Experiments inspired by (yet another) old book

Posted in books, Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , , , on November 1, 2015 by suetortoise

Firstly, a big hello to some new readers, who have found Tortoise Loft thanks to the amazing Mary Corbet of Needle’N’Thread blog. You are very welcome. Please feel free to join in the comments.

Blue openwork chart

The Internet Archive has been busy putting illustrations from its collection of books onto Flickr, where the picture quality often better than on the book version on its own site. (This is great news if you’ve been straining your eyes trying to resolve unclear illustrations – although the original print quality is often poor, so there’s always a limit to what can be seen.) That was how I came across a book called Broderies des paysannes de Smolensk from 1913, showing some interesting counted cutwork done in several colours rather than just white. Here’s a link to the Flickr pages, and to the book on Internet Archive.

A quick aside: in case you haven’t already noticed, the British Library has recently started doing the same thing – another little goldmine of book illustrations, diagrams, decorative initials, chapter headings and printers flourishes on Flickr. Some of the initials and chapter headings in particular seem to be just crying out to be rendered in embroidery…

At the top of the page is a chart I made based on this illustration from Broideries des paysannes… I have played with the colours as I wanted them to suit some light blue fabric.

Anyway, show me a counted-thread technique which I haven’t met before and I’m just dying to figure out how to do it, and eager to have a go for myself. Which is what is going on in this picture.

Smolensk square in progress

I’m getting the hang of it, I think. From what I can make out of the French text, the original embroideries were worked in linen thread on homespun linen, both home-dyed. I’ve made things a bit difficult for myself by using silk thread on linen. It would be easier to work with something a bit less slippery, but I do love silk. This is 32-count evenweave fabric. (The illustrations show fabric that is not evenweave, and I do think these old geometrical designs look more interesting with a bit of distortion.) This square is an experiment, a chance to find my own way of working and learn how to plan the routes for the stitching: quite a lot of zig-zagging around is required.  I’m not claiming to be doing the technique the ‘right’ way – I just tried things until I got an effect that seemed close to the original. It’s not quick. I’ll be very glad when the brown section is finished, I seem to have been stitching with brown for years!

Another aside: you can also see my personal solution for managing spools of silk. One spool, one little grip-top bag (these bags came from a craft shop). The spools can’t rub on each other in their storage box or in my workbag, won’t roll off the table and don’t usually need to come out of the bags while I’m working – unless I lose the end of the thread. I’ve been cursing silk a lot less since I began using these little bags.

I’ll let you see a picture of the final result when I have completed the square. (Reading this back, I suspect that a certain friend of mine will try to turn that last remark into a mathematical joke. Please ignore him, as usual.)

The Blue Bird of Moderate Satisfaction

Posted in Embroidery with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2015 by suetortoise

As soon as I brought home the Chinese panels I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to have a go at the bird on the green panel. (Despite the colour, it looks like a blackbird to me.)

embroidery of a bird in shades of blue on green silk fabric

I’ve been itching to do some silk shading, and I had a piece of rich green dupion silk (grass green weft on a fine black warp), just asking to be used for it.
I decided to limit myself to materials from my stash, as this was very much a learning piece. I backed the silk dupion with some lightweight cotton interfacing which I had happened to spot as a remnant in Watson and Thornton’s fabric shop  that very morning. I used two strands of Devere Yarns silk thread, their size 06 flat silk, for the main embroidery. There are four colours on the bird: Ebony 644 (pure black), Dark Slate 643 (a blueish slate), Saxe 639 (a medium shade of cobalt blue) and Shimmer 6128 (a very pale duck-egg blue). I got three intermediate shades by blending two colours together in the needle.

The metallic thread that I used was not ideal for the task – unlike the thread used on the original Chinese work, it was a rather springy synthetic and would not take tight bends. It was DMC Metallic Thread Art282 in Light Gold, a three-strand thread. The couching was mostly done with half a strand of Devere 06 Vermillion 6125. (Splitting the flat strand was a challenge, to say the least – I think I wasted more lengths than I divided!) I waxed this divided thread for extra strength. One the original Chinese embroidery, the couching of the gold thread is all done in red except for some leaves which are couched in green thread. So I used divided green thread to couch the branch, which I wanted to keep sketchy. (This was done with Devere 06 Green 645 – a very good match for the background fabric.) My couching is not as good as I would like. I need more practice, not just a more sympathetic thread!

This is not a perfect copy of the original, I wasn’t trying for that. It’s about 10% larger, and my feathers had a bit of a mind of their own although I followed the direction of stitching and the outlining as closely as I could. (I also gave the bird a second foot, as it seemed to need one for balance, and a tiny highlight in its eye.)
While I can’t call it a blue bird of total happiness, the finished result looks very much better than I expected, so it is definitely a blue bird of moderate satisfaction.

Chinese Bird Panels

Posted in Embroidery with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2015 by suetortoise

Bird on Green Bird on Blue

I saw these two framed panels for sale at Jean Jones Antiques & Collectables in Shrewsbury Market today and couldn’t resist them. Chinese silk and metal thread embroidery, on silk fabric. Each roundel is about 27 cm in diameter: one on green silk, one on blue. I suspect that they date from the late 1960s or 1970s – I’d be glad to find out more about them. I didn’t want to remove them from their frames (they’ve been framed here in Shropshire), so I have had to take these photos through the glass. Aren’t they lovely panels?

Bird closeup 1 Bird closeup 2

The stitching is very neat. The metal threads are laid in pairs in the traditional Chinese manner.

Bird closeup 3 Bird closeup 4

The silkwork is all satin stitch or long and short stitch except for four tiny circular motifs on the blue panel.

Misty Morning in Ellesmere

Posted in out and about, Photography with tags , , , , , , on September 9, 2015 by suetortoise

I took my camera to Ellesmere on the bus, yesterday. There was heavy mist when I arrived, and although the mist slowly cleared a little, the sun stayed hidden and the air was chill. So I came back home after lunch. Despite the weather, I enjoyed my morning pottering around looking for pictures. The lack of easy views encouraged me to seek out subjects I might otherwise have missed. And although there was not a lot of colour, what there was seemed extra vivid. Here are some photos taken in Cremorne Gardens, at the edge of the Mere and in the Castlefields.






Woven Diamond Stitch – Star Variation

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, Stitches with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2015 by suetortoise

Firstly, a big hello and welcome to the people who have visited thanks to Mary Corbet’s kind mention of my previous post on her blog, Needle’n’Thread. (If you’re reading this and you like embroidery and don’t already know about Needle’n’Thread – go and see what a treat you’ve been missing!) I hope you’ll find your visit to Tortoise Loft worth the journey. Don’t be shy to join in the comments if you have something to say, or want to ask a question. This post is a follow-on from the previous post, and assumes you’ve read that first.

woven diamond var star in progress

Here’s a slight variation of Woven Diamond Stitch that does not seem to be shown in Mordvalaisten pukuja kuoseja, but it’s a very obvious development. I call this ‘Star Variation’. Just a slight change in the spacing, but how different from the original version: more open and much livelier. Continue reading

Woven Diamond Stitch

Posted in books, Embroidery, Stitches with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2015 by suetortoise

Woven Diamond Stitch Border

Here’s another one of those interesting interlaced stitches from this book on the Internet Archive, Mordvalaisten Pukuja kuoseja, a book of old Mordvin costumes, embroidery patterns and stitches. This one is very similar to the Woven Circle Stitch from my first post about the book. It’s worked in much the same way, but the 8 points are spaced in a diamond shape. (I don’t know what the proper name for the stitch is, so I’ve called it Woven Diamond Stitch – does anyone know the proper name?) Continue reading

Eric Lindsay Jones, May 1920 to June 2015

Posted in Family and Friends with tags , , on June 21, 2015 by suetortoise

Eric Jones - 90th Birthday Portrait I had a wonderful father.

Eric, who was born in Swansea in 1920, died last week, aged 95, in Hereford County Hospital. I shall miss him tremendously: his dry sense of humour and fondness for silly rhymes and bad puns; his kindness to everyone, his honesty, his optimism and patience; his ingenuity at solving problems, making and mending things and interest in everything. He loved music, played piano and organ and was an accomplished photographer. He was an electronic design engineer by profession, having worked for Standard Telephones and Cables for over 25 years, and then specialised in bespoke electronic church organs until he retired. After moving to Bucknell in 1976, he got involved in the life of the village: providing music, sound effects and posters for the panto society, joining the choir and being reserve organist at St Mary’s Church, helping people, fixing things.

He was married to my mother for 60 years, and they worked well as a team: Eric took photos and Barbara painted pictures from the slides. When my mother’s health failed, he cared for her, patiently and lovingly.

His own health had been gradually failing for the last year, despite making a very good recovery from a stroke last January, but his mind stayed clear and he still enjoyed programming his computer, doing Sudoku puzzles and reading. Just recently, he was starting to get frustrated by his lack of energy and difficulty in talking clearly. His heart was failing. He was in hospital for three days, while the doctors made every effort to stabilise him so he could go back home for the end. But his kidneys were failing too, and they could only keep him comfortable. He died peacefully in his sleep and my sister was with him.

(The picture above is one I took on his 90th birthday.)


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