Thursday, 30 September 2010

Flower petals

With the petals outlined with buttonhole stitch, they now need to be filled in.  I'm going to use split stitch for this, partly because it's historically accurate, but also because I like it. I've nothing against satin stitch or long and short, but for my own work, I prefer the subtlety of shading and the texture split stitch gives.

I'm using two colours for the petals - Madeira 0103 and 0104, with 0104 being the slightly darker of the two.  Even though the flowers are pretty small and the shading won't really be that noticeable unless someone gets up quite close, I think it's worth doing as otherwise the flowers could look quite flat, while hopefully with some shading, they should look more natural even if the technique used to achieve this isn't immediately obvious.  That's the plan, anyway!

So, I want each petal to be slightly darker at the centre of the flower.  I worked a band of stitches in 0104 around the central 'star':

This band is deliberately irregular, as I don't want the flowers looking stiff or formal, but want a softer line.

I'll go into more detail on this when I'm working on something a bit larger and it's easier to show what I'm doing, but I then added a second band that introduces the shading:

And then finally filled in the rest of the petals in the lighter shade, 0103, which is the one I used for the buttonhole outline:

As you can see, I've stitched over the buttonhole stitch 'legs'.  This completely covers the design lines that had been showing through.  As a bonus, the stitches over the legs around the edge are slightly higher than the ones that are not; this makes each petal slightly concave, and while it's hardly pronounced enough to qualify as stumpwork, it does help to make the flowers less flat and a little more natural.

Here are all the flowers, up to this stage, and almost completed:

To finish them off, I added a few French knots in the centre, in 0103:

So here are all of the very first sheet of flowers, completed:

I think they've turned out nicely, if I do say so myself!

Monday, 27 September 2010


Firstly, sorry about the delay since my last post - my laptop developed a serious fault, and has just come back from the repair man for the second time.  I hope it lasts longer than a few hours this time.

In the mean time, I've been getting on with the first batch of flowers.  Fiona, the designer, has kindly sent me details on all the flowers used in the Banner, and the flowers I've been working on are either knotted pearlwort (Sagina nodosa) or trailing St John's-wort (Hypericum humifusum).  I think the shape of the ones I'm embroidering is more like the pearlwort, but the colours I'd already started with before I saw the pictures are more like the St John's-wort, so they're sort of pale yellow pearlwort.

Using the very palest shade of the threads I've chosen (Madeira 0101), I outlined the inner 'star' in the centre of each flower in buttonhole stitch.  Strictly speaking I didn't need to as this isn't going to be cut out and so doesn't need the edges strengthening, but I want a consistent look and set of techniques throughout, so I think it's worth doing. I then filled the stars in with the same thread, again in split stitch:

And in close up, so you can see more detail:

The main petals are (mostly) going to be in the next-palest thread (0103), so I outlined each petal in buttonhole stitch using that:

The stitches need to be close together to prevent fraying when they're cut out, so despite the flowers being quite small (the one I've been using in the close-ups is about 2.5cm (1") in diameter, and that's the second-largest!), this is quite time-consuming.  It's an absolutely crucial stage, though, so it's not worth trying to cut corners or rush things.

You've probably also noticed that I've worked the buttonhole stitch along the outside of the transfer line, but that it's showing through the 'legs'.  This isn't a problem, as the next stage will cover this completely.

So, here are all the flowers, with their petals outlined:

They're starting to look quite pretty already!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Embroidering the flowers: the basics

If you've seen the design you'll know that I have an awful lot of flowers to embroider.  I intend to stitch all of them using the same basic techniques, however.  This should give a unified look and feel to the whole piece, and makes the design itself the focus.  Plus, while this is a contemporary interpretation of the Banner, I'm still keen to keep links to the medieval original, by using techniques familiar to the embroiderers of opus anglicanum work centuries ago.

Opus anglicanum embroideries tend to use a limited repertoire of stitches and techniques, but use them very well - a lesson to us all, I think!  Goldwork was used extensively, for backgrounds and embellishment, and fine detail was done in split stitch.  This is what I'll be doing too.

So, I'm afraid you're not going to be seeing much variation in technique over the next few months, or any elaborate new stitches, but I hope that seeing the project develop will be interesting in itself.

Time to begin!  The client preferred cotton velvet for the banner, so I've chosen to work the flowers in cotton too, for consistency.  I always prefer to use Madeira stranded cottons - I've used them for years and have always found them to be excellent quality - so I selected a range of yellows and greens to use as a palette.  Each of the flowers and leaves will be worked with a limited number of shades chosen from these.  Here are the ones for the first of the flowers:

The green is number 1410 on the shade card, and the yellows, from the palest to the darkest, are 0101, 0103 and 0104.  I've got one big reel of each shade; I'm going to need quite a bit of each colour, but exactly how much of each was something of a guess.  It worried me slightly that if I underestimated and needed to buy some more of a colour, if it was from a different batch the colour might vary a little.  It would probably be barely noticeable, but all the same, I don't want to  take any chances on this project, so it seemed safest to go for the reels.  Of course, if I use all of one of them and have to buy more then I've got exactly the same issue, but hopefully I won't need to.

As I mentioned in a previous post, all the flowers and leaves are going to be worked separately on linen, then cut out and applied to the velvet.  This means that the edges need to be secure, to prevent any fraying.  I don't want to chemically treat the linen or use Bondaweb or a similar iron-on backing, so I need to go down the old-fashioned route: buttonhole stitch.  Buttonhole stitch, or blanket stitch if you prefer, is designed to bind the edge of a fabric so it can be cut, and is used a lot in various cutwork techniques.

Starting with the green bit on the base of the flower that will attached to the stem (apologies for my complete lack of botanical knowledge!  I'm sure there's a technical term for this but I have no idea what it is), I worked buttonhole stitch around the edges that will later be cut.  Here it is partly done:

And all the way round:

The 'legs' of the buttonhole stitch aren't going to be seen, as the next step is to fill in the whole of this section with split stitch, including over all of the buttonhole stitch apart from the very top, which is left to form a nicely defined edge:

And finally all of the flowers on this section with their green bits done:

The petals are going to be worked in exactly the same way; I did the green bits first, so that the petals can overlap them and give a sense of depth.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The first flowers

Time to start the Banner's very first flowers!

The flowers are to go on the wide border surrounding the front central cross, which will be in red velvet.  Stitching directly onto velvet is not easy and tends not to give a good result, as the pile can come through the stitches.  I looked into this a lot before starting the project, and there seem to be two main ways to handle this: place a layer of fabric such as a fine cotton or linen on top of the velvet and stitch the design onto that, through both layers, then cut the remainder of this fabric away, leaving the stitched piece behind; and stitching the design completely separately, cutting it out and applying it to the velvet later.  Both can give very good effects, though the second one is slightly more work.

You can probably guess which one I'm going to go for, can't you!  Yes, as ever, it's the more-work one.  This isn't because I always seem to make life difficult for myself (honestly!), but because it seems to me to have less potential to go horribly wrong.  If I somehow managed to make a real mess of the very last flower and it was stitched directly onto the velvet, then what would I do?  Unpicking it could damage the velvet itself, or at least leave a visible mark, which I don't want.  If it was on a separate piece of fabric, however, it would be annoying, but I could just start again with no harm done.  I always want my work to look as perfect as I can get it whatever I'm making, but for this project in particular, I don't want to take any chances.  Separate fabric it is.

Right at the start of the project I stitched a small sample piece using this technique, which worked very well, plus I've discussed the options with other embroiderers, so I'm quite confident that it'll be fine for a large piece such as this. (I can't find a photo of the test piece, unfortunately, and it's now with the Northumbria Association as part of their records.  You'll just have to take my word for it.)

So, getting down to business.  At the start of the first phase of the project, I made transfers for most of the flowers (I didn't get round to the ones for the top, having got side-tracked with the crosses), so I can get straight on with things.  Here's the transfer for the simplest flowers on the bottom border, along with some fine linen from Ferguson Irish Linen.

I ironed the transfer onto the linen:

And mounted this onto a small frame:

That's a bit different to the giant frame I've been using for the Spirograph panels!  Now I can start the embroidery.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

St Cuthbert's Banner: work to date

It's probably worthwhile giving a quick overview of the design and work involved for St Cuthbert's banner, and how far I got during the first phase of the project, which should help put future work in context.  Fiona's design, based on the description of the lost original, has a central panel of white velvet with a red velvet cross on it, surrounded by a wide border of red velvet embroidered with flowers.

The description doesn't go into details on the cross, which on the original may have been very plain, but as now St Cuthbert tends to be closely associated with the design of the Saxon pectoral cross found when his tomb was opened in 1827, it was decided to base the cross on our Banner on this.

As this is a processional banner, and so will be seen from both sides when it's being carried, something needs to go on the back as well as the front.  We decided to make the back similar but simpler than the front: it will have a central cross, in exactly the same style as the front, but it won't have the flowers on the border, which will just be of plain red velvet.

So, during phase one, I made the two central crosses.  They've been put away for almost a year now, but I got them out, and here they both are:

They're both identical, or as identical as I could get them; here's one of them in close up, so you can see more detail:

That was as far as I got last year; the next step is to start work on the flowers for the border.  And there are a lot of flowers...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Spirograph II - finishing off

I want to get started on St Cuthbert's Banner as soon as possible, but I hate having unfinished jobs hanging about, not to mention the space taken up in my workroom by the large frame, so I want to get Spirograph II completed as soon as I can and out of the way.

I've now finished all the embroidery on it, which is the main thing. Here's the final spiral, the large one:

I'm pleased with how it's turned out - I still think this could be my favourite of all of them.  Here's the full thing, still on the embroidery frame:

So, now I need to damp stretch it, then stretch it onto board, put the backing on and add the hanging sleeves. That's still a bit of work, but at least the end is now in sight.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

St Cuthbert's Banner

I'm thrilled to be able to tell you that after a long delay, I will very soon be resuming work on St Cuthbert's Banner.

Anyone who has been reading my blog from the beginning (and I think there are a few of you, which I truly appreciate) will know that last year I started work on the Banner, but it had to be suspended while some behind-the-scenes stuff was sorted out.  That's all now been resolved, and today was the first meeting of the project team in almost year, where it was agreed that work can now recommence.

For those of you who haven't been reading for quite that long, this is a fantastic project commissioned by the Northumbrian Association to make a new version of a lost medieval processional banner for presentation to Durham Cathedral.  No pictures of the original, which was destroyed in the Reformation, survive, but there is a detailed description of it, and the team's artist, Fiona Raeside, has drawn a beautiful design based on that:

I'll be doing the embroidery and making up the Banner itself, and other team members include a silversmith, a wood-turner and a leather-worker - you'll be hearing a lot more about them as the project progresses.

The Newcastle Journal wrote an article on recent developments (Saintly offer helps to bring back banner), which includes the following:

"The new banner will be made from the finest materials by North craftsmen and women, and will be housed in the cathedral.

With the Lindisfarne Gospels expected to go on show at the cathedral [in 2013], it would be the first time for more than 400 years they would be grouped with the tomb and banner of St Cuthbert."

So no pressure, then!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Knit Studio

Every three weeks, a group of us meet up for a Knit and Natter lunch.  I'm a terrible knitter but an enthusiastic natterer, and no-one seems to mind!  This week, we had a trip to a new yarn shop that's just opened in Newcastle, the Knit Studio.

It's in a fantastic location, the medieval Blackfriars building, very close to the city centre.  The shop itself is upstairs in the central building in this photo:

Isn't that just an amazing spot?  Much better than in a shopping centre!

The proprietor, Anne, welcomed us in and made us all a cup of tea while we looked round the shop.  Here are some of the KnN ladies leafing through books, choosing yarns, and of course, nattering:

I should apologise in advance for being rather vague - I'm not a knitter and as Anne makes a point of stocking unusual and hard to find brands, I didn't recognise any of them, though the real knitters in the group fell upon them with cries of joy.

There are rare breeds wools too, and hand and naturally dyed wools:

There's also a lovely seating area next to an amazingly extensive reference collection of knitting and crochet books in the cabinets behind.  Couldn't you just spend all day here?

I was a bit too good and didn't buy anything, though now I wish I had.  I was particularly tempted by some hand dyed unspun wool that would be perfect for felting:

And some beautiful silk yarn:

I've no idea what I would use it for, but aren't the colours just fabulous!

While this is a terrific shop for anyone who knits or crochets, as an embroiderer I was feeling a bit envious.  I spoke to Anne about the difficulty of finding anything more exotic than DMC stranded cotton in any local shop - I buy just about all my threads mail order - and she was interested to hear that this may be a niche worth expanding into.  I do hope she does, even if it will end up costing me a fortune!

In all, this was a wonderful way to spend a lunchtime, and I have no doubt that we'll be back, probably regularly.  If you're in North East England and in the Newcastle area any time, try and pop in!