Saturday, July 7, 2012

Step #5 Provisionally Passed

My goodness, I can't believe I have not posted anything since mailing in my pieces for judging back in April. Where has the time gone?  I do apologize, and on this sweltering hot July day, will try to make amends by bringing things up to date while sitting in the air conditioning.

I received my package back from the Master Craftsman judges, to find that my Step #4 (the parrot/peacock that I needed to fix stitch direction on the tail feathers) was passed on re-submission (Yeah!!) so they moved on to judge Step #5.  This was the Elizabethan original design.  I was relatively confident that it would pass, and must say was a bit disappointed to get only a "Provisional" pass.   I sometimes feel like they believe they can't pass people on the first try!

I went through the comments carefully to see what they wanted changed, and was thinking to myself "really??"   Then I got to the end of the comments, and even the judges admitted that the changes were "nit-picky".   I knew they wouldn't take long to fix, and put it aside to begin thinking about my design for the final piece (they send the instructions for the next piece as long as you have a provisional pass.)  I think that's what threw me off course -- I hit design block!  More on that later.  For now, I'll concentrate on Step #5, what they wanted changed, and how it looks now that I've changed it. 

The things they wanted changed were:

  • The Coral Knot tendrils at the top that had the knots too far apart
  • Some small areas of Satin Stitch that seemed bulky and rough
  • The color on the big Tulip (this was a suggestion only, not a requirement)

First, the Coral Knots.  Here is a photo of what they looked like originally.

I have placed arrows to show the knots, and how far apart they are.  I have not read anything in any of my books that says you should only have space between them for one knot, and I liked the look of them spaced out like this, but the judges said I needed to change them to be closer together.  I have done so, and the picture below shows the result.


It's a different look than what I wanted, but okay.

The next issue they pointed out was the uneven Satin Stitch at the mouth of my little bell flowers.  To be honest, I was not totally happy with those myself, and it didn't surprise me that the judges pointed that out.  I have a vision of what those flowers should look like, and could never quite realize that vision, although the new version is closer.  

Here is the before...

And here is the after:

 Finally, they didn't like the satin stitch stem of my purple tulip.  They also suggested that I replace the inside of the tulip petals with yellow to provide better color distribution.  Again, I was careful to balance my color distribution, and didn't think it was really necessary.   Here is the original, and you can see the thick stem and the all purple tulip.  I have arrows pointing to the petals they suggested I change.

I replaced the stem with a line of chain flanked by rows of outline, and it is a much smoother look.  I was trying to replicate the stem of a tulip flower which is thick and round, but I can see how it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the design.   As for the color suggestion, I opted to compromise.  Since their commentary was a "suggestion" it meant I was not required to make the change.  I decided to add some yellow instead of replacing the purple entirely with yellow.  Again, not sure it was necessary, but at this point in the process I've learned (to a certain extent) to just give the judges what they want!  

Luckily, all of these changes took me less than 2 days to accomplish, and the piece is now finished.  All I need to do now is re-wash and block it and send it in for the October 1st judging deadline.  I sure hope I don't wait until the last possible day and end up having to pay extra for Priority Mail like I normally do!  

That will be the only thing I send in for October.   I made a huge amount of progress yesterday and today on my design, and finally have one I am happy with (my next blog post will be about that design.)  It's a  very ambitious project at dimensions of 13" by 27".  I still have a few things to tweak on the design, then get it onto linen (can you believe I have a piece of linen exactly the right size!!??) then select my color scheme, and THEN I can start stitching.   This is a bad time of year for me to concentrate on stitching, because so much of my time is spent training our horses and going to competitions over the summer.  So at this point, I am not even going to put pressure on myself.  I'll be happy to finish it over the winter, and send it in for next April. 

Let me know what YOU think of the changes the judges asked for.  Do you like the results?  Would you have left it the way it was?      

Monday, April 9, 2012


I am proud to say that Step #5 is finished and in the mail for judging! Here is the finished piece, washed and blocked but not yet laced. The shadow is from the fabric hanging with a tiny bit of undulation to it. Once I get it laced, that will go away and I'll get a better photo:

I must say it came out better than I expected. It's not my favorite style of embroidery, but it is pretty, and has grown on my a bit. I'm proud of the design, as intensive as it was to come up with! I think I like doing designs from scratch, but I'm not totally sure. It brings a whole new dynamic to the art of embroidery. It's one thing to plan stitches and colors to complete a design in front of you. It's an entirely different thing indeed to have to come up with the design first!

Now, of course, I am worrying about all the things that the judges might not like. My biggest concern is my color scheme, which is not one that fits neatly into a defined scheme of "complimentary", "split complimentary", "analogous" etc. but I chose to approach it more as a woman of the time might, using threads she may have had on hand from home dyeing. I doubt Elizabethan women had color wheels! My use of the Renaissance Dye wools which are historically accurate colors will hopefully support that decision.

Waiting is so nerve wracking. I'm so close to the end of the journey, and if I pass this step, I can begin designing (yes -- an original design is required again!) the final step. If I can do that now, I think I can have something finished by next April's judging deadline (they only judge twice a year -- April 1 and October 1.) If I have to re-work this one first, it may take me longer.

At the moment, though, I am trying not to worry, and keeping busy doing an easy project from the last EGA Chapter Meeting, and will hopefully finish Mom's last piece soon.

Wish me luck and successful judging!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Final Elements

I'm on the homestretch! The only elements of any significance (not simply stems connecting things) remaining were the carnations at the bottom. I've been pondering what to do with these since the beginning, because the stitches I would normally use and have used in the past -- the New England Laid stitch or the Romanian Stitch -- are not historically accurate to the period, at least not from what I've been able to research. I also can't use Long and Short soft shading, which would also be a prime selection, for the same reason.

I wanted to keep at least part of these flowers open, in keeping with the other elements which all have an open airy feel to them. So I segmented each petal, and decided to alternate sections of satin stitch at the tips and the center of the petals, with seed stitch in between to provide the airiness I was going for. I started by putting lines of split stitch to help me keep a sharp edge -- something I don't normally do, but with the sharp angles here, I needed all the help I could get!

I opted to use the two shades of rose color, as the blue and purple seemed a bit too heavy and would throw the rest off balance in my eye. Here I have finished the edges of the alternating petals in the lighter shade. The two inner petals will be in the darker shade.

And the finished product is here:

The edges of each petal are outlined in the split stitch which is a bit lighter in weight than the outline/stem stitch and less obtrusive in this use. The seed stitch really pulls it all together, I think. I am very happy with it!

I did make one little minor "error" which it took me a while to figure out, something that just didn't quite look right to my eye. It's very minor and I'm not planning on changing anything. Can you see what it is?

Now the challenge is to duplicate this on the mirror image carnation on the other side! Then, some nice rows of shaded chain stitch for the bottom of the flowers, and pull it together with the stems, and I'll be finished!

I had a question the other day about one of my earlier posts, from the beginning where I was stitching the Tudor Rose, and didn't know what I was going to do in the center! Sorry for keeping you hanging :-) I opted for a simple padded satin stitch. I don't have a photo of just that, but when I post the photo of the whole piece, I'll point it out. Thanks for asking!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Evolution of Design: Stitch Selection

I'm furiously working to finish this project to meet the April 1st judging deadline. Because of that, and spending all my time stitching, I had a period of time where I was not taking photos as I went along. This past weekend, though, I kept my camera on the table next to me and paused now and then to take some photos, and they show how I was progressing (or not!) through some design execution decisions. It seems that the closer I get to finishing, the more I end up ripping out and wasting time!

Let's look at the big leaves at the bottom of the piece as an example. They serve as the base of the piece, and where I would normally have some weight down there to anchor things (dense stitches, darker colors) this piece is much airier than the typical Jacobean designs I tend to enjoy. Making these leaves dense would be out of character. So I needed to find something that would work.

I decided to start by simply outlining the leaves in -- of course -- outline stitch! (Also known as stem stitch, depending on the direction you hold the thread.) Then I thought I would start with French knots along the "vein" of the leaf:

My next thought was to use Seed Stitch to form some shading, as I did in the Tudor Rose. This is typical of Elizabethan crewel, where the long and short soft shading had not come into favor yet. Seed or Speckling Stitch was used in various densities to accomplish shading (lots of stitches closer together for dark shading, fewer stitches farther apart for lighter areas.) This image (I believe it's from the Victoria and Albert Museum) of a blackwork piece illustrates what I'm talking about:

So I continued my French Knots a bit further into the leaf and then transitioned to seed stitch in a slightly lighter color to try for the effect I was looking for. I was not impressed with the results:

I'm not sure if it was the different color, or the seed stitch execution (I have some trouble keeping them consistent in size. As simple as the silly little stitch is, it can go wrong very easily!) Out came the scissors and the tweezers -- can't live without my Uncle Bill's Tweezers! -- and out came the seeds. This is NOT an easy stitch to remove, by the way. You have to be very careful not to snip the fabric!

Next attempt was just using French Knots:

Better, but there was still something wrong. Can you see? The knots I put in origianlly were bigger than the ones I added, and there is a perfectly good reason for that. I wrapped my thread twice on the first ones, and only once on the later ones. I have read instructions that say "never wrap twice" and other instructions that say "always wrap twice". I tend to change based on what effect I'm going for. At the very least, though, in something like this, I needed to be consistent! Out came the scissors and tweezers AGAIN (at least these were super easy to rip out!) and I tried again.

Finally! I was happy with the results. The next challenge is to get the mirror image leaf to look the same :-)

I was told a long time ago (by my Mother, of course!) never to be afraid of ripping things out. If you don't, you'll always look at it, even years later after it's been hanging on the wall framed, and wish you had. My Mother even took a piece down, took it out of the frame, and ripped out a flower that had been bothering her for years. It can be frustrating and feel like it's wasting time, but it's really just perfecting your work and your vision.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Little Leaves

I have been so busy trying to spend every minute I have stitching that I have fallen behind in my blog posting, and I am sorry about that. I promise to be better! Today's update will be petty short, but I hope interesting. It's about little leaves.

There are two sets of small leaves at the top of my Elizabethan design. I decided to stitch them in Satin Stitch, and have been experimenting a bit with that. I read a lot about people who use split stitch to outline their shape and then do Satin stitch over top. The split stitch helps to keep the edge straight and sharp. I have never done that, but have straight and sharp edges anyway. I decided to try it this time, and I did like the results! I don't have a photo of the split stitch, but here are the little leaves in Satin waiting for their vein.

I will say that the split stitch helped me not have concentrate quite so hard on the edge.

To give the leaves a bit more dimension, I added a vein of outline stitch. The colors are more washed out in this photo, but you get the idea. What do you think??

I'll take more photos and post soon! Does anyone have anything they want to see? Any questions that will help me frame my posts? Thanks!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On To Stitching

Not a lot to say today, other than I have begun actually stitching on the new project! It always takes so long to do the prep work, especially when you have to create your own design rather than transfer someone else's design. I've been at it now for months, and was really anxious to get started, especially since the next judging deadline is April 1st. I am skeptical that I'll be finished by then, but I'm going to try.

Here are the first two "work in progress" shots. This is the Tudor Rose, with the outer edge stitched in satin stitch, using the darker rose color:

And just for fun, here is the back! We are actually judged on the neatness of the back, making sure there are no long cross-overs where thread goes from one motif to another (and could be seen through the fabric) and no straggling pieces of thread. No knots allowed, either. So far so good!

The inner petal will be the same stitch but a slightly lighter rose color, and then I think I'm going to put some shading in each petal using seed stitch. I'm not sure what to do for the center yet. It will either be French knots, or possibly a whipped spider web. Any suggestions??

I'm going to sit down now and stitch for the rest of the afternoon -- what luxury! More photos later this weekend! (I'm also working on a better way to take photos, but that's going to take some time, and input from hubby!)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Evolution of Design

Until recently, all of my projects have used designs someone else created. Part of the Master Craftsman Certification, however, is to create your own designs (3 of the 6 steps!) so this has been a new experience. I'm amazed at how long it can take to create something to incorporates all of the requirements (e.g., historical period accuracy, certain shapes, overall size) and presents a pleasing, balanced "whole".

This current project is a design from the Elizabethan period of English Crewel. I started by reading several texts to learn about the period of time, and the stitching that was being done then, both in professional workshops and in the home. These included Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards, The Royal School of Needlework Book of Needlework and Embroidery and Antique Needlework by Lanto Synge, and English Crewel Designs by Mary Eirwen Jones. I downloaded a 16th century "Herbal"(The Herball and Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard, 1597) -- a book containing woodcuts of plants and flowers common at the time, which provided inspiration to stitchers -- to see what was available at the time.

And then I used my favorite design tool -- Vellum! I traced the woodcuts of several flowers,
plants, and vines common in the period, cut them out, and started playing around with placement

until I had something I liked. No, this technique was probably not available to the embroiderer in the 16th century, but that wasn't part of the requirements of the project!
From this stage, I had to get a clean copy, so I got a clean piece of
Vellum and traced the entire design. It looks a bit more finished here, but still a long way from being ready to stitch!

The components of the design include honeysuckle flowers and vines (top), a Tudor Rose, tulip flowers, Foxglove flowers along the lower vine, and two opposing carnations at the bottom. My challenge will be to get the flower definition (all the little lines that bring shape and dimension to each flower) with the stitches that were commonly used at the time.

From this stage, I needed to get the design transferred to my linen. There are many ways to do this. The one I've used many times is simply to get a piece of graphite paper, place this on the linen, place the design sheet over that, and with a blunt pen (a ballpoint pen that has run out of ink is a good tool!) trace the design. I have never been really satisfied with this method, though, probably because I lack something. I always ended up with graphite smudges on the cloth, or lines slightly offset if the design shifted. This can be very frustrating and I tried many ways to keep it from happening, none of which worked all of the time.

I could use the historically accurate method of "prick and pounce" where a sharp object is used to prick holes in the design, and then loose chalk or "pounce" is dusted over the design on linen. The pounce goes through the holes and creates the design. The dots can then be connected using pencil or some other method (some people even paint the lines!) This method sounds far too complicated to me, and I would probably smudge things ever more!

I have opted recently to use my own version of a light box. I find a sunny window in my house, and tape the design to the window:

Then I tape the linen over the design (use fabric tape, or I am using painter's tape here -- sticky enough to hold, but not so sticky that it can't be removed.)

Then I simply trace the design using a hard pencil. For the record, this photo shows the second time I worked through this process with this design. The first time, I had not left the required fabric outside the design! So I have another whole version of this design. I hate when I make mistakes like this, especially using linen twill that costs upwards of $80 per yard! Will I stitch it twice? Probably!!

The finished product -- time to start stitching!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Fiber Fiend's New Discovery

As a second generation crewel stitcher, I have always taken my mother's lead in all that I do. She was after all my instructor and mentor. So, I have always used Appleton Crewel for my thread. Always. I have boxes and boxes of almost every color, in small skeins and large hanks.

While doing my research into Elizabethan Crewel for my next piece, however, I found a new wool thread that I am very excited about (new to me, I'm sure others are well aware of it and would say "well, duh, you didn't know about THAT?") It is Renaissance Dyeing in France, specializing in 100% merino lambs-wool hand dyed using historically accurate recipes. They have a line called "Elizabethan Range: 16th Century Recipes" The instructions for my project state that color selection should be "historically appropriate to the period" (or something like that) so of course I had to order it!

My package arrived the other day. Here they are!

Now, I realize that a package containing 25 or so skeins of wool of various colors is probably not very exciting to most people, but I am thrilled. The colors are so warm and soft and perfectly complimenting each other. The fiber is soft and delicate. I have a feeling it will take me some time to get used to it as it's much more refined than Appleton, but I'm looking forward to that challenge. I feel like I'm striking off on a journey of independence.

Is anyone else fascinated with fiber? I love going to yarn shops just to see and feel all the different fibers available. Am I weird, or are there others out there who share my fascination with the ancient art of spinning something useful out of the natural coats of animals?

I sure hope I'm not just weird!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Peacock Passed -- Sort Of

It occurs to me that I never posted about the results of my Step #4 piece and whether it passed! Bad me... I'm still getting used to making this Blog a regular part of my life, and keeping it current. I will try to do better! It might be better incentive if I have some followers, but I'm working on that part, too.

I received a package in the mail in mid-November, and the results were a "Provisional Pass" on my peacock. I was actually pretty disappointed, as I felt my soft-shading technique is quite good, and that I had demonstrated that well. The judges indicated that they felt the upper half was "exquisite" (that made me feel pretty good!) but that they didn't like the stitch direction of the tail feathers.

To remind you what they looked like, here is the close-up photo with lines super-imposed to show what they wanted. The light blue lines accentuate the stitch direction I had. the yellow lines show what they wanted, what
they thought would be more "pleasing":

Note there are no lines on the left-most feather. they liked that one. Now, to me, this is a matter or personal taste and design, and not so much of technique, but it's

a very subtle thing. And the bottom line is if I wanted to pass, I needed to change it! In the grand scheme of things, too, this was an easy change, so I got out my sharp scissors and my tweezers and started ripping.

The results of the re-work are below. I must admit I do like it a bit better. What do you think??

Now, it must sit and wait until the next judging window at the beginning of April! I feel confident that I will have a complete "Pass" at that time.

Meanwhile, with the Provisional Pass, the judges do send along the instructions for the next step so I can get started. I can -- if I finish the next step in time -- submit it along with the re-submission of Step #4. If Step#4 passes, they will then judge Step #5. If for some reason Step #4 does not pass, then they send the whole thing back.

I have been spending a lot of time in the last 6 weeks or so studying for this next step, and coming up with a design. I'll write all about that -- and how I transfer my designs to linen -- in my next post.

Some up-coming subject I have planned are:
Washing and blocking your piece
Coming up with my original design
Transferring my design to linen
Discovering new wool (from a die-hard Appleton lover!)
Looking back at Master Craftsman Steps #1 through #3

Anything you want to see??