Archive for design

Year’s Turning 2018

Posted in Christmas, everyday life, out and about with tags , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2018 by suetortoise

embroidered tree designAnd another year has got away from me, with far too few blog posts. As usual. It’s been a bitty sort of year. My health hasn’t been all it should be, recent changes at work have put me under more stress than I really like to cope with, and I haven’t been as creative as I would like to be, either.

Still, there have been Good Bits. Since my last post, my friend KRin from Australia arrived for a short visit, giving me a chance to be a local tourist guide for a day and also an excuse for a train trip with her as far as Machynlleth the next day, where she headed north along the coast to her next destination, and I went on to Aberystwyth in lovely weather. Here’s Aber looking almost exotic in the autumn sunshine. 

At the end of that week, I had a couple of days in Manchester, doing the Museum of Science and Industry and the Whitworth Art Gallery, among other places. (I must also give a mention to Wasabi Dessert Room in Falkner Street, where I had an amazing thing called Green Tea Snow Ice, hand crafted for me while I was being serenaded by strange Japanese pop videos. It was delicious.)

At the end of the month, I met up with Rachel of VirtuoSew Adventures, to see her work on show in an exhibition at the Anglican Cathedral – and to talk rather a lot, of course.

In November I went to MathsJam The Gathering at Yarnfield Park near Stoke. This is run by Colin Wright, Rachel’s husband, and she talked me into coming along. I had little idea what to expect, and I have never been a whizz at maths. I didn’t really know what to expect….

It was a lot of fun! The conference centre is a training centre for telephone workers in the week, and the first thing I saw on entering the car park was a forest of telephone poles in an enclosure. Fortunately we were not expected to climb them ourselves. The accommodation and food were excellent, and the conference areas were good, with plenty of space to sit and talk or chill out, away from the main room, tea and coffee on tap and friendly staff. The event itself turned out to be lots of very short talks about a huge range of subjects – mostly recreational-mathematical, but ranging from the topology of canal bridges to card tricks to recreating old photographs to double-sided blackwork embroidery patterns – and much else in between. I think I made good sense of about a third of the talks, was totally bemused by a further third, and got the main gist of the rest. There were puzzles to play with, a baking contest, competitions and maths tricks to look at. I think the people with the tricks were very happy to have a non-mathematician to baffle. And there was conversation, lots of it. I came home hoarse but happy. I might well go again next year.

While I was at MathsJam, I got quite a bit of stitching done: the card design that is at the top of this page. It’s on 32 count linen, worked with Gütermann Sulky Cotton 12, mostly in straight stitches over 4 threads. The star at the top of the tree is 8-point woven star stitch over an eyelet of straight stitches. It comes with my very good wishes to all my readers (who have been very patient between blog posts!) for the festive season, and for 2019.


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!)

A Glimpse Into The Future…

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework, Stitches with tags , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by suetortoise

I promised to do a teaching piece about the coloured openwork I’ve been playing with. This morning I finished the stitching on the bookmark which I’ll be using for the photos and explanations.

just a glimpse

Don’t expect the finished blog article for a while. There are photos to edit, charts and diagrams to conjure up. And then I have to write the words to go with them – it could be some weeks away. But I thought I’d show you a picture to whet your appetites!

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.



Diamond Band Bookmark – another adaptation from Shorleyker

Posted in books, Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by suetortoise

Shorleyker Diamon Band Bookmark

I adapted one of the designs from page H3 of A Schole-House for the Needle to make this bookmark. (If you have the book, it’s the fourth pattern band on the left-hand side.) The woodcut in the book could be interpreted in several ways – It was probably copied from a sample by someone who didn’t do counted-thread embroidery themselves – but I think it was almost certainly originally worked using counted satin stitch and a diagonal stitch – probably reversed faggoting or reversed double faggoting.

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Bats in the Tortoise Loft

Posted in books, Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , , on July 21, 2013 by suetortoise

Above my head, the
star-specked, silent-movie sky
flickering with bats.

Work in progress and book cover.

Back in 1998 or 1999, I went went to a talk at the Shropshire branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild where John and Elizabeth Mason, talked about discovering that they had one of the best preserved copies of Richard Shorleyker’s 1632 pattern book, A Schole-House for the Needle, a curiosity that John had bought in a rummage sale in Newport, Shropshire in the 1940’s, when he was a child. They told us something of the history of the book, and how they ended up producing an excellent reproduction. It’s a good story, which you can also read on the website, where the book is still available directly from Elizabeth Mason.

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Wishing You a Very Happy Christmastime

Posted in Christmas, Embroidery with tags , , , , , , , on December 16, 2012 by suetortoise

three trees close-up

I must be honest, and say that I’m not feeling particularly ‘Christmassy’ this year. The family’s first Christmas without Mum is bound to be a bit difficult. So things will be kept low-key. 

I thought you might like a glimpse of one of the cards I made this year. Very simple and easy to make. If you want to use the design, you should be able to use the picture above as a pattern.

The fabric is 36 count natural linen (Zweigart Edinburgh). Any relatively fine evenweave can be used instead – you’ll only need a small quantity, so it’s great for using up scraps and offcuts. In this case, a small strip of fabric left over from another project. On this fabric, the stitched area is 6.8cm high by 2.3cm wide. Allow another centimetre all round, before trimming. On coarser fabric, the finished size will be larger.

The green/blue threads are two strands of different colours of varigated silk thread from Oliver Twists. (You could use two strands of stranded cotton floss, or anything else that is about the right weight for the fabric.) If your fabric is not as fine, you may need to use more strands of thread. The tree-top stars are worked with two threads of blending filament – I used one strand of gold and one strand of red/green iridescent filament. Any fine, shiny thread would do instead. (I can tell you that blending filament is a real pain to stitch with – it is most disobedient stuff!) You could also tiny star-shaped sequins, beads or little adhesive stars to trim your tree.

For the blanket-stitch edging, I used sewing silk in a slightly lighter shade than the ground fabric. Again, the colour and thread can easily be changed. You might prefer to use a bright Christmas red.

Work the main part of the trees first, then the stars and finally the border. You can see the three stages in this photo:

3 trees wip

The trees start at the top with a straight vertical stitch over four threads. After that, there are four fly stitches. The loop of the first one is two threads down from the top and two threads out on each side, and the tying down stitch covers four vertical threads. The loops of the other three are each one thread further out and three threads down from the previous stitch. All the tying-down stitches are over four threads. You might want to experiment with different numbers of branches, and different spacings to make trees of different sizes and shapes. There are eight threads left between the base of one tree and the first stitch of the tree below.

When the trees are finished, add the stars – just three straight sitches of the blending filament, one vertical over five threads, crossed with two diagonal stitches over four.

The border is just buttonhole stitch worked over three threads, with three threads between each stitch. (At the corner, you work three stitches into the same inner hole.) I left three threads between the trees and the border at the top and bottom, and it is seven threads beyond the broadest fly-stitches.

And that’s it. I cut the fabric six threads beyond the border all round, and then frayed off three threads. The piece is simply glued to the front of the card. (I used PVA glue, applied sparingly.) I mounted it onto a brown-paper coloured card, for a very natural, simple look.

And here’s the finished card:

3 trees 2012 card

A row, or a whole forest, of these little trees would make a nice decoration for table linen. How about white trees on dark green or holly red fabric? Have fun.

My very best wishes to you all for the holiday season. In the new year, I will have some more embroidery projects to share with you, along with other things. Starting with the story of Great Grandfather Thomas the Station Master and his dog.

The Apophysis Conspiracy

Posted in Digital Art and Fractals with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by suetortoise

Chinese red

When I joined Flickr in 2007, I thought that the photo-sharing website was only for photographs. But I found that it inclued thriving communities of people making other kinds of images, and among these, a good number of fractalists. The fractals were interesting, some of them breathtakingly complex and beautiful, but most of them did not make me want to have a go for myself.

And then I saw some pictures that were different. I discovered that the program used to generate them was called Apophysis. I learnt that it was possible to use it without either a very powerful computer or very much mathematical knowledge. Most of all, something about the look of Apophysis fractal pictures was ‘me-like’: friendly, urging me to come out and play with them. I still don’t know quite what it is about Apophysis that attracts me, but it was love at first sight.

A touch of magic

Apophysis is a fractal flame generator. This makes a particular family of fractals images, some of which do resemble the pictures one sees in flames or veils of smoke. You can download the program from – where you will also find links to experimental and alternative versions on Sourceforge, links to tutorials and other useful resources. Oh, and it’s free. (It’s purely a Windows program. There is a fairly similar fractal flame program available for Macs. It is called Oxidizer and is also on Sourceforge.)

A winter's night

Some people approach fractal art in a very top-down, organised way, telling the computer exactly what to create and remaining very much in control of the design process throughout. What I particularly like about Apophysis is the way it allows me to work alongside it. We collaborate. The program takes a random starting image and offers me a batch of mutations and variations on it. I select from them, and it offers further variation until I come across an image that I want to use.

Come to distances

It’s not purely selective breeding. I can limit the available options, make alterations and adjustments, and run subprogram scripts to change the picture. After I have the rendered image, I can add further processing in an art program, to bring out what attracted me to that image. But however much of my own creative input I add to the final result, my best work feels like a productive conspiracy between myself and Apophysis: the love affair of two years ago turned into a very fruitful marriage.

We have several thousand children so far.

Life goes on

Work and Play

Posted in Digital Art and Fractals with tags , , , on August 27, 2009 by suetortoise

I’m working extra days this week and next, which is tiring. But I’m still finding a little time to play. Spent most of the evening concocting this picture.

Descent to the surface

The main part of the background was a partly-rendered fractal I made several months earlier, I added the sea (or is it a sky seen from above?) this morning before work. Then I made the spaceship tonight, and joined up all the bits. Rather pleased with the final result, so I’m showing it off here. You can look at it full size, on Flickr, if you click on the picture and go to All Sizes.

Stitched Boxes

Posted in Embroidery with tags , , , , on July 22, 2009 by suetortoise

I’ve just added a page to the embroidery section of this blog, showing some of my stitched plastic-canvaswork boxes, with full instructions and charts for making two of them.

Brighton Box lid

This isn’t one of the charted ones. It was my one and only attempt to make an octagonal box. To say it turned out to be something of a challenge to design is a bit of an understatement! But I got there in the end, and it’s my favourite of all my boxes.

I’ve been making boxes for over 25 years. Some, like the once shown above, have been in regular use here at the Tortoise Loft ever since. Although plastic canvas may seem like a ‘cheap and nasty’ base for stitching, only suitable for children, it’s surprisingly durable, and I’ve found it a very inspiring material to work with.

Maybe you’ll get inspired too?