Thursday, 31 December 2009

Kate's Crow - the design

My sister, Kate, has a big birthday coming up in Spring 2011, and has asked me to make something for it. This might seem like a long way off, but there's a bit of work in what I'm going to do, plus it's to be part of a fire screen, which will also have to be made, so best to allow plenty of time.

Kate's asked for something similar to the Moon picture I mentioned last time, but with a crow rather than a hare.

Way back in our teenage years, two LPs we listened to a lot were Phantasmagoria by The Damned and The Raven by The Stranglers.

I knew there was a reason I'd kept my old vinyl records! The picture of the raven is pretty easy to spot, but if you look closely at the other cover, there's a small pink silhouette of a bird in the bottom right corner. I'm not sure what it is, to be honest, but it could be a crow; whatever it is, I still like the moody imagery on both album covers, and would like to capture something of that atmosphere in this piece.

Similar to Moon, there is a background of Celtic spirals forming a stylised moon design. A silhouette of a crow is overlaid on this, though is this case it's going to remain as a silhouette, with only the eye within the outline. Again, it'll all be worked in Gütermann no. 41 silver metallic thread, on a silk matka background, but this time in black.

This is rather larger than Moon, so needed a new spiral background design. I drew a circle 26cm (a little over 10") in diameter, then drew a basic plan of circles inside it.

I'm not much of a sketcher - I'm always happiest drawing things with a ruler, protractor and a compass!

I then needed to add the spiral designs themselves. Two very useful sources of both inspiration and the mechanics of drawing the spirals are Celtic design: spiral patterns by Aidan Meehan and Celtic art: the methods of construction by George Bain. Both are excellent on the technicalities, though at one rather tricky point, Mr Bain does rather throw in the towel and says: "The actual completion must be by hand and eye". Gee, thanks George! Still, he's right - I got fed up trying to work out the geometry, and other than the construction lines and the larger circles, I drew everything else freehand.

This rather scruffy drawing still shows the working out, as it were, but I'll lose that in the final version.

Working from photographs, I also drew up the crow outline; here they are together:

The crow's too small here and needs to be blown up a bit, but that's what scanners and printers are for!

The final stage was done on tracing paper: I traced the crow first, overlaid that on the spiral drawing, and traced that other than the bits falling within the crow outline.

And so we have the final design:

That should keep me busy for a while!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


My new project will be similar in some ways to a picture I stitched a few years ago, so I thought I'd show you that first.

Entitled Moon, this draws on mythology from a range of cultures that associates hares with the moon, and sees the pattern of craters on the moon's surface as a hare, in the same way as in the West we see the Man in the Moon. Speaking personally, I like the hare idea better!

The details are a bit clearer close up:

It's entirely worked in surface embroidery: the Celtic spirals forming stylised craters are worked in chain stitch, while the hare's body is filled in with split stitch, plus there are a few French knots dotted about. The silver thread used is Gütermann Dekor Metallic no. 41; I've never tried machine embroidery with this, but it's ghastly to use for hand sewing. But, I love the effect it gives when used for chain stitch, so I use it a lot, difficult or not. The split stitch is in Madeira stranded cotton, and the design is worked on navy silk matka fabric.

Someone once told me this looked very 'witchy'. I'm not sure what she meant by that, but I decided to take it as a compliment anyway!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Turquoise Serpent is finished!

Here's Xiuhcoatl, the Turquoise Serpent, in all his glory:

To form the final panel, the completed embroidery needed to be stretched onto a piece of board. Depending on the size of the final item I might use mount board for this, but I felt this was just too large for that, so I used a piece of hardboard, cut to size.

As I've mentioned before, this is quite a tactile piece, and the padded suede is actually quite hard, so for a contrast, I covered the board with a layer of polyester wadding.

I forgot to take a photo of this, but using tailor's chalk, I measured up and marked the size of the board on the back of the embroidery; this makes lining things up later a whole lot easier!

Using the chalk marks, I laid the covered board onto the fabric, folded this over the board, and pinned it into place on the edge of the board. If I'd been using mount board, I'd have used ordinary sewing pins for this, but the hardboard is too, well, hard for that, so I used drawing pins instead.

These are just to hold the fabric in place for the next stage, so it doesn't matter that the fabric isn't stretched tight yet.

Turning it over, I mitred the first corner and pinned it in place. (Instructions and clearer photos on how to do this are on my 'official' site.)

The thread sticking out of the top corner is crochet cotton, which I often use to lace up an embroidery as it's quite strong, though linen thread is probably better. I pulled this thread through before pinning the corner as it makes things a bit easier, though if you're carrful you can do it afterwards instead.

Using this thread, I ladder stitched the top and side edged together, forming the mitred corner.

Without finished it off, I then took the thread diagonally across the board to the opposite corner, and did the same again. The other two corners were secured in the same way, giving neat corners with no need for trimming, and an 'X' of thread across the board. Anchoring the corners first also means that the fabric is now held in place on the board even before the lacing has been done, so the drawing pins can be removed.

Using a ridiculously long length of the crochet cotton, I secured it at the centre of the long edge of the fabric, and laced it with herringbone stitch backwards and forwards between the top and bottom edges.

With such a long piece of thread, it's next to impossible to stop it tangling, so I don't even try to pull the lacing tight as I go. I get all the lacing in position first, then pull it tight a thread at a time, before fastening it off. Once the first centre-to-edge is done, I returned to the centre, and laced it to the second edge.

I then did the same again for the short edge.

It makes rather a nice pattern, doesn't it?

The embroidery is now nicely stretched onto its board, but I couldn't leave it with the back like that. I used black silk dupion for the backing, as it gives a good contrast in textures to the satin of the front. It was just some I had in my fabric cupboard, though, and was dress weight rather than upholstery weight, so I ironed on some fine black Vilene, to add a bit of strength.

I then pinned this to the back; I folded over the edges and pinned them in the centre first, before mitring the corners again, and pinning them into position, then adding more pins round the edges, to hold it fast.

I then ladder stitched round the edge, using a curved needle. They aren't the easiest things to use, and I always find them awkward to thread, but they do come into their own with jobs like this, as they avoid the tugging at the fabric you get when trying to get a straight needle at the right angle.

After the back was attached, all that needed doing was adding a label.


Monday, 21 December 2009

Turquoise Serpent - the embroidery's finished

Just a quick post to say that all the embroidery on the Turquoise Serpent is now finished.

I've edged the body in two strands of couched Jap silver passing thread, to emphasise the coils; I could go for quite a distance without needing to finish off, so far fewer ends to deal with this time!

All the embroidery may now be finished and the piece taken off the frame, but there's still a bit of work to do to stretch it onto a panel, and finish it off properly. More on that next time!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Turquoise Serpent - silver infill

Firstly, an apology: posts have been very infrequent of late, and I'm sorry about that, and very grateful to those readers who keep coming back anyway. It's much appreciated!

With upheaval at work, a house full of decorators, and my birthday in there somewhere, I haven't managed to get nearly as much sewing done as I'd have liked, but I have battled on when I could, and have now finished the couched silver infill between the suede appliqué 'mosaic'.

I'm very glad that bit's done - I am so sick of finishing off the ends of the threads, I really am! It takes much longer than stitching them down in the first place. Still, they're all done now, and look much better in real life than in the photo (honestly!). It's not quite finished yet - I need to edge the body of the serpent, also in couched Jap silver, though that should be much more straightforward.

I don't go back to work until the New Year, so all being well, you should hear a bit more from me now than you have done recently!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sunderland Embroiderers' Guild Christmas social

I'm a member of the Sunderland branch of the Embroiderers' Guild, and today was our Christmas social afternoon.

As well as a raffle and a sales table, plus very nice mince pies, everyone's rainbow squares were on display.

The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot two and a half of mine!

The ladies of the committee had also put together packs for everyone to make a Christmas tree ornament. We could choose between a star and a Christmas tree, and we all settled down to a happy afternoon of stitching and chatting.

I chose the tree - this is made of two layers of green felt with some wadding between them and stitched together with running stitch, and decorated with sequin waste trimmed to form a pattern. I put my tree up at home today, so when I got home I was able to put it straight on the tree.

I think if I'd spent more time stitching and less time talking, I might have got the sequin waste on straight!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

'300' slip case

The piece I'm working on at the moment is largely composed of appliquéd leather. I've used this technique quite a lot, usually alongside goldwork, but I've also used it with other techniques, including machine embroidery.

This slip case was made to hold a first edition of the graphic novel 300, by Frank Miller. If you've read it or seen the rather noisy film based on it, you'll know that it's a version of the story of the battle of Thermopylae. As such, the design of the helmet was based on ancient Greek coins, while the background was inspired by the stylised look of the book itself.

Closer up, you can see that the background detail is free machine embroidery, while the helmet is hand stitched.

Regular readers will know that most of my work is meticulously planned, but with the machine embroidery, while I knew the effect I was after, I didn't mark it out at all, but just worked on the lines until they looked right.

For the helmet, I drew it up with the various sections together, but when cutting it out from copper kid leather, I cut them out separately, and when placing them on the background - also just done by eye, without any marking up - spaced them out, to enhance the stylised effect. The kid is slightly padded with craft felt, to give added depth and create interest with shadows.

I haven't made a slip case for a while; each one is entirely tailored for the book it's made for - not just the design but the slip case itself is custom-made to fit. Next time I make one, I'll describe the technicalities of putting the slip case together.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Couched silver infill

I'm currently adding the silver infill between the appliquéd turquoise suede 'mosaic' pieces. This is couched silver thread, using a single silver passing thread, and worked as I described in my 'Goldwork - basic couching' post.

One big difference to the goldwork piece I described before is in the amount of starting and finishing there is to do. In that case (and this is definitely my preferred option!), I used two threads in parallel, and went round and round the shape to be covered with the couching, and when it was all done, finished the threads off. Two thread ends at the start, two at the end; just the four to take through to the back and fasten. Not this time - each gap between two appliqué pieces needs its own length of thread, which needs starting and finishing. I'm spending longer fastening the ends than I am actually sewing!

Still, it's worth it, I think. Here's a section of the Serpent, before the silver thread was added.

Next, I'm couching down the thread a section at a time, so I can finish off a group of ends in one go. This should give you some idea of how many of them there are!

There were six ends just for this small piece; all finished off neatly at the back, and we get this:

I'm quite pleased with the overall effect. I'm part way through the infill, so here's work so far.