Archive for stitchery

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?

T’was the night before Christmas…

Posted in Christmas, Embroidery, everyday life with tags , , on January 4, 2020 by suetortoise

IMG_04012020_111420_(300_x_400_pixel)It was Christmas eve and I was having a quiet, lazy evening after a very pleasant afternoon with my friend Sam, who had come for tea and a good, long natter. Now she had gone home, and I sat by myself in my comfortable chair, feet up on a stool, cards on the shelves beside me and the old tree glowing cheerfully on the window sill. I’d just started watching the DVD of Hogfather, and I was almost falling asleep….

The doorbell rang.

I toddled to the entry phone and talked to someone who knew my name and had something for me, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what she was saying. “Hold on, I’ll come down.” I said.

At the street door was a stranger bearing a big red basket of good food, a card and a bunch of flowers. They were from the owner of the newly opened bar next door. This was utterly, totally unexpected. And so very kind.

There is a Santa Claus.

I have treated myself to some “goodies” that will last a little longer than the chocolates, pies, nibbles and other edibles. These are Sajou Fil Dentelle au Chinois,Cocons Calais little cocoons of lovely cotton lace thread, barely thicker than sewing thread. It is very smooth, obviously good for very fine crochet but good for stitching and hand-sewing too. The cocoon is all thread, no core, pulling tidily from the centre, And, oh, so pretty!

I spotted them in the wool shop in Shrewsbury Market Hall, Ewe and Ply, back in October, and I have been adding two or three to my collection most weeks. There are 72 colours in the full range, 24 of them variegated, and I have only collected 33 so far.

What else have I been playing with? Counted fly stitch. Oh, it makes some great patterns, even on humble Aida fabric. Here’s a design I made for cards:

IMG_04012020_111332_(300_x_400_pixel)And here are some further experiments on some leftover aida:

IMG_04012020_111217_(400_x_400_pixel).jpgThe finest thread on this little try-out is the Sajou, so you can see it has Possibilities.

What have you been playing with recently?

 

 

 

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

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.

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!)

Hardanger embroidery – back to the fjords (via Sydney)

Posted in books, Embroidery, hardanger, Needlework, whitework with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2016 by suetortoise

I’ve been waiting eagerly for Yvette Stanton’s new book Early Style Hardanger since I first read about it as a work in progress, on her blog, White Threads. It sounded right up my street: firmly focused on the traditional Norwegian whitework technique rather than any modern interpretations.
I’m delighted to say that the book lives up to my expectations. It’s a substantial paperback: neat layout, enticing photographs, clear typography, copious step-by-step diagrams and charts. If I had to sum up the contents in one word, it would be ‘thorough’ – it’s one of the most in-depth single-subject embroidery books that I have seen.

Early Style Hardanger cover

Continue reading

Annetje Band Sampler

Posted in Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2016 by suetortoise

Annetje on light background

As promised, more about the band sampler. In March last year, I bought a bundle of charts for old samplers, from someone selling up stock. One of them was a reproduction of a Dutch sampler from 1663

Permin chart cover

The original sampler was charted by Permin of Copenhagen – it’s a massive chart on two huge sheets of paper. Worked over two threads on 30 count fabric, the size of the whole sampler would be 61 x 57 cm! Their reference number for the kit version is 39-8406 “Sampler ‘Antique'”. (Stocked in the UK by Sew and Sew, if you fancy such a mammoth undertaking.) Back in 1663, it was stitched by 11 year old Annetje Muusdochter, who lived in Broek in Waterland, near Amsterdam.

I can’t do better than point you at this blog page from Ex Antiques, who specialise in old samplers and have researched the Broek samplers – sixteen surviving examples known so far. They have a picture of the original. Not the clearest of photos, but close enough to show that the Permin chart is very accurate. The Ex Antiques blog is a treasure trove if you are interested in old samplers, particularly Dutch samplers. There are other posts about the Broek samplers, and photos of many of them.

When I saw the sampler, two things caught my eye. The first thing was the long strip of voided patterns on the left of the sampler: oh, how I wanted to work those bands! (More about the practicalities of working them in a momannetje church and housemarksent.) I definitely wasn’t interested in producing a copy of the whole sampler, although one or two of the motifs might be quite fun to adapt, and the lettering style is quaint, if not particularly easy to read. The other thing that caught my eye was the curious way Annetje had filled the gaps between the motifs and patterns – little shapes and signs made of straight lines. What were they? Some sort of code?

 

Continue reading

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!

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.