “Wash Your Hands!” sign. So here it is for you, in case you also have a use for it. You can work the beads as smyrna stitches or French knots. Feel free to use it, to adapt it and to pass it on to others, if you wish. 

Look after yourselves, people. 

Have you been doing more stitching or other creative things recently, or have you been too stressed? 

Wheels, Workshops and Water

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, out and about with tags , , , , , on March 2, 2020 by suetortoise

My National Bus Pass became valid in January, and I have been making use of it for shopping and other sensible things, and for a bit of out-and-abouting. Plans to do more of this have been somewhat messed up by weather and flooding, but I hope to do more once we’ve dried out a bit. There are even several local bus routes that I have never taken. Admittedly, most of them end up going around housing estates, but you never know until you take them. The longer routes do usually go somewhere more interesting or useful, and also places good for a walk or a meal.

There was a small advert for workshops in the window of Ewe and Ply in Shrewsbury Market just after New Year. I only glanced at it, as their workshops are usually knitting or other woolly things, and I don’t get on with wool. But the name “Tanya Bentham” caught my eye and ensured a second look. I enjoy Tanya’s excellent blog, Opus Anglicanum, and I am in awe of her talent for, and knowledge about, medieval embroidery. I have already done a couple of her stitchalong projects from the blog, so I know she is a good ‘explainer’. Tanya was coming to run a day workshop on laid and couched work at Ewe and Ply’s woolshop (and teashop) in Oswestry, north Shropshire. It was only a couple of weeks away, but there were still places left, so I booked up. I even used my buss pass on a “dry run” trip to Oswestry to check I could arrive in good time and to find where to go. I was so much looking forward to meeting Tanya.

Just before the big day, a phonecall. They had not got enough people signed up. It wasn’t happening. But would I like to transfer to the one on the 22nd of February instead, which already had enough people? Oh yes.

And then the weather turned very, very wet and the waters rose, and there were floods in Shrewsbury. Not that I am in danger of flooding up here, on the top of a hill in the middle of town, but the bus station was underwater and I wasn’t sure whether the Oswestry bus would be able to run, even if I walked out to the temporary terminus. But yes, the water levels began to fall and by the time Saturday 22nd arrived all was well with the buses.

Tanya is great fun, her work is wonderful: she brought so many hangings and panels I never did get to see them all. Seven of us were somewhat jammed into Ewe and Ply’s workroom, with a choice of design and colours and all the help we needed.  Much chatter and laughter, and a lot of useful advice and hard work. Here are some of the group showing their progress.

Teri of Ewe and Ply provided refreshments and most of us had the Pot Luck lunch from the teashop. If you are looking for tea or coffee and home made cakes in Oswestry, I can heartily recommend The Eclectic Tearoom.  Pot Luck that day was a spicy bean stew: tasty and good.

I chose a design of a cat with a bow and arrow, from an old manuscript. I got a fair bit done, but there is a long way to go yet. Here it is so far, although I think I will re-stitch some of it. I have several other things to get done for an Easter deadline, so it may be a while before I get much further with “Tom of Oswestry”. Tanya’s partner Gareth made the frame. It’s sturdy and strong. Most of us paid to keep them. (The pens and things around the edge are compensating for my too-slack lacing-up. Easier than re-doing all the lacing – and very effective, if you ever need some extra tension.) I am not using Tanya’s beautifully dyed wools for Tom, just boring fine acrylics, because of my silly skin. This workshop was my Christmas present to myself. A bit later than intended, but well worth waiting for.


I was very glad that the workshop was on the Saturday – by Sunday the rivers were coming back up and the floods were coming back. Here is the bus station on Tuesday morning:

Tanya’s isn’t the only workshop I have been to. The local library had a session on Colour in English and Persian Calligraphy, run by Sohrab Samari. He gave us all a word to play with, along with pens and inks and colours and examples. We learned a bit about the history of Persian, he showed us how to write our names, he even sang us a song! It was only an hour long, so we didn’t have time to do much, but it was great fun. Here’s my effort: the word means ‘happy’ – I don’t know how legible it is to anyone who reads Persian, but I am happy!

 

T’was the night before Christmas…

Posted in Christmas, Embroidery, everyday life with tags , , on January 4, 2020 by suetortoise

IMG_04012020_111420_(300_x_400_pixel)It was Christmas eve and I was having a quiet, lazy evening after a very pleasant afternoon with my friend Sam, who had come for tea and a good, long natter. Now she had gone home, and I sat by myself in my comfortable chair, feet up on a stool, cards on the shelves beside me and the old tree glowing cheerfully on the window sill. I’d just started watching the DVD of Hogfather, and I was almost falling asleep….

The doorbell rang.

I toddled to the entry phone and talked to someone who knew my name and had something for me, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what she was saying. “Hold on, I’ll come down.” I said.

At the street door was a stranger bearing a big red basket of good food, a card and a bunch of flowers. They were from the owner of the newly opened bar next door. This was utterly, totally unexpected. And so very kind.

There is a Santa Claus.

I have treated myself to some “goodies” that will last a little longer than the chocolates, pies, nibbles and other edibles. These are Sajou Fil Dentelle au Chinois,Cocons Calais little cocoons of lovely cotton lace thread, barely thicker than sewing thread. It is very smooth, obviously good for very fine crochet but good for stitching and hand-sewing too. The cocoon is all thread, no core, pulling tidily from the centre, And, oh, so pretty!

I spotted them in the wool shop in Shrewsbury Market Hall, Ewe and Ply, back in October, and I have been adding two or three to my collection most weeks. There are 72 colours in the full range, 24 of them variegated, and I have only collected 33 so far.

What else have I been playing with? Counted fly stitch. Oh, it makes some great patterns, even on humble Aida fabric. Here’s a design I made for cards:

IMG_04012020_111332_(300_x_400_pixel)And here are some further experiments on some leftover aida:

IMG_04012020_111217_(400_x_400_pixel).jpgThe finest thread on this little try-out is the Sajou, so you can see it has Possibilities.

What have you been playing with recently?

 

 

 

Good Wishes from the Tortoise Loft

Posted in everyday life, Uncategorized with tags , on December 18, 2019 by suetortoise

Hello, again. Thank you for your patience! Yes, I am still alive and looking forward to getting back to blogging more frequently from now on. (Yes, I have said that quite a few times before, haven’t I?)

Things didn’t go exactly to plan this year. My health has been iffy, there have been a few other problems. But I am back, in time to wish you the compliments of the festive season and a very happy and peaceful 2020. The tree is up and lit.

IMG_18122019_155426_(400_x_600_pixel)

My big news of the year is that I have retired. It has taken some getting adjusted to, but I am starting to feel the benefit now.

I have more time to stitch, I can get to daytime events easily and I have joined a couple of craft groups. I can make the best of a fine day, not sit staring at it from the office window. There’s less stress, less rush, less hassle. I may have less money, but I have more time.

I have things to show you and tell you, but they will have to wait for my next post. You won’t have too long to wait for it – I promise!

 

With knobs on!

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, science fiction with tags , , , , on April 17, 2019 by suetortoise

Just a quick one, as I am about to rush off to Heathrow for the annual Easter Science Fiction Convention in the morning. We are staying in a hotel near the airport. (The names of these Easter meet-ups vary from year to year. This year it is called Ytterbium.) As usual, I will be involved in the art show there. As I’ve already mentioned. I have been busy making bookmarks. In order to display them to good advantage on my fairly limited table space, I wanted to lift them up from the table a bit. Ideally, I wanted one stand, but long enough to take all five bookmarks in a row.

 

I spent a long time looking in Rymans, The Works and a couple of other likely shops here in Shrewsbury, but to no avail. Nothing suitable. Nothing long enough. Nothing light enough. It was frustrating. In the end I gave up and decided I would have to concoct something homemade with cardboard.

The rest of my shopping list that day was boring: groceries and household stuff, including loo rolls. I went into Wilkinsons homeware store for the loo rolls. On the way to the bathroom section, I passed through the toy section. Where my eye was caught by some large baseplates for building bricks (not Lego, but Wilko’s own budget brand, Blox). Hmm, those grey baseplates look as thought they might be about the right size, they are very light and they seem rigid enough. I wonder if it is worth buying one, and some blocks to make a ledge along the bottom, and trying it…?

To cut a long story short, I bought one and it was exactly the right size. Spot on. The bookmarks are a perfect fit. With an old folding bookrest of mine (at least 50 years old) to support the plate, what could be better? What is more, the plate is also exactly the right size to fit flat in the bottom of my big sports bag, so no problems with transporting it on the train tomorrow.

I do love serendipity!

Ytterbium, here I come…

Meet the Empress

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, out and about with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2019 by suetortoise

I’ve got some catching up to do. I’ve got several finished pieces to show you, but I shall talk about just two for now, and my trip to Stitching for Pleasure.

This is the stitched box I started a while back (here’s the first post I made on its progress). It took almost forever – all that metallic thread, very hard on the fingers! The last stitch went in just at the end of February. I call this one “Empress of Mars”.

Here’s a close up of the lid, to show off the texture and the central decoration. The pink cut-glass beads came from an old necklace. I attached them with strong thread, before hiding that with metallic thread on top.

On Friday, I went to Stitching For Pleasure at the NEC, once again meeting up with Rachel from Virtuosew Adventures, for a natter and a look around the stalls and the exhibitions. Rachel’s superb piece “Leaving the Tyne” was on show in the Embroiderers’ Guild display of their “100 Hearts”. I was pleased to see it was one of three given pride of place right at the front entrance.

On my wants list this year were some more colours of Gütermann Sulky Cotton 12 – which I found on the Barnyarns stand, Some Stef Francis Superfine silk thread from the Silk Mill stand, a couple of fat quarters from Bombay Stores, and some offcuts of evenweave from Fabric Flair which I think was on the Yorkshire Book Company stand. I was remarkably restrained and didn’t buy anything not on my list, this year, despite temptation. Although I did come home with a portable, rechargeable LED lamp. I was only intending to look at the different models this visit, but i made my mind up quite easily. I’ll talk about that on another post, as I haven’t yet tried it out properly. All in all, a very successful and enjoyable day out, but very tiring.

There’s nothing like a day spent looking at supplies and lovely finished pieces to get the old fingers itching to try things out. Needless to say, I ended up spending much of this weekend making yet another bookmark. This one is on a piece of 28 count cotton evenweave from my Fabric Flair purchases at the NEC. It’s printed with pale blue random ‘clouds’ and is stitched with one strand of a slightly darker blue stranded cotton (two strands for the buttonhole stitch edging). Stitches used include double cross, tiny eyelets, a big spider eyelet and something like a double leviathan stitch. I’m quite pleased with this one. I think it’s made something quite delicate out of a somewhat unprepossessing piece of fabric.

A Bookmark Evolves

Posted in Darwin, Embroidery, Needlework, shrewsbury, Stitches with tags , , , , , on February 16, 2019 by suetortoise

Another bookmark? Well, you know how I like making bookmarks! There was this little counted-thread pattern that I was playing around with on Monday night. It’s a close relative of some of the other woven stitches I have been playing with over the last few years. I woke up on Tuesday morning, looked at my doodle cloth and thought: what can I do with that stitch? I definitely wanted to play with the variegated colours of Gütermann Sulky Cotton 12 that I have collected over he years. That pattern worked in blocks of four, and these gorgeous colours… There was a strip of 32 count linen on the table and it was my day off…. Continue reading

The Dragon is Stitched

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 3, 2019 by suetortoise

 

Okay, so I do still take have to it out of the hoop, add my signature (the one you can see is just pasted onto the photo) and get it ready for putting into a mount. But the stitching is done, and I must say I am rather pleased with how it came out. I put the last stitches in on the first of February, so it doesn’t quite count as a January finish, but it’s still the first finished piece of the year. The background fabric looks too blue in this photo. It’s white Egyptian cotton from Empress Millls. The rest of the colours are about right in the photo – perhaps a little dark, but not far off. Continue reading

Eyes On Stalks

Posted in everyday life, Needlework with tags , , on January 22, 2019 by suetortoise

I have a new tool. Shrewsbury has a QVC shop that sells returns and left-overs from a shopping channel. It’s the sort of place which is about 90% tat, but the occasional gem lurks among the polyester clothing and strange household gadgets. Yesterday I acquired a wearable magnifier, which I rather expected to be a waste of money. I have tried-on headbands and spectacle-type magnifiers before, and found them too heavy, too uncomfortable or simply not angled right for embroidery. (I dislike round-the-neck and magnifying lamps because they make me sit too still in order to see the work.) This one was reduced to £4.99, so would probably prove another purchasing mistake….

Continue reading