Sunday, 31 January 2010

Kate's Crow: finished!

Sorry for the long gap between posts - I went down with what might have been the norovirus, but which wasn't a whole lot of fun whatever it was. This meant a few days when sewing, and everything else, was out of the question. I'm a lot better now, though, and Kate's Crow is now finished!

Here it is almost finished:

All the silver chain stitch is finished here. I'm not altogether happy with the very bottom spiral, as it's not quite circular - I think that's down to how I've got the marked-up fabric on the frame, so I'm hopeful that when I take the piece off the frame, which I'm yet to do, it'll sort itself out. If it still isn't quite right, I should be able to pull it true when it's stretched and pressed, so it'll be fine.

After the spirals were completed, there was still one small but important thing left to do - the eye:

I filled the eye in with red stranded silk, using split stitch. This might seem like a minor thing, but I think it makes the whole piece, adding an unexpected dash of colour and giving the crow character.

That's the end of the embroidery but not of the story. I mentioned last time that I'd been in touch with an artist blacksmith about getting a fire screen made to frame it. I've since sent him the ideas I've had for a design, but I haven't heard back from him yet, so I don't know whether he'll be making it yet. I'll let you know what he says once I've heard more.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Kate's Crow: spiral update 4

All being well, this should be the last of the updates; next time you see Kate's Crow, it should be finished!

It's not quite there yet, though. Here's what I've just been working on:

So not too much more to do now! I wanted to finish all the spirals round the crow to make it stand out - I've got no patience, I'm afraid.

The full thing, as it stands:

I'm quite excited to see it all completed. Or all the embroidery, that is - it's to be made up into a fire screen. As it's all black and silver, I thought the best thing to set it off would be wrought iron. I've been in touch with an artist blacksmith, who seems quite keen on the idea. He's asked me to send sketches as a starting point, so he can see the sort of thing I have in mind, so I'm now working with Kate and her husband Nick on a design. I'll show you what we come up with once we have something we're all happy with.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Kate's Crow: spiral update 3

Last time, I had a chunk to finish, and then I'd have stitched all the design above the crow. So, how have I done? Not bad, actually.

Going in reverse order, here's what I'm currently working on, complete with some of the running stitches marking out the design, just as a reminder of how fiddly the whole thing is:

Once you can see the whole thing, you'll see that I've made quite a bit of progress. In fact, there's probably not much more than a quarter of the spirals left to do. Well, maybe a third:

The silhouette effect of the crow against the spirals is become quite clear now - I think it should really stand out once the rest are completed.

There's still a bit of work left to do, so there'll probably be another of these updates before we all get to see the finished article.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Stories from the Arabian Nights - slip case

While I'm working on Kate's Crow, I thought I show you something else I've done that uses the same technique, at least in part.

This is a slip case for Stories from the Arabian Nights, by Laurence Housman and illustrated by Edmund Dulac. The book itself still has its original dust jacket, which includes the incense burner design, though just in outline. I love the Art Nouveau swirls of the smoke rising from it, so I used this design for the embroidery on the slip case. The boards of the book, underneath the dust jacket, are in a terracotta fabric, so I used a similar shade for the silk dupion I used as the background.

The stitching is clearer in a close up:

The 'smoke' and the legs of the pot are in chain stitch, in Gutermann Dekor metallic thread, though in this case in gold. Of the metallic threads I've tried, I find Dekor lends itself best to complicated shapes, as it's not stiff at all and so will turn corners easily. I've mentioned before some problems with using it, but as long as you're careful it works nicely, and I think is especially effective in chain stitch.

The pot itself is in appliquéd gold kid leather (which was very fiddly to do, as I recall!), with split stitch in stranded cotton filling in the gaps in blue.

This isn't the most complex slip case I've done, but I think it's one of the most effective, as the use of a motif by the book's illustrator links them together.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Kate's Crow: spiral update 2

A further update on how the spirals are coming along. I'm quite pleased with progress:

The silhouette effect of the unfilled-in crow against the background is really starting to take shape now.

Again, you can get more of an idea of the stitching in a close-up:

Once I've got that last corner filled in, I'll have all the top half done! It should really give a good idea of the final effect then.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Bookshelf Project

A quick bonus post: a photo of the bookshelves in my living room is on Peter Sandico's terrific Kyusi Reader blog.

Spot the embroideries!

Kate's Crow: materials

It occurred to me, a little belatedly, that I should have described the materials I'm using for this piece. So, better late than never; here they are:

So not many, and a couple of them won't even end up being seen.

The threads first:

The pale grey sewing thread is used to overstitch the design on the back, and so transfer it to the front of the fabric. I could use any colour as it won't, or shouldn't, end up being seen, but by using a toning colour to the final one, if any of the transfer stitches do peek out slightly, they shouldn't be noticeable.

The metallic thread is Gutermann Dekor no. 41, silver. I'm using this to stitch over the running stitches transferring the design, in chain stitch. I have mixed feelings about this thread. I use it a lot and have done for years, especially in chain stitch, as I like the sparkly, slightly rough effect it gives, very different to traditional goldwork threads. However, I've never found it easy to work with. It consists of a set of fine strands of a synthetic filament, mixed with very thin metallic strips. Both the filaments and the metallic component snap and fray very easily, and once one's gone, it causes havoc with the rest of the length you're sewing with. In my experience, use short lengths, stop to smooth it out regularly, and once it starts to snarl up (and it will, believe me) give it up: finish off that length of thread as soon as possible, however much of it is left, and start a new one. Trying to keep going will just end in tears. And don't bother trying running it through beeswax - it won't help and just dulls the shine.

Finally, I'll be using the Madeira stranded silk for the crow's eye, using (probably) split stitch. Other brands of silk floss have a wider range of colours, but Madeira threads are always good quality, and as they're supplied in individual packets, they don't tangle and are kept nice and clean. Given what most embroiderers' thread collections are like, this is a big plus!

Onto the fabrics:

I've used quite a fine linen to back the main fabric. This is actually an old linen sheet; I always ask cloth stalls at antique fairs and the like if they have any linen sheets or unworked tablecloths, pillowcases, etc. I won't cut up anything that some other embroiderer has worked (well, not unless it's really bad!), but sheets and so forth are fair game. They often have worn patches or small tears, but for my purposes that doesn't matter; I've had a lot of beautiful quality linen at a fraction of the cost of buying it new this way. This old sheet has 'T47' stitched on one corner; I would guess this is an old laundry mark.

The linen is used to support the fabric that'll be seen, as it's not strong enough to be stretched onto a frame on its own. I use silk fabrics a lot in my work, and this is 100% silk matka.

Matka is a raw silk fabric with quite a large, open weave. It looks as though it ought be quite coarse, like hessian, but is actually beautifully soft. I love this contrast between its appearance and its texture, and it's one of my favourite fabrics, so I don't know why I don't use it more than I do. I need to find a few more uses for it, I think!

I don't know of anywhere local to me that sells it (or much else in the way of quality fabric, sadly), so I buy it and most of the rest of the silk fabrics I use mail order from Hansson of Guildford, who I have always found very friendly, fast and reliable.

Next time, I'll show you how the spirals are coming along...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Kate's Crow: spiral update 1

First, the obligatory weather report: it's not snowing. But, as it's currently -6° Celsius (21° Fahrenheit) and falling, the snow we already have is not going anywhere any time soon. I don't have any scenic photos for you I'm afraid; I live in a city, and right now I'm very glad of it, as at least I can get to the shops and to work. This must be very difficult for those without decent access to services, and I hope you're all doing ok.

Kate's Crow is also doing ok - here's how it's looking at the moment:

You can see the stitching better in a close-up:

I think it's coming along quite nicely, if I say so myself, and as I'm not likely to be doing much else over the weekend, all things considered, I should have a bit more to show you next time.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Daylight floor lamp

My eagerly-awaited Christmas present from my mum and dad was a new sewing lamp. My previous lamp, which wasn't much good anyway, had packed in, and I've been using an elderly Anglepoise lamp stood on a box. This was less than ideal.

Decent light is very important when sewing to prevent unnecessary strain on the eyes, and I'm rather ashamed at what I've been using up to now. Neither of the previous lamps were high enough to cast an even light on the whole embroidery I was working on, and as I invariably seemed to have my hand between the light and my sewing, the bit I was working on always seemed to be in shadow.

But not any more! For the past week or so I've been using my new lamp, and I absolutely love it. Here it is, in situ:

This is the Daylight Ultimate Floorstanding Lamp, Antique. Isn't it great? It's height adjustable, and the top swivels, so I can get a good light exactly where I need it. It's also on casters, so I can easily position it where I need it, too. I haven't used a daylight bulb before as I didn't think it would make much difference over an ordinary bulb, but it certainly does; it's a much bluer light than I'm used to, and seems clearer. I'm not using coloured threads at the moment, so it's hard to tell whether they really will look the same as in daylight; I need to try that and find out.

As well as the light itself, it has various other attachments for the crafter. The one I now can't imagine being without is the clamp for your chart or pattern. I've got my design held in that, but as the paper just drooped, I put a piece of board behind it. I thought this might be a bit heavy for either the clamp or the arm it's on, but it's held it beautifully. This is a big improvement over either having the design lying about on the chair, or taped to the drawing board over the other side of the room!

I haven't used either of these yet, but there are also a magnifying glass (here still in it's little bag, to keep it clean), and a tray for bits and pieces. This even has little prongs to hang skeins of thread from, which I like, even if I can't see I'll make much use of it (I usually use Madeira stranded cottons or silks, which come in packets) - it seems like a nice detail.

All in all, it makes my previous lighting arrangements seem even worse than I thought they were. Mum, dad: thanks!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Starting the spirals

The spiral design behind the crow silhouette is now under way. I've decided to start from the top and work down; I'm doing this a bit at a time, and this is why:

As I mentioned before, I'm transferring the design by stitching over a transfer of it ironed on the back with small running stitches. Doing a little bit like this at a time means it's still more or less clear where I'm going, but trying to do the whole lot in one go would end up in the world's worst game of join the dots. To save my sanity, I'll do this a spiral at a time!

Here it is over-stitched with chain stitch in the silver thread:

The running stitch-overstitching method might be rather time-consuming, but it's great for getting a design onto dark fabric like this, and even for a light fabric, unlike other methods of transferring a design to fabric - transfer, pencil, carbon paper, even pounce powder - if you go a little wrong or there's a line left showing after you've finished your embroidery, it can be be unpicked (very carefully!) and it's as though it never existed.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Kate's Crow: we're underway!

Happy new year! Best wishes to everyone for the coming year, and a big thank-you to everyone who took the trouble to read my blog or to leave comments during 2009. This has been my first venture into blogging, and the warmth, support, and generosity of spirit I've found in the online sewing community has been wonderful. You are all amazing people.

But back to business. I had more time to myself than expected today, after blizzard conditions meant that a family New Year party I'd been going to was cancelled at the last moment. It was a shame not to see a few people I haven't seen in far too long, but I'm sure we'll have another chance to catch up, and at least I could spend my new free time productively, working on Kate's Crow.

This is probably going to sound a bit familiar to any regulars, but the first stage was to make a transfer of the design with a transfer pencil, and iron it onto some linen. This was then stitched onto the silk matka that will form the background fabric for the piece, and the edges overlocked for strength. I then mounted the joint layers of fabric onto a floor-standing embroidery frame.

So, here's the ironed-on transfer, on the back of the fabric:

Apologies for the typically duff photos, by the way. I think a good new year resolution would be to learn how to take decent photographs.

Anyway, you may notice that the design is the wrong way round; that'll all come right when it gets onto the front. I'm using my usual method of going over the transfer with small running stitches. As it's quite a complex design, if I try and do the whole lot at once I'll end up hopelessly confused, and I think mistakes would be inevitable. So, I'm going to do the design a bit at a time.

To start with, I tacked over the outer circle and the crow outline itself, in a light grey sewing cotton:

I then stitched over these running stitches in chain stitch, using Gütermann metallic thread no. 41 (silver, in other words). Here it is partially done:

And now with the circle and the crow completed:

The stitching looks white here, but it is actually silver, and looks quite sparkly in real life.

The next step is to tackle the spirals, a bit at a time...