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??