Monday, December 19, 2011

A Place in History?

Today, I am sitting with my foot elevated to relieve swelling and lessen the negative impacts of having a 1200 lb horse stomp on my foot. Given my confinement, I have pushed forward with reading historical accounts of embroiderers and the evolution of crewel design, in preparation for Step #5 of the Master Craftsman program (more about Step #4 later!) I have been studying Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards, (copyright 1975, William Morrow & Co. Inc. New York) and came to the Epilogue. The author's words closing her book were personally meaningful, as we look at my Mother's needlework and determine its dispersal to various family members, even while I continue to create more pieces myself. I wanted to quote the work here:

"From time to time there come to every embroiderer moments of the purest possible pleasure. The particular piece of work on which she has been engaged is finished. She removes it from the frame and spreads it out between her hands, examining every detail with minute attention. It is as though she is seeing it for the first time. Out of her own skill, initiative, and invention she has created something that pleases her. Briefly she allows herself to savour her sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.

Maybe, she concedes, it is not of quite such surpassing excellence as she had hoped to achieve when she made the design, chose the threads, and decided exactly where to place the first stitch, but on balance as good as or even a little better than her previous work.

Will anybody else, she wonders, realise how much thought and care has gone into it? Will it by some happy chance be miraculously preserved, forgotten but not destroyed, eventually to become a treasured family heirloom, and even perhaps to find its way into a great museum, where scholars will document it and embroiderers study it as an interesting example of 'historical' needlework? Surely, she reflects, it is not asking very much to be remembered as a woman who was clever with her needle.

Even as she plays fondly with her pipe dreams, she knows in her heart that its chances of survival are minimal; that although it is here today, pretty, fresh, and colourful, by tomorrow it will be faded and grubby, the threads worn and the colours faded; and that because the present sets very little store by its immediate past, the next generation is as likely to destroy as to cherish it. Perhaps she will comfort herself with the thought that, like a garden, much of embroidery's charm lies in the fact that it is completely ephemeral.

But to finish one piece of work is only an excuse to begin another, the idea for which she has been turning over in her mind for a long while. She cannot wait to get on with it for she is irresistably fascinated by the art of working intricate stitches and by the variety of decorative effects she can obtain with them; by watching a design develop along the lines and in the colours she has chosen for it; and by the knotty little problems she is constantly being called upon to resolve. Absorbed in bringing into focus all her technical expertise, taste, and ingenuity, and balancing them on the point of her needle, she has neither regret nor hesitation. The past and the future may take care of themselves. Time becomes meaningless. Only the embroidery she is engaged upon at the present moment is important."

Friday, September 23, 2011

I finished Step #4 of the Master Craftsman Crewel program a few weeks ago, and it's now washed, blocked, pinned to the acid-free board, accompanied by the stitch diagram and thread samples and all other submission requirements, and on it's way to the judges. Before I put it in the post, I took a few photos. Unfortunately, the really nice digital camera is not in the house at the moment (the nerve of Duncan to keep his own camera with him!) so I had to use my
Droid Phone, which I must say take
s pretty darned decent photos!

The purpose of this step was the exhibit expertise in techniques of soft shading, predominantly long and short stitch. A minimum of two other stitches also illustrating shading were to be included. We had three designs from which to choose, and I chose the smallest for a few reasons. I felt it would best showcase my technique, and I could absolutely get it finished on time! I did not want to miss the October first deadline and be another 6 months behind! So here is the finished piece!

I was inspired by peacocks, but the peacock has a royal blue breast and did not lend itself to my color scheme choice. Then I found some photos of a kingfishe
r, which had the red-orange breast and the turquise feathers. I decided to make a new bird out of the two, and my kingfisher-peacock was born!

The breast is long and short, done in 5 shades of Appleton Orange-Red. The feathers are Appleton Bright Peacock, and the peacock "eyes" have a bit of Royal Blue, and Kingfisher at the center (loved that the Appleton color names were right in line with my intent!) surrounded by the Orange Red. There are highlights in the feath
ers of the Orange Red (in the Bright Peacock) and Kingfisher (in the shoulder feathers). The face of the bird is done in semi-circules of buttonhole stitch in Peacock, with lighter shades worked in to enhance the shading. (additiona
l stitch #1) The branch is done in gradations of Elephant Gray outline stitch (additional stitch #2).

Here are some close-ups:

Breast shading in Orange Red
Feathers in Bright
Peacock, with highlights of Orange Red and Kingfisher

Head showing top-knot in all colors and showing cheeks of semi-circular buttonhole in Peacock. The beak is long and short in Elephant Gray. The eye is Charcoal with a flick of off white for the glint.

Tail feathers in Bright Peacock, with 'eyes' of Orange Red, Kingfisher, and Royal. The 'eyes' look a bit like an advertisement for natural gas, but I'm happy with them anyway!

So, now the waiting game begins. If I pass this step, they'll mail me #5 (of a total 6) and I can start working on that. I know it will be an adaptation of a Jacobean or Elizabethan period piece, showing research into the period, but I don't know what the design will be. The research shouldn't be a problem as I've done a lot already and have many books to help me.

Wish me luck on #4!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Mother, My Teacher

Crewel Embroidery is a form of surface embroidery using worsted wool yarns worked on linen. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It is an art form over 1,000 years old, and has been used by women across time to embellish the most mundane of household linens and clothing. From huge pieces of antiquity such as the Bayeux Tapestry ( and which chronicles the Battle of Hastings in 1066, to small and simple kits for children of modern time, embroidery has provided an important outlet for human creativity and historical record alike.

In the early 1970's, my mother sought an outlet, something to learn and keep her busy as her children were beginning to move out of the house. She answered an ad in the local newspaper, placed by a woman offering classes in crewel embroidery. From that simple beginning, my mother grew in her knowledge and skill over decades of study and practice, to become extremely accomplished needle-artist. She is shown here several years ago at a small display of her work, including Japanese Silk Embroidery. Over the years, I became interested, and with her help and instruction, have steadily improved. With an instructor of her calibre, who wouldn't! She inspired me with her dedication to crewel, and her focused attention to detail and patience to execute at the highest level. As a member of the Embroiderer's Guild of America ( for over 45 years, she always enjoyed learning other skills and techniques, but she always returned to her beloved crewel. My mother died this past April, but her love crewel and her passion for excellence live on within me. I only hope that I can become as skilled as she was! (She claimed that I am already better than she was, but I'm not sure I believe her.)

Several years ago, I began to pursue the Master Craftsman Certification in Crewel offered by the Embroiderer's Guild of America, to demonstrate mastery of a technique in needlework. I am currently half way through the six-step program, working on step #4 to be submitted by October 1st for judging. I am committed to completing all six steps and obtaining the certification, not only to learn more about this wonderful art and improve my skills, but also to honor my mother's memory. I hope some day to teach others as she taught me, to continue the tradition of needle arts for future generations.

This blog is my way of sharing my experiences as I work toward my Master Craftsman Certification, and to pass along the knowledge I have. I will use The Doodle Cloth for what a doodle cloth is used for in stitching -- a place to practice, to think things out in tangible ways, to look something over and decide if it's good enough. I hope others will enjoy my doodling.

Susan Haire MacRae and Jean Haire, 2009, with Susan's latest blocked and finished Jacobean Crewel piece