Archive for the Needlework Category

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? 

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

December with Dragon, Peacocks and a Catbus

Posted in Christmas, Embroidery, everyday life, Needlework, out and about with tags , , , , on January 1, 2019 by suetortoise

Well, here we are, Happy New Year everyone, and onwards into 2019. Which will probably be just as mixed and tricky and confusing a year as usual, despite our good wishes and good intentions. And we shall cope with it all, as usual. I don’t usually make New Year resolutions, but when I do I like to start them early. So since I finished work for Christmas I have been making sure I do at least a little stitching every day. At least one needle-full every day. And so far so good. How about you?

This piece was started at the beginning of November, but made little progress – it was interrupted by the Christmas card run, and by indifferent health and life in general. But by Christmas Day the end of the slow, slow outlining was in sight (That’s one strand of DeVere Yarns 695 Peat – an extremely dark greenish-brown that I tend to use rather than black for these sort of projects.) I finally got started on the coloured silk shading on the 30th, and the photo above is the state of play at the very end of the year. I am using Chinese silk for this stage.

Progress will slow a little now, with work recommencing – this project needs good light. (I have simpler things on the go, so I shall keep stitching!) Regular readers will remember I worked this same design in 2017, my very first project with the Chinese silk, when I only had limited choice of colour and was learning how to use it as I went along. Now, I can build on that experience, have a much better palette of shades to choose from and hope to do the design full justice. It’s a Victorian printers’ ornament. I’ll show you how I am getting on in my next post.

I haven’t only been stitching. I enjoyed my break, good food, rest, good company. A trip to visit friends in Welshpool last week featured a visit to the National Trust property Powis Castle. We went to see the interior decorated for Christmas, with some magnificent trees and room settings. It looked very festive and very grand. The peacocks were strutting around in the courtyard – here’s one.

I also watched lot of video. I always enjoy The Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, and My Neighbour Totoro on Christmas Day – a tradition of quite a few years standing, now. And my favourite character in Totoro is the Catbus. So imagine my delight to get a cuddly, plush Catbus from my friend Sam at work. Catbus now sits on the arm of my sofa. (The picture also shows that I downloaded the Prisma photo-processing phone app on Boxing Day – I shall have fun playing with this and adding effects to phone photos.)

My other ‘not quite a new year resolution’ is to write Tortoise Loft blog posts much more frequently this year than last year. I say this every year, and it usually doesn’t happen. But here’s one, on the very first day of the year. It’s a start.

So what shall we talk about next?

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!)

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.

Continue reading

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!