Monday, 29 November 2010

Adding more flowers (and a weather report)

Winter's arrived a month early this year - everything's under a thick blanket of snow, and I'm currently looking at a blizzard.  A good day to be at home stitching, so it's a pity I had to go to work!  Still, it did look quite pretty from indoors - this was the view from the office window this afternoon, with a corner of Newcastle Cathedral on the left:

Increasing transport problems led to the office closing early, and after surviving the commute home, I can now bring you up to date with work on the Banner.

I've added quite a few more flowers to the velvet background now; applying them is quite a fiddly process, but much faster than embroidering them in the first place.  Here are a few more attached:

There are a few ferns to do, which as before seem to take more time and effort than somehow they ought.  I can't help it, I still don’t like them as much as the other flowers.  Never mind, I need to add them anyway.

To get the layout correct, I stitched on the first and last leaves first, to get the start and finish points:

And then spaced the rest of the leaves in between.  Or almost all of them - when I laid them out roughly to check the spacing, putting all of them on was going to look really cramped, so I missed one out.

I'll remember that for the rest of the panels - one leaf less to stitch!  Here's the completed fern:

And the full panel so far, with a few more flowers on it:

There are still a lot of flowers (and ferns!) to add, but I'm pleased with how it's coming along.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Applying the flowers

It's now time to start applying the flowers to the velvet panel fabric.  This is a big moment, and rather a nerve-wracking one, though I suppose the worst that can happen is that I make a mess of a flower and need to stitch it again, which I don't want to have to do, but which wouldn't be the end of the world.

So with that calming thought in mind, here goes.  With the grid in place it shouldn't make any difference where I start adding the flowers, but I've decided to build the design up by starting in the centre and working outwards.  This seems the best way to see it develop and to make sure it's balanced, but does have the down side that this makes the cowslip the very first flower I have to do.  This is the fiddliest shape of the lot, though I suppose once I've done this one, the rest should be easy!

With a deep breath, I cut out the cowslip flower heads and leaves very roughly:

Then, with very sharp embroidery scissors, I cut them out properly, leaving a small edge around the flower itself:

The biggest one is the most central, so that goes first: using the grid drawn on the design for reference, I positioned it on the panel fabric, and started to stitch it in place.  To do this, I used one strand of the shade I used to edge the flower, in this case Madeira 0105, so that the stitches used to hold the applied piece in place shouldn't be visible.

Using small stitches a few millimetres apart, I caught the cut out flower head down; each stitch went just inside the buttonhole stitch edging:

Here's the flower head, completely stitched into place:

And all three flower heads and the leaves:

I should stress that this is not the final version - I know the cut linen edging looks a bit rough, but don't worry: once all the flowers are in position, I'll edge them all with gold, which will cover the rough edges up and finish the flowers nicely.  I'll also add the stalks, and some other goldwork detailing, but that's all to come.

I must say I'm very pleased with the red infill stitches between some of the individual cowslip flowers.  Apart from the fact they look rather neater at the moment, I don't think you can tell that they're stitched and not the red velvet showing through.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Preparing the panel

Now all the flowers are done, they need to be applied to the background fabric, but before I can do that, I need to get this ready.  I also need a means of ensuring that I put the flowers on in the right place.  As both of these are part of the same process, I'll describe them simultaneously, in the order in which I did them.

I've been thinking about how to transfer the design to the velvet, to place the flowers correctly.  I considered my usual design-on-the-back-and-tack-through method, but have decided to take a different approach this time.  I will partially be doing it by eye, but only within strict limits, and there will still be some tacking through from the back, just not of the flowers.  So what am I talking about?

I'd made a paper pattern for the panel shape when I made the toile some time ago; I hunted this out, and marked it up into a grid pattern.  I generally prefer to use metric measurements (they make the maths easier, for a start), but as the Banner very specifically is a yard (36") wide, I need to use old-fashioned Imperial measurements for it.  Each panel (top, bottom, left and right) is exactly the same: 36" along the bottom, and 18" along the top.  I drew up the grid as a series of squares (or triangles, along the edges) which are 2.25" a side.

I then cut out the linen that will form the lining on the back of the velvet.  I traced the pattern shape onto the linen, and marked the end of each grid line:

I then joined these up, to form the grid on the linen:

I also brought out the outline design for the Banner itself, and drew a similar grid onto the bottom panel:

By matching the two grids, I'll be able to position each flower quite precisely, or at least that's the plan!

With the linen marked up, it was time to cut out the velvet.  It's critical to ensure that the pile of the fabric is all running in the same direction, or the velvet can look as though it's completely different shades of red.  I'd marked arrows onto the linen, to indicate which way up the panel is to go:

I also pinned arrows onto the velvet; it doesn’t entirely matter which way the arrows point as long as I'm consistent and always have them pointing the same way, but I've made the top edge 'up', and have the arrows going in that direction:

So, with all the arrows pointing up, I cut out the velvet:

I then pre-shrank the fabrics, stitched the linen backing to the velvet front fabric, and edged them with the overlocker, for neatness and strength.

Doing this piecemeal seemed like a problem in the making, so I've actually cut out all eight panels, and attached the linen, with each one clearly marked where it's to go ('Front - Top', 'Back - Left', etc.) and lots of arrows.  This should save me the headache of trying to remember which way up things need to go later - all I have to do now is make sure all the arrows go in the same direction, and I'm sorted.

So, with the rest of the panels safely put away in my fabric cupboard, I mounted the bottom front panel onto my big frame.  Here's the linen on the back, showing the grid:

I then tacked over this, to transfer the grid to the front:

I can now position the flowers by the grid; once all the embroidery is done, I'll take out the tacking stitches.

And now - at last! - it's time to start adding the flowers.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Damp stretching the flowers

I promised last time that I'll be starting on putting the bottom panel together next, and I am, but I'm afraid there's quite a bit of prep work to do before I can start any actual embroidery.

Firstly, damp stretching the various sheets of flowers.  If you've been following the blog for a while you'll know that I prefer to damp stretch rather than iron embroidery; it gives a much smoother finish, I can control any reshaping that might be necessary much easier, and there's no risk of accidentally scorching the fabric.

Here are all the sheets, together for the first time:

Happily, there's no pulling or puckering around the embroidery, but as you can see, the fabric's slightly rippled, and I want it to be nice and flat.  So, after a an hour or two of careful pinning onto a cork board, here they all are stretched taught:

I then lightly sprayed them with a plant mister, and left them overnight to dry.  And the result?  Beautifully smooth, absolutely flat embroidery:

Next, I need to get the bottom panel itself ready.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Cowslip leaves

The last lap!  The very last bit of embroidery to do for the bottom panel is the leaves for the cowslips. These are all together in a bunch rather than separate, and are nice rounded shapes, so much easier than the wood avens leaves.  The technique is the same as ever, though, but just quickly:-

I outlined the edges of all the leaves, even the ones or parts of ones that aren’t on an edge to be cut, in buttonhole stitch in Madeira 1410:

Then worked a single line of split stitch in three strands of 1412 to form the leaf veins:

Bands of stitches in 1411 in the centres of all the leaves:

Followed by a band in one strand of 1411 and one of 1410:

And then the rest filled in with 1410:

And here's the entire cowslip sheet, completed:

And that's it!  Wow.  Well, that's it for the first panel, there are another three to go, but never mind that now.  I could start straight on with more flowers for the other panels, but for all our sakes I'm going to move onto something different, and actually complete the bottom panel of the Banner.  This should really give the first idea of what the finished article will look like.  It's quite exciting!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Some improvisation

Or cheating, if you prefer. I said last time that something was worrying me about the cowslip flowers; the problem wasn't with the flowers as such, but with the spaces between them.  As you may recall, all the flowers are going to be cut out and applied to the red velvet that will form the Banner panels.  Some of the shapes, especially the cowslips, are going to be tricky enough as it is, but the little gaps are even worse.

If you're not sure what I mean, have a look at what the arrow is pointing at in this image:

In reality, that little gap is just a few millimetres across, and even with my pointiest scissors and my steadiest hand, cutting that out neatly is going to be a challenge, and runs the risk of catching the stitching with the point of the scissors, which I do not want to do.

So, how can I get around this?  Cheat!

The flowers are going on red velvet.  So, I got out the velvet and some red threads, and found the closest match, Madeira 0511.  I then filled in the little gaps with this:

Here are all three flower heads, with the gaps filled in in red:

Hopefully, it won't be obvious that the red here isn't actually the red of the velvet showing through, or not without getting very close and peering at it, anyway.

It also gives a tantalising hint of how the yellow and green of the flowers will look against the red of the background, which is quite exciting.  That will be starting very soon, I promise!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Cowslip flowers

The cowslip flower heads each consist of seven individual flowers; some of these are shown from the back, but the rest are seen from the front, and so partially into the interior of the 'bell' of each flower.  This needs to be a slightly darker yellow than the exterior, so I need to add some shading.

There isn't the space to do too much, so I've just used two colours.  I added a band of stitches in the darker shade, Madeira 1406, just under the buttonhole-stitched rim of the bell:

Then a band using one strand of 1406 and one of 1405 in front of it:

And finally I filled in the rest of the flowers in split stitch in 1405:

Here are all three flower heads, completed:

Trying to get a shading effect into such small spaces was quite tricky, especially the smallest one, which is only about an inch (2.5 cm) across, so I'm quite pleased with how they've turned out.  If I'd had the room, I'd probably have used three shades and made the difference between the yellow centre and the rest a bit more pronounced, but it just wasn't practical here.

There is one thing that's worrying me a bit though...

Friday, 12 November 2010


The very last sheet of flowers!  Well, for the bottom panel, anyway.  This one is the only appearance on the panel of the cowslip (Primula veris), though it's a bit complicated, so it's probably just as well there's just the one.

I'm doing the flowers themselves first, and will do the leaves afterwards.  It's hard to tell scale from the photos, but the smallest of the three flower heads is about an inch (2.5cm) in diameter.  In that space are seven individual flowers, with central shading, and the sepal cups that connect them to the stem.  That's a lot to pack into a very small space, and you can probably now guess why I've put them off to last.

I did the cups first, outlining them in buttonhole stitch in Madeira 1409, the very palest green that I'll be using anywhere on the Banner:

A close-up of the largest of the flower heads:

The detail on the cups was done in split stitch with three strands of 1410:

I then filled in the rest of the cups in split stitch in 1409:

And again in close-up:

The photo makes the difference in shade look more pronounced than it does in real life; the effect is actually more subtle than it looks here.

Starting on the flowers themselves, I buttonhole stitched the edges in the main yellow shade I'm using for them, 0105.  As the flowers are a sort of bell shape and aren't depicted side on, I also used a line of buttonhole stitch to define the upper rim of the bell:

The close-up might show that a bit more clearly:

The filling-in shading needs to highlight the interior of each flower - that comes next.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Completing the wood avens leaves

With the outline and the central veins done on the leaves, I now needed to fill them in using split stitch shading.

To try and give a naturalistic look, I'm working the shading from the centre, around the veins, to the edge, rather than from top to bottom or side to side, say.  To start, I added stitches in the darker shade, 1411, in the centres of the largest leaves:

I then added a band of shading thread with one strand on 1411 and one of 1410 around this, and in the centres of the remaining leaves:

And in close-up:

Finally, I filled in the rest with the lighter shade, 1410:

And again in close-up:

I tried to keep the angle of the stitches radiating outwards, to try and give a sense of shape to each leaf – hopefully this makes it look a little more life-like.

I'm making this sound so easy, and I suppose the process is pretty straightforward, but there's a lot of work in these leaves!  Still, I'm making good process - the next sheet is the last one for the bottom panel.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Wood avens leaves

There are sets of leaves to go with the wood avens flowers, and it's those that I'm doing next.  I'd done two sheets of transfers for them, but they're smaller than some of the others, so I decided to iron them both onto the same piece of linen:

This has lead to a slightly odd layout, but never mind.

As they need to work with the existing flowersI'm doing them in the same shades of green, Madeira stranded cotton 1410 and 1411, though I'm also using the slightly darker 1412 in one place.

As usual, I started by buttonhole stitching around the edges, in the lighter shade, 1410:

As the leaves are quite a complicated shape, I needed to take extra care to keep the sawtooth edges nice and sharp.

As you can see, on the transfer the veins in the centres of the leaves are marked on; I stitched these in a single line of split stitch in the darkest shade, 1412.  To make sure the line was quite definite, I used three strands rather than the usual two:

And in close up:

With those in place, I can now fill in the rest of the leaves.