To Talk of Many Things

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.


19 Responses to “To Talk of Many Things”

  1. Hi Sue. Nothing wrong with talking to yourself, I do it all the time. Thanks for the interesting post. I’d be interested in hearing about your experience with the lucet. I’ve had moderate success making cord with a spinning hook thingy, but I’ve never heard of a lucet. And sure, let’s hear about an easy way to thread a needle. I’d like to know if I’m doing it the most efficient way.

    • suetortoise Says:

      Lucets go back to medieval days and probably before that. They make a simple, narrow braid and are a bit like a two-prong ‘Knitting Nancy’ or French-knitting device in the way they form the braid. I failed to get very far with my impulse-purchase until I gave up trying to use my fingers and started lifting my loops with a crochet hook. Which is un-traditional, but at least it worked. This is Ziggy’s website. That will tell you all about the tool. If you look for lucet videos on YouTube, there are quite a few showing the proper technique.
      And yes, I promise to talk about needle-threading next time.

  2. wow, you have been quite busy in the past few months. While I hate hearing that someone had troubles with your stitching, hearing how the difficulties are addressed and seeing the end result is very useful. Looking forward to seeing more of your adventures in the illuminated manuscript interpretations.

    • suetortoise Says:

      I hope I learn by my mistakes. The next time I usually make some new ones! One reason that I tend to put off making-up projects is because that is the stage where so many go wrong.

  3. I so sympathize with your troubles separating the layers, since I had that very problem with Akhenaten. To whom I should be returning in a few weeks…

    The Darned Planets idea was a great success, wasn’t it!

    Like tatting, there is a knack to lucetting, and once you get it, it doesn’t leave you. But getting it is a bit tricky…

    • suetortoise Says:

      In the end I managed to pull the silk layer to safety with a fine pin and get the scissor point into the cotton only. But it was a nerve-wracking business for all that!

  4. andrea forman Says:

    I believe the wolf is that large grey beast while the animal on top of the roof is a dog. I too have been translating these beasts into embroidery albeit in cotton threads. Where do you source your silk?

  5. Gail Reynolds Says:

    HI Sue Greetings from Country Victoria, Australia, I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and I am your classic non-commenter! I follow you primarily for the needlework, but find I enjoy your other posts too, especially some of your photos and historic commentary.

    I hate meaningless comments which say ‘it’s lovely’ but I have just this moment realised that they are a response which shows people are reading.

    I’d love to read your take on simple needle threading. I still use the method my gran taught me 100 years ago (I only exaggerate slightly) wet the thread in my mouth and poke it through. Probably regarded as unhygienic these ridiculously germ phobic days, although that part of the thread never remains on the finished work.

    • suetortoise Says:

      Hi Gail. Good to hear from you. Like you, I prefer comments that have something more in them praise (or an advertisement for knock-off sunglasses). But even a bland comment on WordPress needs a little more effort than pressing a ‘like’ button. Needle threading will be along soon – I need to make some photos or drawings and get my thoughts organised. Meanwhile, if you have a method that works for you, you don’t have a problem. I refuse to be scared of my own saliva – so long as I haven’t just been eating or slurping coffee. I often straighten threads with a damp thumbnail. The work gets my hands all over it, anyway.

  6. Ive been taking the Cabinet of Curiosities casket course. Tricia suggests gluing on the paper backing before taking the embroidery off of the frame to maintain the stretched dimensions. She had a few videos on her site for mounting the fabric panels on the casket – might give you some ideas for your situation,

    • suetortoise Says:

      I’m a little jealous of you doing the Cabinet course. It demands a bit more time and money than I can spare at present, and I’m not particularly interested in the stumpwork side of Tudor and Stuart stitchery. But Tricia’s website is a great resource.
      In this case I think my problem was simply underestimating the amount of stretch and ‘give’ in the silk dupion fabric – much more than in the firm cotton behind it. I hadn’t put the silk under enough tension when attaching it to the backing before hooping up. Oh well, I shall do things differently next time!

  7. Erica Marsden Says:

    Hi Sue, I suspect I am one of those who love your site but have never bothered to let you know. I do apologise.
    I do envy embroiderers in the UK> You seem to have so many ‘events’ to inspire you all and it sounds as though you enjoy them. Like you, when I do get to go to one, I have become restrained in what I purchase…I have SO much ‘stuff’; threads, fabric, fabric paints, etc.
    Keep blogging – please!

    • suetortoise Says:

      Thank you for the encouragement, Erica. It’s funny, but I often read about events and shops and exhibitions in America or Australia and so on, and think “I wish I could go to that!” Being restrained is very difficult for me, there’s so much wonderful temptation out there.

  8. I know what you mean by feeling as though you’re talking to yourself on your blog. I often feel the same way but tell myself that even if followers don’t leave comments, they still read the posts. If I didn’t believe that I don’t think I’d carry on blogging! I read all your posts and promise to leave more comments in future.
    I too have a lucet, bought at a show many years ago – still in the packet!

  9. Humorous Emb Says:

    I’d like a really, really deeply informative slog through the many types and brands of embroidery floss out there by someone who’s experienced it all and knows the kinks and kinds of each one. Tell us what you know and where to obtain it. The reason is, we have very few choices of thread in the shops here in the states and I’m thoroughly sick of DMC and Anchor. Yawn. There’s always the internet, yes, but you can’t feel it or see it first before buying.
    Example: Just found Ed Mar Rayon Brazilian floss today and ordered a ton. It’s gorgeously shiny (hopefully as much as the pics show off). Just what I was looking for, even though I didn’t know there was such a thing as rayon floss until lately. Well, what I’m really looking for is a thread that looks precisely like liquid gold seen on a Youtube vid. Unfortunately the blog’s owner doesn’t speak English or hasn’t answered my question, so haven’t been able to find out the brand name of the floss. Yet I need it now! And, I’m not planning a trip to India anytime soon. Looks like I’ll have to settle for Ed Mar golden yellow.
    Thanks for your blog. Expert work is always worthy of a starred bookmark.

    • suetortoise Says:

      Well, I am in England, so I don’t really know what is readily available in America. Over here, if you are talking of 6 strand cotton floss – stranded cotton, as we call it – then Anchor and DMC are the most widely available here. Not exciting, but useful stuff. You can see just about all my favourite threads on this blog, and i try to link to suppliers where I can. A lot of my threads are many years old, so may be no longer made. I don’t normally use much metallic thread, so I can’t lead you to any rivers of liquid gold. I can only say to try different threads until you find something that you like. If you have a stitching group in your area, that’s a good way to find out what other people are using, and what the threads look like on fabric. And don’t be afraid to experiment with interesting threads that are not sold as hand embroidery threads. Good luck with your search.

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