Thursday, 29 July 2010

Celebrating our achievements, and ethical threads

I've recently read a couple of posts, on Cliodhna's Wave and Materialistic, that I found interesting and thought provoking, and I wanted to share them with you.

Cliodhna has written about celebrating small achievements, rather than being too hard on ourselves.  I know I recognised myself in that; I'm something of a perfectionist and always try and do the very best I can, especially with my sewing but with other things as well.  I think that striving for perfection can be a good thing - how else can we ever learn and improve? - but it does mean that I tend to only ever see the faults in my work, and concentrate on the areas where I feel I could do better.

Cliodhna says, and she's absolutely right, that we should celebrate the things that went right, not worry about the things that went wrong.  We all do lots of things beautifully all the time, but then pass over them without noticing, and concentrate instead on the very few things that aren't quite up to the standards we set ourselves.  It's time to celebrate what we do and be proud of ourselves - we deserve it!

One person who should celebrate the achievement of bringing to attention an important but overlooked issue is Kelly Fletcher of Materialistic.  In a recent post, she wrote about ethically sourced products, how (or if) we know whether the threads we use are from sustainable sources or processed in decent working conditions.  I'm ashamed to admit that it never occurred to me to even think about that.  I try and buy ethically sourced and organically grown foods, but even though so much of the fabrics and threads that I use are natural (cotton, silk, wool, linen), I have no idea where it comes from or how it's produced.

Is there such a thing as a 'Fair Trade' scheme for fabrics and threads?  Should there be?  Does anyone know where the major manufacturers source their materials, or if there are any suppliers who provide ethically sourced sewing goods?

I usually use Madeira embroidery cottons and silks, so I've emailed Madeira UK to ask about them; I'll let you know what response I get, though to be fair I should point out that they already recognise public concern on this and have information on the environmental standards they use in producing their rayon threads.  I intend to contact the other major manufacturers too, and if enough of us do, then they'll have to start taking this issue seriously.

This is important - pass it on!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Four Elements: Air

I can't believe it's so long since I last posted - sorry about that.  It's summer, more or less, so I've been out and about, I've reupholstered some dining chairs, and I've almost finished tidying and rearranging my workroom (of which more in a future post).  What I haven't been doing, I'm afraid, is sewing.  I do have plans, though, so I'll get back to it soon.  You'll be the first to know!

In the meantime, here's the final one in the Four Elements series: Air.

This is an original design, but I wanted it to have a Celtic feel, which I like to think it does.  As with the others, it's outlined in chain stitch in a metallic thread, in silver in this case, and then filled in with split stitch, here in two toning shades of turquoise.

In close up:

While I like this one (unlike Earth!), one thing that annoys me about it is that it's not straight, or I suppose I should say not round.  It's meant to be, but it must have distorted slightly on the frame, and I didn't manage to correct it fully when pressing it and mounting it onto board.  If only I'd discovered damp stretching sooner!

Overall, I like this series.  Even with the much-maligned Earth, I like the concept behind it, I just think I could do better.  In fact, as I stitched these some time ago now, I think I could do all of them better.  Maybe I'll do them again some time, using different techniques.  And bigger.  And not behind glass.  Panels?  Hangings?  Hmm...

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Spirograph I and Spirograph III

As promised, I've taken photos of the front of the Spirograph I panel, and as a bonus, Spirograph III too!  So without further ado, and with the usual apologies for the standard of the photographs, here's I:

A close-up, with the light catching the gold:

Spirograph III:

And another close-up:

Both of them need a backing putting on, along with a hanging mechanism, which is why they were just propped up on a dining chair for these photos.  That's all a bit more mundane and less fun than goldwork, but it has to be done.

Friday, 16 July 2010

OK, change of plan...

For weeks now, while working on the Spirograph I and II pieces, I've been referring to them as hangings.  That was the intention, but they're now going to be panels instead.

I first became concerned when I took Spirograph I off the frame, and some of the couched lines looked a bit wobbly.  They'd been fine while under tension, but take that tension away, and all of a sudden they weren't as straight any more.  This would be fine in many cases, but the Spirograph designs need clean, precise lines to work (for me, anyway), and so this was a problem.

A problem I tried to ignore by stashing it in a cupboard and getting on with the next one, but when that was finished too, I decided it was time to face up to it and make my mind up what to do.  While Spirograph III didn't suffer from the same problem, or not to the same extent, whatever I decided would need to be for all three as they should work together as well as separately.

Damp stretching helped a great deal, but I was still worried that hangings wouldn't have the degree of rigidity needed to keep the goldwork in the correct state.  It needed to be kept taught.  So that was that then: they need to be stretched round board and mounted as panels, not hangings.  Phew, a decision!

I got some hardboard cut to size at my local Homebase, and cut some polyester wadding to the same size, and using 505 spray glue for fabrics, stuck it to the board.  This will cushion the fabric slightly, and give it a more opulent feel than stretching it straight over the board would.  I then placed this upside down on the back of the fabric:

When I marked up the design on the back I'd included the lines of the edges, so that when I came to make it up, everything would be straight and the right size.  This was meant to be for the interlining of the hanging, but it's just as useful for the board for a panel!  (And sorry about the determinedly unpeelable price sticker on the board; I gave up trying to get it off.  At least it's on the back.)

Using drawing pins, I temporarily held the fabric in place on the board, by pinning through the edges of the board itself.  This allows me to check that the positioning is right, and realign it if necessary.

Next, I mitre the corners, folding them over the board and ladder stitching them down:

I use a long thread for this, and after stitching the first corner, take this thread diagonally across the board to the next one.  When I've done all four, I'm left with an 'X' of thread across the board:

This helps pull the corners in and hold the fabric in position enough for me to take the drawing pins out, though by this time half of them were falling out anyway!

I should add that I've used a cotton crochet thread for this, as it's strong and easy to work with.  Linen thread is good too.

I then take a very long length of the thread, and starting from the centre of the short edge, take it to the opposite edge and take a back stitch, herringbone stitch-style, before heading back again.  Even with long lengths of thread, I only managed two or three passes before running out, as the panel is 1.2m (almost 4 feet) long.  I should also note that such long lengths are very prone to tangling; I must have spent as long sorting out the tangles as actually doing the lacing!

Working from the centre to the edges, I got all the lacing in place from short edge to short edge:

And finally, the same again, from long edge to long edge:

That's a lot of lacing!  It's worth doing, though, as it gives an even tension to the stretched fabric, and a good finish to the final panel.

At this point I should show you what it looks like from the front, which I'm very pleased with, but I want to take some photos in better light, so I'm afraid you're going to have to wait for a day or two.  Check back here soon!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Spirograph III - damp stretching

The fabric is now off the frame, and as always happens when the tension is relaxed, it immediately looks a wrinkled mess.  Spirograph I went straight into a cupboard at this stage as I didn't have a board big enough to stretch it on, but I've now got one, so Spirograph III can get stretched properly, with Spirograph I to follow.

The board is too big to fit on the table in my workroom, so operations have temporarily been moved to the dining room.

I started with the long edges, beginning in the centre and working out.  Here it is right at the start, with just a couple of map pins top and bottom:

That's not smoothed out at all and so makes it look worse than it really is, but even so, you should be able to see some puckering around the spirals, especially the largest one.  Once it's stretched, that should disappear!

I pin out from the centre to the edges, and added a couple of pins at the top edge then move round to the bottom and add a couple there, and so on.  This is to keep the tension even - pinning all of one edge and then pinning the second one is easier but doesn't give as good a finish.

Here's both short edges pinned:

This is better, but still needs the long edges pinning.  And here it is with them done:

All creases, bumps and wrinkles have now been pulled out, but to make sure they don't come back, I dampened the entire fabric with a plant mister, and have left it to dry over night.  When I take the pins out I should be left with a beautifully flat finish.

As an aside, I should run a competition to guess the number of map pins used, apart from I can't be bothered to count them all.  You can see here that they're very close together, almost touching:

I've measured the perimeter, which is a total of 416cm.  If I estimate 2 pins per centimetre, that's around 800 of them.  No wonder I have a bruise on the end of my thumb from pushing them in!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Spirograph III - the last of the embroidery

It's taken a while but I got there in the end - I've finished the embroidery on the Spirograph III hanging.  Here's the final spiral, the very large one, plus a couple of the smaller ones that made it into the shot:

The smaller ones were worked in sections as I found the pattern too fiddly to follow on that scale, but with the big one it was easier to see what needed to go where, so I did it all in one go.  So that is actually one very long continuous thread, only starting and finishing in one place.  That means very little waste, too, so it's also very economical!

Here's as much of the finished piece as I could get into the photo:

There's one small spiral on the right that didn't quite make it into the picture, but next time you see it it'll be off the frame, so everything should be visible.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Four Elements: Earth

Here's the fourth in the Four Elements sequence, Earth:

Like Water, it uses a traditional Celtic motif, this time knotwork.  Also the same as Fire and Water, the outlines are in chain stitch in a metallic thread, filled in with split stitch.

Just about everyone seems to say that this one is their favourite, and I can't understand why: it's my least favourite out of the four.  To me, it just doesn't work.  I think the concept is fine, but both the design and the execution let it down.  The way the two sets of knotwork - the centre and the outer ring - link together I think is clumsy; it may work better if there were an odd number of the linking loops, probably five, rather than the four I have here, as for some reason odd numbers of things often seem more harmonious than even numbers.  Plus, the greens are slightly the wrong shade to work together, and the change from green to brown is awkward.  All in all, not one of my better efforts!

One day, I'll do this again, I think.  I'll start again with a new design, and this time, I'll try and get it right!