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!

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