Monday, 30 August 2010

Final spiral - half way

This is just a quick update to say that after some serious Bank Holiday sewing, I'm now half way through the final spiral on Spirograph II.  And here it is:

You can really see the pattern developing already; with the design for the smaller ones, I felt it didn't really come together until right at the end.

I'm really trying to get this finished off so I can move onto other things (one other thing in particular - I'll say more on that when the time comes), though there's till quite a bit to do.  Better get on!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Spirograph II - third spiral - first loop

Work is now under way on the third, and largest, of the three spirals in this design.  Here's the transfer on the back:

I don't expect it to leap out at you (I hope!) but this actually a different Spirograph spiral to the other two in this design; similar, but not the same.  In both the other panels, all the spirals are the same, just different sizes, but not here.  This sort of spiral has a void in the centre; I felt that when I scaled the original spiral up to this size, this void was just too big.  All the goldwork would be round the edge, with a great big gap in the middle.  So, I drew another one along the same lines but which had a much smaller central space.

The other spirals are both composed of thirteen loops, each of which forms a heart shape; this one has eight loops, but each of them is much longer, crossing over itself a couple of times.  This is a bit more obvious with the first loop picked out with running stitches:

It's more obvious still when these stitches have been couched over with the gold thread:

This means that the design is going to develop much faster, with the network effect becoming visible much sooner.  There's a lot more sewing in each loop, but fewer of them, so it should even out.  All the same, each one is pretty big, so there's a lot of work to do yet!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Spirograph II - second spiral issues

I've done the second spiral, of three, on the Spirograph II panel, and here it is:

I'm not altogether happy with this - it's not quite circular and it should be.  I don't know if the design marked on the back distorted when I stretched (or over-stretched) it onto the frame, or if when I went over some of the fainter transfer lines with a pencil I drew them in wrongly, or if I just went wrong when stitching it.  Or a combination, I suppose.  Whatever happened, it just doesn't look quite right to me.

Here it is with the first spiral:

The trouble with doing designs that are so precise rather than something more free-form is that they have far less margin for error: get it wrong, and it shows, unfortunately.

Still, I haven't given up hope - if it is a problem with the tension, then with a bit of luck it should right itself to a large extent when I take it off the frame, and I should be able to correct the problem at least to an extent at the damp stretching stage.  The big spiral still needs to be stitched before I get that far, though.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Starting Spirograph II

Yes, Spirograph II.  The last one I did was Spirograph III, but I'm just being awkward.  Actually, I got out of sequence as there were problems with the design for Spirograph II, or rather with the limitations of my equipment.  Due to the nature of the spiral designs, I need to have the full spiral available to work on all in one go.  My original design for Spirograph II featured a huge spiral, the biggest yet, but unfortunately it was too big to all fit on my frame at once.  I got on with the less problematic Spirograph III while I considered what to do.

The only practical thing to do, really, was to rework the design.  I made the large spiral smaller, but somehow that made the rest of the design look unbalanced, so I redid the rest of it too.  It's now similar in concept to the original version, but is actually a completely new design.

And here it is:

As all the setting-up process is exactly the same as for the other two panels in the series I won't go into too much detail on that, apart from one thing: a new transfer pencil.

I've used blue transfer pencils for years, but while they certainly transfer the design well, I've always found them very prone to smudging, so when I found a red pencil, I thought I'd give it a try.  Here's the first spiral, transferred onto the linen backing:

Well it's a very pretty shade of pink, but it's not that easy to see.  It seems to need a hotter iron to transfer - to melt whatever the 'lead' is made of so it will stick to the fabric - than the blue pencil, which is good in that it smudges a lot less as little flakes of pencil stuff don't melt everywhere, but not so good in that the tracing paper (kitchen greaseproof paper, in this case) was singeing, and the design is still quite faint in places.  It doesn't help that it's such a fiddly design - something simpler would be a lot easier to see - but all the same, it's hard work.  I've gone over the hardest to see areas with an ordinary drawing pencil, to give me a fighting chance.

This spiral is one continuous line, but when drawing it, the line went round and round the outer circle multiple times, which is fine with ink but not really practical in stitch.  So, I'm working each of the inner lines separately, then finally the outer circle.

Each of these inner lines starts at the edge, loops into the centre, then heads back to the edge again, making a sort of heart shape.  However, when trying to trace them when making the transfer I kept getting hopelessly lost.  This didn't matter for the transfer as long as all the lines were drawn in somehow, but was obviously no use at all for the final goldwork version, which needs to follow the correct line at all times.

I got round this when tacking each line through from the back by starting not at the edge, but from the centre.

I overstitched the first half of the 'heart' in this way, and it was far easier to follow the line, so when I also stitched the second half, it gave the correct line quite nicely without too much bother or any unpicking.

On the front, this was easy to see:

And to couch over with a double length of imitation Japanese gold thread:

This is the smallest of the spirals, at 12cm (just over 4.5"), so it didn't take too long to do.  Here are the first three loops worked:

There are thirteen of these loops in all, and when they were all done, I could couch the final outer circle:

I'm really pleased with how this has turned out.  It looks great in the sunshine (when we get any!), and I think this could be my favourite of all the panels.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

How to draw a Spirograph spiral

This really should have occurred to me before, but after someone emailed me to ask how I drew the spirals, it finally dawned on me that not everyone would know what a Spirograph was.  That was a pretty big assumption on my part, so sorry about that, but better late than never - here's a quick lesson in spiral drawing.

Firstly, there is no maths involved, or at least not on my part; if anyone is interested in the mathematics behind the  spirals (Ruth M, if you're reading, this means you!), there's an overview of it on Wikipedia, but to be honest I haven't actually read it.  I'm working at a far more basic level, and as the Spirograph was intended as a child's toy, that's pretty basic.

I had one of these as a child, but it's now long gone, and even if it was discovered lurking in my parents' attic, I would probably have lost half the bits, so when I decided to explore Spirograph spirals as part of my design work, I bought one on eBay.  By the look of the box, this one must date from the late 1960s, but I think they're still being made in some form now.

The original pens and paper are missing here, but everything else is still in place.  The important bits are the series of toothed rings and discs:

These can be used in combination in a variety of ways, but to draw a basic spiral, I've used one of the rings, pinned to a cork mat through the holes provided for the purpose, and one of the small discs.

Larger holes are for a pen, which is also used to propel the disc around the ring:

The blurb on the box claims that all sorts of horribly complicated patterns are "easily drawn".  Don't believe it!

It takes a steady hand and, in my experience at least, several attempts, to produce anything presentable.

As the disc is pushed round the ring with the pen, it naturally follows the line governed by the interlocking teeth.  It helps to take it quite steadily and not to rush, as if the disc jumps out of the teeth, you may as well give it up and start again.

But all being well, you'll end up back where you started, with a nice neat spiral, in this case a 21-pointed star:

And with the ring removed:

As you can tell from the photos with my hands in, these are fairly small, and in the olden days that would have been it.  Happily, I can now do more - I scan the spirals, and can resize and reposition them to form my designs.  Easy!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Spirograph panels - backing and hanging

The two completed Spirograph panels needed fabric backings adding to cover up the lacing, plus a means of hanging them for display.

Using cotton upholstery fabric in a toning shade, I cut a rectangle slightly larger than the panel.  I turned the edge under all the way round and pinned it into place:

In close up:

Then, with matching sewing thread and a curved needle, I ladder stitched it into place:

Curved needles aren't the easiest things to use - I always find them very tricky to thread, for a start - but for a job like this they're invaluable.

Here's the panel with the back stitched on all the way round:

It's stretched quite taut and is nice and flat.

It still needs some way of hanging it, though.  For this, I cut out a series of small rectangles of the same backing fabric. three for each panel:

I neatened the edges with the overlocker, and joined the two short edges together, to form a sleeve:

The sleeve was turned the right side out and pressed, with the seam in the centre of the back:

I then turned the edges in, and pressed them into place:

Using tailor's chalk, I marked where on the back of the panel the sleeves were to go, and pinned them in place:

The chalk marks weren't much clearer than that in real life!

Using the curved needle again, I ladder stitched each sleeve to the backing fabric.  I stitched both edges, as the double row of stitching will give additional strength to support the weight of the panel.  Here's the inner edge being stitched:

And with both edges stitched:

The sleeves can now have a length of dowel slotted through, which will hang on hooks to display the panel:

The three sleeves should distribute the weight, and the gaps between them allow two or more hooks to be used, again to distribute the weight and the keep it straight.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

My workroom

I thought you might be interested in seeing my workroom, especially as it's newly tidy!  Over the last couple of weeks, my mum gave up her Sunday afternoons to help me sort out boxes and other accumulated stuff (thanks mum!), and things are much better organised now.

This side of the room is for working, though it does include some storage.

This table is perfect for standing and working at as it's higher than normal, and so I don't have to bend down and strain my back.  It's also steel topped, so it's great for cutting out.  The drawers beneath it are for threads - the coloured ribbons show which coloured threads are inside.  They also lift out completely, which is handy for rummaging.  (You might also recognise the Four Elements embroideries above the table!)

One very important piece of equipment also lives here: my iPod.  I listen to a lot of music when I'm sewing.

The second table contains my sewing machine, overlocker, iron and radio.  Space is a bit tight here, so when either the sewing machine or overlocker is in use, everything else has to be moved out of the way.

Moving further round, the bookshelves contain my art and design and textile books, plus other bits and pieces that I need frequently, such as pencils or the guillotine.

Further round again is mostly storage, plus my drawing board.

This is a new innovation after the tidying up exercise - all my sewing frames stored together in a basket:

They were in various cupboards, shelves or even (I'm afraid) on the floor before, so this is a big improvement!

More baskets hold all sorts of things: drawing paper and materials, stationery, camera equipment, bags, embroidery hoops, gift wrap, cuddly tiger - all sorts.

Nothing that functional here, though the cupboard in the corner contains all my fabrics.

The fabrics are arranged by colour, the same as the threads; plain cottons and linens are at the bottom.

And here's where I sit and stitch.  The daylight lamp is on casters, which is handy, and the wooden box next to the sofa contains my goldwork threads.  My biggest frame is set up with Spirograph II, ready to go, though strictly speaking I haven't finished off the others yet!  I'm not going to allow myself to start on the embroidery until I'm finished the backs of the other panels first, or they'll never get done.

So, that's where I do all my design and sewing work.  I'm very lucky to have a dedicated space, and it's a pleasure to use.