Posts Tagged ‘embroidery’

A knotty tale

Happy New Year, one and all!

Yes, well, I’m still not exactly well, but at least now I’m on medication and it seems to be starting to help a bit.  I spent Christmas with my parents, as I usually do, and I got a little bit of stitching done there; then I went down to London for the New Year’s Eve concert, which turned out to be pretty much of a disaster.  I will not go into all the things that went wrong over that weekend, but suffice it to say that by the time I arrived at the concert and found that poor Charles was unwell and couldn’t sing, I was not in the least surprised because it just fitted in with everything else.  I hope he’s feeling much better by now.  The one redeeming feature of the weekend was the fact that I stayed at a really lovely, welcoming guest house in Walthamstow, where I was able to spend the Sunday basically recovering from the Saturday.

And stitching.

State of progress on 1 Jan 2012

This is where I’ve got to at the moment.  Let’s have a closer look and see what’s new here.

Close-up showing more detail

First of all, you’ll see that I have done some more purl filling.  It turns out to be far easier, and infinitely less sore on the fingers, to use a beading needle for this; I had no problems with it this time.  But the really new thing is that I have started filling in the “windswept triangles”, as I like to call them.  This photo has come out looking a bit more contrasty than it really is; on the actual piece, the contrast is quite subtle.  The colour used is Anchor green 844.

And what stitch am I using to fill these very irregular, awkward areas?  Wait for it…

Extreme close-up showing stitching

…French knots.

This is an extremely slow way to fill a space, but, as you see, the results are very satisfying.  I’m also pleased with the effect of introducing a little green into the repeating pattern.

This weekend I am in London again for another concert; it’s very unusual for me to go to two concerts so close together, but that was just the way it worked out this time.  I’m going to be bringing the embroidery, so hopefully I should get a bit more done then.  Especially if things go better than they did on New Year’s Eve… which honestly won’t take much. 😛

The first stitches

Long time, no blog.  Sorry about that.  I have been rushed off my feet this month, as I’m also in the process of setting up my own business (nothing to do with embroidery; it’s a music agency).  However, I have been able to do a few stitches, especially as a good friend from London has been up here over the last few days with her sewing machine in order to finish off the bridesmaids’ dresses for a wedding in the area.  I took a couple of days off work and carted the embroidery over to her hotel so we could keep each other company.  It was an excellent arrangement.

So here’s the progress I’ve made so far:

Progress so far

Not too shabby, given the time available.  Here’s a closer look:

A closer view

And here’s a detailed look at the stitching:

The stitching in detail

The thick dark purple lines are the wool lucet cord you saw being made in an earlier post; it is laid and couched.  It’s plunged through the fabric using an awl.  The sort of awl which is normally sold for the purpose of embroidery is no good for this, because the cord is too thick, so I use what I affectionately term my Big Girl Awl.  This is a formidable-looking implement that I picked up in the DIY section of Wilkinson’s for about half the price of my effete little embroidery awl.  I’m currently looking for a cork to stick the end in when I’m travelling with it (no, really, I don’t drink enough wine), because it is extremely sharp.  I’m couching the cord with ordinary sewing thread, which is almost invisible even close up.

The gold is also laid and couched.  This is DMC metallic embroidery thread, which, like most common embroidery threads these days, is 6-ply.  I cut off a short piece and use single plies from that to do the couching.  The stuff is an absolute blighter to work with, because the laid thread has a strong tendency to separate itself into individual plies while you’re couching it and the working thread is rather easily damaged by the needle, but that’s pretty much standard for all metallics.  It looks good once you’ve tamed it.  The starting end of the couched thread can easily be plunged through the fabric with a needle, and I was originally doing that with the finishing end too, but that is incredibly fiddly, because by the time you get to the end of the couching there are inevitably six separate strands of different lengths, and it is not easy to get them all to go through a needle, especially since there isn’t much of them to work with.  Fortunately, once again Mary Corbet came up with exactly the technique I needed at the time I needed it.  If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend her tutorial on using a thread lasso, which turned out to be a much easier way to deal with the ends of the gold thread.  In fact, if you’re interested in embroidery and you’re not following Mary Corbet, why not? 🙂

Finally, the purple “windswept triangles” are outlined in twisted chain stitch using three strands of Anchor embroidery cotton.  I wanted quite a heavy outline because these are part of the ground design.  At the moment I’m thinking of harmonising the tendrils of lucet cord with the windswept triangles by edging the former with the same purple I’m using for the latter, but using only one or two strands.  That will probably be done in a back stitch or straight chain stitch with closely spaced French knots.  The triangles will be filled, but I haven’t yet decided how, although I have just got some more beads which may feature in that task.  I’m very much making it up as I go along.

Seems to be working quite well so far, though. 🙂

The Waistcoat of Bath’s Tale

Hallo.  I write as Elinor of Kentdale, and I am a textile craft addict.

For the medium term future, this blog is mainly going to be about the creation of an embroidered waistcoat, though I don’t think I shall be able to write without mentioning other craft projects as well.  The story of this waistcoat actually began just before Christmas 2010, although I didn’t realise it at the time, when I had the immense good fortune to win a prize draw on a LiveJournal community.  The prize was outstanding: free subscriptions for a year to two sister needlecraft sites (Your Wardrobe Unlock’d and Foundations Revealed, which are linked in the “Online Resources” section to your right), plus a trip to Bath to visit the Fashion Museum and – best of all – have an “up close and personal” look at some of the beautiful historic clothes at their study tables.  The Fashion Museum is linked here under “Original Inspirations”, so if you can’t get there you can at least browse their site.

The visit happened on Thursday 3 March.  I saw a lot of gorgeous things in the museum, and I will show you some of them when I work out how to post photos, but two of them in particular struck a chord, and they were both waistcoats.  One of them was Victorian; if you get the chance to visit the museum, it’s in the history of fashion display room at the moment, about three quarters of the way round.  It’s dark blue, with a very striking feathery paisley sort of design, and the moment I saw it I thought of a good friend who is a baroque singer.  I could instantly imagine him walking on stage in that.  The other waistcoat was upstairs on the study tables, and that was 17th-century.  It didn’t specifically remind me of anyone, but it was a work of art – beautifully detailed polychrome embroidery and goldwork on linen, with the metal spangles that were so often used at the time.  You can see some examples of this kind of embroidery in the “Online Resources” section; enjoy looking through the collection of 17th-century coifs, and see the Faith Jacket for a superb, historically accurate modern reproduction.

I returned home from Bath the following day, and spent the rest of the weekend processing the photographs I had taken (they were all taken without flash, so they needed a lot of brightening and contrast enhancement) and squeeing over all the amazing details.  Somewhere over the course of that weekend, the two waistcoat ideas somehow collided in my brain, and by about the middle of the week they had crystallised into a single solid idea.  What I wanted to do was to make a waistcoat that was similar in colours and design to the Victorian one, suitable both as an exhibition piece and to be worn by my friend the singer, but using techniques like those used in the 17th-century one and taking some stylistic influence from that piece as well.

If it hadn’t been such an immensely clear idea, I might have balked, because I’ve only ever done one actual historically accurate project, and that was quite small (it’s an embroidered pouch in the style of the 12th century, and it’s still in progress).  The challenge of blending two completely distinct historical eras into a harmonious unity is quite a big one.  Nonetheless, I knew I wanted to do it.  It just somehow felt right.

This, then, is what I have done so far:

1. Selected and ordered the pattern I’m going to use, which is Vogue 8048.
2. Ordered some free samples of fabrics from my favourite fabric site, which is linked under “Suppliers”.  MyFabrics have a huge selection of good quality fabrics, often at very reasonable prices, and you can order up to 5 free samples from them per month.
3. Identified the 17th-century embroidery stitch I didn’t already know (brick stitch) and found out how to do it online.
4. Found and saved several 17th-century embroidery images as reference.
5. Considered the problem of spangles.  In the 17th century, spangles – metal sequins, often made of silver – were used routinely.  I’m not even sure one can still get metal sequins, but if one can, they are likely to be too expensive for this project.  I immediately rejected modern sequins as they have the wrong feel; they are too “plastic” in appearance.  Seed beads, however, are made of glass, so won’t look out of place, and they have the subtle glint that I want without looking too flashy.  I’m therefore going to be using these instead.
6. Done a lot of thinking about whether and how I want to use some of my other crafts.  I make a lot of lucet cord, which could be couched onto the fabric as part of the design or used as an edge trim, and I also do tablet weaving, which I think has potential to be used for the strap at the back of the waistcoat that adjusts the fit at the waist.  I haven’t come to any firm conclusions about either of these things, but I think I will be able to decide better once the fabric samples arrive.

I should say about the fabric samples that I’m going for a considerably lighter blue than the original Victorian waistcoat, for several reasons.  The main one is sheer practicality.  Lighter fabric can be marked for embroidery with a propelling pencil – not something I’d do for ordinary sewing, but if you’re embroidering, you know you’re going to cover the marks, and a propelling pencil is very accurate.  If you’re using dark fabric, though, you tend to be limited to tailor’s chalk, and it’s very difficult to keep that sharp enough to get a fine enough line.  There are other reasons as well, of course; it’s also a nod to the 17th-century part of the inspiration (generally speaking, they used to prefer to work on lighter fabrics, possibly for exactly the same reason that I do).  The back of the waistcoat will not be embroidered.  For that I’m trying to get a lining fabric in a similar shade to the front.  The interior lining is likely to be gold, since there will be gold in the embroidery, and anyway I like contrast linings in waistcoats.  Then there’s interfacing.  I will say here and now that I do a great deal of dressmaking and I have completely given up on commercial non-woven interfacing.  I find I get much better results using muslin for light fabrics and unbleached calico for heavier ones.  This waistcoat will be interfaced with organic cotton muslin, but I’m not planning to buy that until I actually start making it up, and that won’t be for quite a while.

At some point over the next week or so, I intend to make at least a start at designing the pattern.  I have never done a surface repeat pattern before (as opposed to a border repeat pattern, which is a doddle by comparison), so it will be interesting.  I should perhaps also say that I may have neat fingers, but when it comes to actually drawing anything I have slightly less artistic talent than my cats, so I’m going to be relying very heavily on squared paper.  I like squared paper.  It’s a wonderful substitute for being able to draw. 🙂

Watch this space!