Friday, 22 August 2014

Empresse of Flowers - Part 1

I was very pleased to learn that Lynn Hulse and Nicola Jarvis (Ornamental Embroidery) would be conducting a workshop at the Ashmolean in conjunction with the Eye of the Needle. The class this year “Empresse of Flowers: Elizabethan Embroidery” was inspired by the botanical motifs that dominated English domestic embroidery throughout the Elizabethan period. Nicola designed a panel, consisting of four motifs within a trailing vine, based on a cushion she had previously designed and stitched, which in turn was based on a panel in the Embroiderer’s Guild’s Collection. Our panel included two strawberries with a flower, two pea pods, a honeysuckle and a cornflower. Given that such motifs were stitched in a wide variety of different techniques, Lynn and Nicola did not prescribe a stitching scheme for the panel, instead, during the course of the 2 days they helped each of us devise our own stitching plan.

During the first morning we split into two groups: while one group went to view the Eye of the Needle Exhibition, the other set about choosing a colour scheme and selecting threads for their panel. After lunch, inspired by the magnificent embroideries we had seen and full of enthusiasm, we started stitching. As well as a piece of linen with the design drawn on, we were each given a piece of muslin to practice on. While a few brave souls pitched straight in on their linen, most of use choose to practice on the muslin first. In fact, I only stitched on the muslin during the course, choosing to try out some ideas for each motif.

I began with the pea pods. Pea pods are often stitched in needle lace; Nicola suggested that we do them in corded Brussels (buttonhole stitch with return). I have done this, or variations of this stitch, a few times already. Most recently I worked alternating up and down buttonhole with return of the Tudor Rose. When I wrote about the Tudor Rose, I commented that my stitching was more open and lacy than the original and thought that may have been because the back stitches of my outline may have been too large. I decided to practice the corded Brussels on the muslin to see if I could get the stitches smaller and denser. I started by outlining the pea pod with backstitch, this time concentrating on making them small and even. I think that I over compensated and made the stitches so small that I struggled to get my needle under them for the first row of buttonhole stitches. When I had completed the first row, subsequent rows went in more quickly and easily and I liked the small, dense stitching. Before I start on the linen, I will experiment some more to see if a slightly larger back stitch outline gives me the same result.

© Ornamental Embroidery/Carol-Anne Conway

The second motif I practised on day one was the strawberry. I thought that this also would look good stitched in needle lace. Nicola suggested that it might be nice to raise the motif slightly with some padding so I first stitched three layers of padding; first two layers of Colonial satin stitch (laid stitch) then a layer of satin stitch. I alternated the orientation of the stitches between vertical and horizontal, finishing with a vertical layer completely filling the area inside the backstitch outline. I wanted a more open, lacy stitch for the strawberry so Nicola suggested I use triple Brussels. The first row is formed by making three buttonhole stitches then leaving a gap before making the next three stitches, and so on across the row. On the second and subsequent rows, you make three buttonhole stitches into the bar that bridges the gap, and leave a gap above the three stitches in the previous row. The trick is to make the three stitches and the gaps of equal width. I really like the effect.

© Ornamental Embroidery/Carol-Anne Conway

© Ornamental Embroidery/Carol-Anne Conway

As I was only practising on the muslin, I only worked enough of each motif to ensure I knew what I was doing and to evaluate whether I liked the effect.

Happy Stitching.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Eye of the Needle Exhibition

Last August I took part in a two day workshop with Lynn Hulse, Nicola Jarvis and Jacqui Carey. The class was based on a swete bag from the Micheál and Elizabeth Feller collect that was due to be exhibited at the Ashmolean last year. The original exhibition was postponed which was disappointing at the time but the good news is that “The Eye of the Needle” has now opened and runs until 12 October 2014. There is a full program of lectures, study days and workshops centred on the exhibition: I have signed up for everything except one of the workshops and will be practically living at the Ashmolean museum for the next 3 months! I have already attended one workshop, more on that later, but today I want to talk about the exhibition itself.


Together with a selection of the 17th century English Embroideries from Feller Collection, which are on public display for the first time, are a few outstanding examples from the Ashmolean’s own collection. The exhibition includes beautiful samplers and pictorial panels; dress accessories including caps, coifs and gloves; swete bags; a chatelaine; the Ashmolean’s famous frog purse; and two embroidered boxes. Every item is exquisite and the workmanship is to be marvelled at. They are made with colourful silks, metallic threads, pearls and semi-precious stones; one small needle lace picture, worked entirely in white thread, includes over 4000 tiny fresh water pearls. As well as demonstrating an extraordinary range of techniques the embroideries also reflect the religious, political and social concerns of the time. The exhibition is made all the richer by the information cards displayed with each piece. The curator, Dr Mary Brooks, supplied information not only on the techniques and materials used but also what is depicted and the context in which they were made.

The two day workshop I attended on August 1 and 2 included entry to the exhibition on its opening day. I spent about an hour in the exhibition before I reached saturation point but the Ashmolean were very generous in allowing us to view the exhibition again on the second day: I still could not take everything in!

No pictures are allowed in the exhibition and unfortunately there is not a catalogue but there are two excellent books on the Feller Collection: The Micheál & Elizabeth Feller Needlework Collection Volume I and The Micheál & Elizabeth Feller Needlework Collection Volume II.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 14 July 2014

Tudor Rose - Part 4

The centre of the flower was covered in lesson two but it is quite textured and uses delicate gold perlees so I decided to leave it until after I had completed the leaves in lesson three.

Knots of any kind have, in the past, been the embroidery stitches that I have found the most difficult to master and, for me, the most difficult of all is the bullion knot. I have read much about them in an effort to master them but even when I worked them en masse for TAST I never really came to terms with them.

I did one or two practise knots on my doodle cloth carefully following the diagrams supplied with lesson two and was amazed to produce some reasonable looking bullion knots with relative ease. I'm not entirely sure why that was so. I don't think that the improvement is down to better technique on my part even though I found the diagrams are very clear and easy to follow. No, I think the credit goes to the thread used. The bullions are stitched in Soie Perlee. The firmness of the twist combined with the smoothness of the silk make this thread a dream to stitch with. For the first time I actually enjoyed making bullions and am reasonably pleased with the resulting knots.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The space between the two rows of bullion knots is filled with alternating lengths of Rough Purl #7 and Pearl Purl Super. The lengths of purl are stitched on like beads. At first I forgot to wax the couching thread and it kept catching on the wire. I spoiled a few pieces before I realised my mistake. I am never very satisfied with this kind of gold work. I am not able to cut the lengths of purl accurately enough. If they are too short they do not completely fill the space. If they are too long, the purl my crack and this has happened to some of my lengths.

In a slight change to the instructions, I filled the centre with chips of Bright Check Purl #7.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The final step was to outline the inner white flower with two strands of #380 silver wire twisted together and couched in place. The outer red petals were outlined in the same way using two strands of #371 gold wire.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

This was a really pleasing short course. I enjoyed combining the silk and metallic threads to make the composite stitches. I would like to use all of them again and I have a few ideas for different combinations to try out.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Tudor Rose - Part 3

In third and final Tudor Rose lesson we stitched the three remaining leaves on each bunch of five leaves.

The first leaf in this lesson was the top leaf on each bunch. First we used #371 Gold Wire to make a Ceylon stitch foundation. This is an extended version of Ceylon stitch with only three rows of ‘chains’; one on each edge and one along the leaf stem. I recall that I had some difficulty maintaining an even tension while practising extended Ceylon stitch for the gold work sampler. I was also mindful of the problems I had with Ladder stitch on the gold work sampler so took care with the tension on the rungs between each ‘chain’. My Ceylon stitch foundation for the first leaf is not perfect but I was reasonably happy with it.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The second step for this leaf was to weave under and over the rungs created by the Ceylon stitch using Soie Perlee. Several rows of weaving are packed quite tightly into the available space. The trick was to weave sufficient rows to nicely fill the leaf but not so many that the gold was completely obscured by the silk. It is the hints of gold glinting from between the silk that make these combination stitches so attractive.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The fourth leaf on each bunch of leaves is outlined with reverse chain stitch Soie Perlee. The leaf is then filled with detached buttonhole with return stitch using #371 gold wire.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The fifth leaf is worked in exactly the same way as the third using a different shade of Soie Perlee.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

I really enjoyed making these composite stitches and like the effect of the silk and metallic combinations. Silk and metallic individually are my favourite threads and I think they are even lovelier when combined – each complimenting and enhancing the other. Two of the stitch combinations were used twice on each bunch (four times in all). I would have preferred to used two different stitch combinations rather than repeating some of the stitches but I think the bunch of leaves looks very attractive.

Happy Stitching

Monday, 9 June 2014

My husband, me and 'the other woman'

My husband has a new love in his life!

It’s possibly my own fault. You see I have been rather preoccupied with my embroidery and spending more time away from home on courses or demonstrating at exhibitions. Perhaps I was rather naive to think that he would not look for other amusement in my absence.

It all began innocently enough with an occasional admiring glance at a passing stranger but then he started passing comment, "what a stunner!", "did you see that beauty?" He starting spending more and more time on the internet searching out particular models until he found ‘the one’. I could see how attracted he was; 'she' set his heart racing and he could hardly take his eyes of her. It was only a matter of time before he arranged to meet her.

From then on things moved very quickly and it was a matter of weeks before she came to live with us. I insisted that she live in the annex and tried to be understanding when he spent time with her. I tried not to be jealous as I watched him pampering her or went they went on outings together. I consoled myself with the thought that it allowed me more time for my embroidery.

Then he dropped his bombshell; he wanted me to get to know her; to love her the way he does; for the three of us to go on outings together! I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know her let alone come to love her. I was tempted to say that I would rather spend time with my embroidery than with ‘her’. But I told myself that I might lose my husband to her completely if I didn’t try to be a part of their lives.

We went on a few short excursions together; out to lunch; to a riverside pub one sunny evening; to a local festival full of more of her kind of people to see if I would 'fit in'! And to my surprise I found I quite liked her. From the beginning, I had to admit how beautiful she was and now I began to realise how much fun she could be. I’ve always liked that outdoors and that is where she is happiest; running free with the wind in her face. In the sunshine, her beauty shines out for all to see.

Yesterday we had our first full day out together. This time we went somewhere of my choosing, among my kind of people (a display from the collection of 18th century European church vestments at St Mary’s Church in Upper Froyle) but travelling there and back together was good fun and we enjoyed a nice lunch outside a country pub.


I will be quite content to sometimes stay home with my embroidery while Jon and his new Harley go off together but I am also looking forward to our next ride out together in the sunshine. Next time we may go to the sea-side. Oh! I do like to be beside the sea-side!


Happy Motorbiking!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Tudor Rose - Part 2

The second lesson of Tudor Rose concentrated on the flower. Each of the two flowers, the outer red one and the inner white one were outlined with backstitch using Soie Perlee. I’ve hadn’t used Perlee threads much before this project and had only worked with cotton Perlee before. It is not a thread that I liked very much but that is probably because it is not suited to the type of embroidery I usually do. However, I really enjoyed working with it on this project. That may be because the thread used is 100% silk and I am a total silk addict but I also liked the weight and the degree of twist in the Soie Perlee.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The petals are filled with alternating up and down buttonhole stitch with return. I had done this stitch on the gold work sampler but using a metallic thread. I practised the stitch using the Soie Perlee on my doodle cloth before attempting it on the Tudor Rose.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The first few rows of each petal the detached buttonhole stitch is worked in metallic thread on a silk return. The remainder of the petal is work entirely in silk.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The inner flower is worked in exactly the same way, combining white and silver instead of red and gold.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

In the picture of the stitched sample supplied with the course notes the stitches are much more compact than mine. I think this may be because the back stitch outline was done with smaller stitches. I think the open lacy effect of fewer stitches, as on mine, has a certain charm, but on balance I think I prefer the smaller, denser version.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The centre of the flower was also covered in lesson two but it is quite textured and uses delicate gold perlees so I decided to leave that part until after I had completed the leaves in lesson three.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Friday, 23 May 2014

Tudor Rose - Part 1

Life continues to be busy but I still (determinedly) make time for some stitching most days. Now that the finer weather is here stitching time competes with gardening time and lately the garden has been winning. The pond has been planted and we now have some fish. The borders around the pond and patio are mostly planted; the plants soften the hard edges and make the pond/patio/lawn look more integrated. The evenings have been sufficiently pleasant to allow us to eat our dinner on the patio and linger with a glass of wine until bed time!

Earlier in the year I did another online gold work class with Thistle Threads. This was a short course (3 months) that complimented the much longer (18 months) Tudor and Stuart Gold Master Class but each class is stand along and they could be taken in any order. The Tudor Rose class focuses on composite stitches that combine silk and metallic threads.

In lesson one we worked on the stems and two of the leaves from each spray of five leaves. The stem is worked in two passes; first a foundation is stitched in Soie Perlee, this is then laced with a gold wire.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

My first attempt at the stitch (which I forgot to take a picture of) was not very successful. I made the foundation stitches too small and was not able to lace the gold wire through them. On my second attempt I made the foundation stitches twice as big, this made the lacing much easier. In hindsight I think these foundation stitches are a little too large and that 1.5 times the original size would have been sufficient.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

The first two leaves on each stem where all worked in the same way. Each leaf was outlined with reverse chain stitch using Soie Perlee and then filled with rows of reverse chain stitches alternating between Soie Perlee and gold wire. Again, I think that I could have made the stitches a bit smaller.

© Thistle Threads/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching