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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.

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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!

A Slight Delay!

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2016 by suetortoise

Well, I still haven’t finished the write up of part two of the openwork bookmark project “Glimpse”. However I am now over a dose of depression which made concentrating on everything difficult, and I’m raring to get on with creative stuff again.

Sprig - silk on silk, shadow work

A few weeks ago, Rachel of VirtuoSew Adventures blog told me about the great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off – part of a project being run by the University of Kent. The Lady’s Magazine blog put some patterns from the magazine online and invited people to work their own versions. I tried this little sprig in shadow work – Devere Yarn’s 06 silk thread on silk habotai – the fabric was  little too light for the stitching but, because of its lightness, it showed the ‘shadow’ colour through well. This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma and the pieces we made are now on show as part of the Emma exhibition at Chawton House.

I am all ready for my stitched box workshop in Manchester at Easter, having made up the kits now. (This is part of a science fiction convention in the city.) A workshop is bit daunting as I haven’t run one for very many years. I am sure it will be good fun. It’s the Chester Box pattern which I originally designed for workshopping and for kits. I’ve got some little bee charms to trim the tops of the boxes, in recognition of Manchester: this is a (Man)Chester Box. I’m also exhibiting in the art show there, so I will be as busy as a bee too.

(Man)Chester Box

I was a workshop attendee myself, at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery in February – more about this when I’ve finally finished the tent stitch piece that I started there.

But my next post will be the second part of the bookmark project, promise!

 

 

The Dragon is Done

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 22, 2014 by suetortoise

Tanya's Dragon - finished
I’ve been staying at my father’s place this weekend. A very pleasant weekend. Eating curry, going for walks in the sunshine, doing a few odd jobs and errands for Dad – and putting the last few stitches into the dragon.

I’ve made some minor changes to the detail stitching from Tanya’s original design. Things that seemed to suit the colours I’d chosen and the personality that my dragon was developing. When a piece of embroidery starts telling me what it wants done, I usually listen. The main change was re-drawing the eye. I’m pretty pleased with the way it came out. I learnt a lot, too. I didn’t really take to split-stitch as a technique, but I was definitely getting much better at it by the end.

Last post I mentioned that I’d talk about the materials this time. The fabric is linen or a linen/cotton mixture – there’s a lovely flax smell when you press it, but it is quite soft and not as eager to crease as most linen. It was a tea towel from Shrewsbury market a few months ago. The weave is fairly close: I did a rough thread count and found it about 44 x 38 to the inch. It took the yarn well, without puckering. I used a size 20 chenille needle for all the stitching.

The yarn was fine acrylic machine-knitting yarn – two-ply, and very similar in weight to Appleton’s crewel. (As I’ve mentioned before, using wool was out, because of my stupidly sensitive skin.) The story of the yarn started two and a half years ago, when striped scarves were the in thing.

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And For My Next Trick…

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by suetortoise

Primrose in Silk complete

The Primrose in Silk  has been finished for some time. (This is not a very good photo, but it’s surprisingly hard to photograph – I’ve had several attempts.) It’s not a flawless piece of embroidery – but I’ve learnt a lot in the stitching of it. I enjoyed the process and I’m quite pleased with the finished result. In fact I enjoyed this silk work so much that I have just started a companion piece – with violets.

I couldn’t find a suitable design, so I made my own drawing. (It’s largely based on Mabel E Step’s illustration in Wayside and Woodland Blossoms Series I  by Edward Step, published in 1905, but I also used photos and other references.) It’s roughly the same size as the primrose and I’m using the same fine silk dupion and fine silk threads from Devere Yarns as well as some very old Gütermann silk buttonhole twist (divided into three strands). I am going to enjoy translating it into stitches. I hope I can make use of all the lessons I learnt from working the primrose, and I hope that I’ll learn some more skills in the process.

Violets in Silk, 1 - a start

I’ve been asked to list the various stitches used on the primrose, so here goes. The petals are in long and short stitch with an outline of stem stitch worked afterwards, the flower centre is a coiled bullion knot and the calyx is a mixture of fly stitch and stem stitch. The stems are filled with an under layer of diagonal satin stitches, covered with feather stitch and edged with stem stitch. Rather a long and loose stem stitch makes the midrib and veins of the leaves. The leaves are filled with French knots and outlined with stem stitch. The underside of the leaves and the main root are in chain stitch, with stem stitch again for the small roots. I think that’s all except for various odd stitches here and there to fill in gaps.

 

 

This Fragile Townscape

Posted in discussion topic, everyday life, Flickr, out and about, shrewsbury, Uncategorized on February 16, 2013 by suetortoise

I recently came across author Pauline Fisk’s interesting new blog, My Tonight From Shrewsbury. Pauline is fascinated by the less-known, the hidden and the curious side of Shrewsbury, which she celebrates in words and pictures. As someone who also loves the strange little details of Shrewsbury buildings, this is right up my street.

On the 14th of February, Pauline’s blog dealt with the subject of rooftop exploration. And this is something that I feel quite strongly about. Strongly enough to want to talk about it here, at more length than I could do in just a comment on her blog. Rather handily, there is a building under renovation a stone’s throw from her street door and from mine. I took a few photos from my living room window this morning, which illustrate one of my main concerns.
fragile townscape 1

As the urban explorer Pauline interviewed told her, people don’t often bother to look up at the buildings they pass every day. I have lost count of the people I’ve spoken to who are totally unaware of all the little carved heads flanking the windows and doors of Shrewsbury’s railway station. They are great fun to photograph and use as inspiration for digital artwork. You’ll find a set of them here on Flickr. Also on Flickr is my photo-collection of hopper heads, the decorative tops to rainwater downpipes. Shrewsbury is rich in them – The Square, in particular, has some remarkably fine ones. These are things you can look at without leaving the ground or trespassing.

What bothers me in particular about people clambering about on rooftops, however well intentioned the explorers, is the sheer fragility of the buildings. Many – very many – of those fine plastered Georgian and Victorian frontages, with their sash windows, parapets and architectural flourishes, are just additions to the older buildings that were on the site before. It doesn’t take much knowledge of building materials to realise that a rigid brick front on a flexible timber structure, isn’t that happy a combination. And as hidden timbers rot and crumble, as the rumble of traffic, as roadworks, earth-tremors, alterations and the weather all take their toll, the cracks and chips appear. Patches, mortar and fresh plaster, and then more decay…
fragile townscape 4
fragile townscape 3

Look at what has been happening under the plaster on this building. The builders’ netting obscures some of the detail, but you can see the cracks and crumbling wood. Some urban explorer leans a little too heavily on a parapet, and a chunk of brick or stone drops into the busy street. While I know that the serious Urbexers are never intentionally destructive, our roofs and ledges won’t stand a lot of weight safely. And where the careful ones go, the less careful may follow. Some were on the roof right above my flat a few weeks ago. They may have taken only photographs, but they left three or four cigarette butts on the tiles, and I was quite spooked by the noise they made before I realised what was happening. Across the road, the pinnacles on the Darwin Shopping Centre have been bent and broken; one urbexer grabbed an aerial pole for support on the way back down and the television shop below lost its signal until a repair team could get out to re-align the aerials. Drainpipes are often brittle cast iron, held on with rusting nails. Tiles shift and crack, leading to water ingress and further damage….

Not just the less-careful follow them, either. To glamourise climbing buildings without proper precautions risks attracting those who are too young, too drunk or too thoughtless to be safe at a height. Accepting explorers as a feature of the skyline, also gives cover for those who are ready to be tempted by a skylight or a roof hatch, or simply by the lead on the roof.

When I was younger, had I been fitter and possessed of less common sense and a better sense of balance, I might have been tempted to take my own camera up there too.  But now I am willing to forgo the grand views. And if I see shadowy figures on the Shrewsbury skyline, my first reaction is to let the police know about it. Not because I want to spoil innocent fun, but because I love our fragile townscape.

fragile townscape 5
Any comments?

The Sand, the Station Master and the Station Master’s Dog

Posted in Family and Friends, History, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 20, 2013 by suetortoise

While looking though old papers of my Grandmother’s, we came across two copies of the L. & N. W. R. Gazette, a magazine subtitled “The Organ of the Recreative and Educational Associations of the L. & N. W. Railway Staff.” In the first of them, Vol. 4, No. 31, March, 1915, I came across the following article:

SWANSEA BAY STATION – SANDSTORMS

THERE are many stations situate in different parts of the country served by the London and North Western Railway which are subject to periodical visitations of floods, sandstorms, snowdrifts, &c.  Doubtless some account of the effects of such boisterous atmospheric influences and the manner in which they are met might prove interesting to railwaymen. Take, for instance, Swansea Bay Station, which is situated about midway between the stations of Mumbles Road and Swansea, Victoria.  This portion of line runs practically along the seashore, being subjected to very severe sandstorms, and great are the difficulties to be contended with by the Station Staff and the Permanent Way employees when a south-easterly gale is raging.  Sand extends on the sea front for some miles, and in rough weather it gets carried in clouds on to the railway and the station premises, sometimes blocking the lines and occasionally necessitating the adoption of single-line working. 

Immediately a storm arises the Permanent Way local gangs are called out, and, as is often necessary, men have to be requisitioned from each of the stations on the line up to Pontardulais, and even from places as far North as Llandovery and Knighton.  The shoveling of the sand from the metals, whilst it continues to enshroud the men, is very hard and difficult work, and great caution is necessary in watching the approach of trains.  Recently about 70 men were engaged in day and night shifts continuously for several days in the task of keeping the lines open, and it will give some idea of the effect of such weather when it is mentioned that several trainloads of sand are shovelled from the railway into trucks during and after a “fair gale,” representing many hundreds of tons all blown over the sea wall and fencing in the form of clouds.

The station lamps get badly damaged with the sand (which fact the Gas Department would gladly corroborate), and trying is the duty of the Station Master and Staff in attending to the trains and station duties, the sand even penetrating into the innermost recesses of the offices.  The only means of moving with safety outside during such storms is by wearing goggles as a protection to the eyes.

Mr A Thomas and his dog

Swansea Bay Station Master, Mr. A. Thomas, and his dog

We reproduce a photograph of Mr. Andrew Thomas, the widely-known and respected Station Master, who has been associated with Swansea Bay Station ever since it was opened in 1892.

In the photograph appears the Station Master’s dog, who is nearly as well known as the Station Master.  It is his practice to meet the trains, fetch and carry the ticket bag from one platform to the other, &c., but he always runs into the office when a goods train passes the station, having, we presume, recollection of once having been run over by a goods train.  On the other hand, he never runs away from a passenger train.

Mr A Thomas was my great grandfather. My father recalled being told about the dog being hit by a train. Apparently the dog was on the line between platforms when the train came along and Dad’s grandfather ordered him to lie down, which he did. However, it was a particularly long goods train and the dog stood up just too soon and was clipped by the brake van. Dad always thought that was the sad end of the dog’s story, so he was rather pleased to discover that the dog survived and carried on working at the station with Great Grandfather Thomas.

The other copy of the Gazette was Vol. 6, No. 61, September 1917. I found this piece in STAFF AND GENERAL NEWS:

On May 10th last, Mr Andrew Thomas retired after 40 [hand-corrected to 46 by my grandmother] years’ service with the Company. Entering the service as a young lad at Knucklas station, and after being employed in various capacities at many of the Central Wales stations, he was put in charge at Swansea Bay in the year 1890, which post he held for 26 years when, owing to ill health, he had to give up the position, and for some little time past he has been performing less arduous duties in the Swansea Goods Offices.  At the time he was appointed to Swansea Bay, the station was still situate at that part of the line known locally as “The Slip.” Two years later the station was demolished and the existing one erected some little distance from the site of the old one. 

Of the subject of our sketch it can truly be said that during the whole of his railway career he served his company well and honourably, and there is no doubt the Service and his fellow men will be the poorer by his retirement.  If any social function or any general collection was being made for the benefit of a necessitous cause, one was always assured of a most sympathetic and active interest on the part of Mr. Thomas. Of an unassuming personality, he did what he did unostentatiously, and there’s many a poor traveller who found in him a good friend.

For many years, until his retirement, he took a keen interest in the work of the North-Western Temperance Union and was the treasurer for the local branch. He also associated himself and took a keen interest in the St. John’s Ambulance.
The hope of all his friends is that now he will so far recover his health that both he and Mrs. Thomas may live long to enjoy his well-earned retirement.

And he did. Here he is with his wife Annie, as my father remembers them in the early 1920s.

 

Andrew and Annie Thomas

Finally, a couple of links: the London & North Western Railway Society has a website with a considerable amount of information on the rail line in its heyday. And the Heart of Wales Line Travellers’ Association (HOWLTA) works to promote the interests of passengers on the line today.