Saturday, 28 November 2009

Turquoise Serpent - all the leather appliqué's finished

I've finished applying all the leather 'mosaic' pieces to the Turquoise Serpent. And here he is:

I'm quite pleased with how the leather appliqué has gone; I'm pleased with the variety of shapes, and I'm pleased with the overall feel of it. The photo doesn't give any sense of the depth of the padding, which actually raises the appliqué off the background quite a way - I should try and take one from the side, to show how raised it is - but what it really fails to convey is what the appliqué feels like.

It's a more tactile piece than I'd envisaged, which I really like. Normally, my work is to be looked at, not prodded, though some of the 3D pieces do rather ask for it, but it's hard not to with this one. The stitching round the edge of each suede piece has worked rather like quilting, so that it bulges up in the centre of each one. Combined with the soft pile, for want of a better word, of the suede, it's very nice to the touch.

I mentioned when I first started the appliqué that I was leaving small gaps between the pieces deliberately. Now all the pieces are on, I'll fill the gaps with couched silver thread. I think this could take a long time...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Newcastle upon Tyne Embroiderers' Guild open day

I didn't sew a stitch this Saturday, but I had a very good reason: I spent a very happy day at the Embroiderers' Guild Newcastle upon Tyne branch open day. I was a member of the Newcastle branch for many years (I'm in the Sunderland branch now), so it was a lovely opportunity to catch up with friends from the Guild I haven't seen in a while. It felt like I'd never left!

The open day was a day-long event featuring top-of-the-range speakers and vendors.

This is just one of the sales tables, and they all seemed to be doing a roaring trade. Embroiderers are magpies at heart - we can't resist shiny new threads or fabrics or beads, and will buy them whether we need them or not. I was very good and hardly bought anything - only a medium sized embroidery frame (I have a terrible weakness for frames - I just can't go past one without buying it, even though I really don't need any more), and a range of beautiful silk threads in red, dusty pink and gold (ditto).

The morning's speaker was Josie Storey, on the theme "Ideas and Inspirations". Josie is a member of the Ebor Textile Group, and spoke about some of her work with the group for exhibition.

Josie is mostly known for colourful textiles, but in these pieces has chosen to explore whites and soft, muted shades, as a challenge. They're all loosely connected by the theme "Secrets", with hidden pockets and openings.

The effect of the work collected together was both calming and intriguing - the subtle colours were restful and meditative, while the secrets within each piece excited the imagination.

The photos don't do them justice, but seen up close, the detail on each one is exquisite, with far more work on each than may be apparent at first glance. They're also more colourful than a casual look might lead you to think, with tiny flashes of reds, greens and blues.

Lunchtime gave an opportunity to head back to the sales tables, in case I'd missed something the first time round, and to have a good look at the exhibition of members' work.

This is only a small part of the work on display, and shows a few of the rainbow squares that all the branches in the Region are working on. The Newcastle branch has around 50 members, who work in a wide range of styles, but who are all clearly very productive! There was a lot to see, and hardly time to give everything the close attention it deserved.

In the afternoon, Fay Maxwell spoke on "A Happy Accident". Fay is a highly amusing and entertaining speaker, who had brought along an enormous amount of her work, which she passed out for a close look as she spoke, until the entire audience was buried under a pile of beautiful, brightly coloured cushions and bags!

Fay specialises in using traditional crewel work stitches and skills on her own fabulous contemporary designs. The cushions are hand dyed wool blanket felt appliquéd onto silk, and embroidered with tapestry (not crewel) wool and perlé. My favourite were the fruit and vegetable designs - the apples and pears cushion (half concealed here) and the beetroot cushion next to it, though they were all very striking. Fay deliberately limits herself to no more than five colours in both fabrics and threads for any one piece, and shows what marvellous effects can be reached using a limited palette.

Fay also showed us a stunning series of bags made from layered, slashed and burned fabrics, and samples of her new work, her own interpretation of cross stitch.

This close-up shows a large panel heavily worked in free cross stitch, with some stitches a couple of inches across. Fay applies different weight canvas to a background, overlays that with layers of sheer fabric, and then stitches into them, beginning with large stitches in thick threads and strips of fabric, then getting smaller and smaller with finer and finer threads. The finished pieces are very effective, but incredibly, Fay herself isn't happy with some of them, and wants to do them again!

The day ended with a raffle, and tea and refreshments provided by the committee. It was all thoroughly enjoyable, chatting to friends, listening to the speakers and seeing their work, and spending too much money on the stalls! A big thank-you to the Newcastle branch ladies, who worked so hard to make the day such a success.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


I mentioned in a previous post that I don't like sewing with a thimble. Following that, my mum suggested that I might get on better with a tailor's thimble, which made me think about how I use them, and why I don't like them.

After tracking tailor's thimbles down online (local sewing shops and department store haberdashery departments don't run to them), I've tried sewing with different types of thimble, to see how I got on.

The only ceramic thimble I have was a holiday present from a friend, and as it doesn't have any dimples in whatsoever, I assume it's only meant for decoration rather than use, so I didn't even try with that one. It can continue to sit on the mantelpiece in my workroom and look nice, without needing to earn its keep.

Dimples are important: they hold the end of the needle, and stop it skidding off. Another ornamental thimble- another present from the same friend - does have dimples, if only on the end, so I gave that one a try.

You can see that I can use it to push the needle through the leather and all the padding quite successfully. I have quite small hands and this thimble is a bit too big, which doesn't help, but even so, I find this rather an awkward way to sew.

The thimble I've been using up to now is better, but still not ideal.

As you can see, it's absolutely covered in dimples, so no matter what angle you use it push the needle, it's not going to slip. This thimble is actually silver - I bought it at an antiques fair - and while I'm fond of it, not only does it seem too good to use, on a more practical level, it worries me that silver is a soft metal, and when pushing the needle through something tough, the end of the needle could go straight through the thimble and into my finger. Like any stitcher, I'm no stranger to stabbing myself in the fingers with needles, but there's no need to go looking for trouble.

You might notice in the photo that I'm using the side of the thimble to push the needle. I always use a thimble like this - that's why I don't like using the sort that only has dimples on the end - but I'd never given it much thought, and never investigated tailor's thimbles.

Until now! A tailor's thimble differs from an ordinary sewing thimble in that it doesn't have an end: it's designed to be used using the side of the finger. As this is how I work anyway, this suits me very well. It also leaves the finger end free, which is handier than you might think, as it allows me to work in a more natural fashion, pulling threads through the fabric and so forth. It's also made of steel, and so is unlikely to allow the needle end through.

I hadn't thought about it before, but it also means that I can control the needle and push it at the same time, which is useful, though this is also possible with a sewing thimble with side dimples. I had problems photographing this as my fingers were in the way, but I hope you can see what I mean.

I still don't like using thimbles much - they get in the way, they keep falling off, they're just awkward - but I think for me, the tailor's thimble is the least worst option.

And finally...

All this experimentation did have a purpose, and the Turquoise Serpent is coming along. Here's work so far:

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Slow progress...

The Turquoise Serpent is coming along, but not all that quickly, I'm afraid. Still, here's progress so far:

One of the reasons I haven't done as much as I'd expected is that it's taking longer to cut the suede 'mosaic' pieces to shape than I thought it would. I want them to be interesting shapes and all different to each other, rather than a load of square blocks, but that does take longer, to get them all fitting together nicely.

Still, I'm happy with how it's coming along.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Turquoise Serpent - leather appliqué

I'm now adding the appliqué pieces. They're all going to be in leather this time - I've had enough fiddly fabric pieces for a while!

I started with the mouth, in red leather, and teeth, in silver kid.

I then added the turquoise suede "mosaic" to the detail over the eye.

This was followed by more turquoise suede, forming the mosaic pieces for the head.

The gaps between each piece are intentional - they'll be filled in later. Other than the mouth and teeth, I'm cutting each piece out as I go along - I don't have a plan of what's to go where; each one is cut to fit the ones next to it.

Using leather is much faster than using fabric - no folding it round felt, tacking overlaps, etc. - but it is a bit hard on the fingers. I'm using a leather needle, or else it would be next to impossible, but with all the layers to go through, it's still quite tough. I've been forced to use a thimble. I know many people can't sew without one, but I've never found them comfortable to use. Still, sometimes they're necessary, and this is one of those times.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Turquoise Serpent

I've been doing some reading, and it seems my serpent is Xiuhcoatl, the Aztec fire deity, and the embodiment of the dry season and the weapon of the sun. As Xiuhcoatl is something of a challenge to pronounce and spell for a Northern European such as myself, I am happy to report that it translates as 'turquoise serpent'. So from now on, that's what this piece is going to be called.

Back to business. The eye and the detail over the eye (it's not really an eyebrow, but I don't know what else to call it) need to be raised even more, and so have been padded with additional layers of felt, in the case of the over-eye detail, the final one covered with more black satin.

The rather wobbly lines are marking where the mouth is to go; it's next to impossible to keep a line of stitches straight when going through as much padding as this, but the good thing about marking out a design with stitches rather than a pencil or a transfer or even chalk, is that they can be pulled out in a moment and won't leave any mark.

I then added the eye, in pewter kid. This is the first thing not to be just background, and so marks something of a step forwards!

Some proper colour should be coming up next.

Apologies for the awful photos, by the way - I need to find a better way of photographing the black silk.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Aztec serpent - padding and covering

Did I say the fun part came next? I'm not sure why!

I want this piece to be raised rather than flat - stumpwork, I suppose - so it needs to be padded. As it's fairly large and I want it to be quite noticeably raised, I used carpet felt. I traced the outline of the design and stuck it to the felt with 505 fabric spray glue, then cut out the main shape with craft scissors:

and a craft knife for the tricky bits inside the coils, giving the complete shape:

After shaping the edges to give it a more rounded profile, and using the tacked outline as a guide, I stitched the felt shape onto the background fabric.

The poor serpent now looks like he's made out of a haystack rather than turquoise. Carpet felt definitely has its uses, but it's nasty scratchy stuff that sheds everywhere and makes me itch, so it can't be left like that. To provide a proper background for the rest of the work, I used the same technique as for the calligraphy cushions, cutting out the shape again in ordinary craft felt, and covering this in the same black satin as the background.

This time, the felt was cut a bit larger than the actual design, as it needed to be big enough to cover the raised carpet felt shape. I then stitched it over the raised shape, and removed all the tacking stitches.

The padding catches the light in this photo, which gives some idea of how thick it is. So, after all that, I can really make a start this time!