Some progress on Fish #2, plus some more answers to questions that arrived after the last post.
I’ve started on the main body section, using yet another fill from Ensamplario Atlantio.
How do you know where to put the patterns?
I’m not sure whether you are asking how I know which pattern to pick, or how I place them in their designated spot, so I’ll answer both.
Remember, in the last post I answered that I pick fills on the fly, and that occasionally I pick the wrong one? Here’s an example – the first design I attempted for Fish #2’s main body section, shown just before it disappeared forever:
Yes I went back and teased out this bit that I stitched on Friday night, replacing it with the intertwined Os. I originally chose the discarded fill because I wanted something light, but I didn’t like the effect of this flat lattice as the finished bit grew. It was too static, and in a large area, would have been very boring. Plus, it would be difficult to achieve the visual offset that I used on the other side of the spine in Fish #1. So I went looking for a slightly larger yet not too dense replacement.
The intertwined Os work. But as I sat stitching over the weekend, I had an idea (warning – they are usually dangerous). Those centers of the Os? Think of how nifty they’d look and how blingy Fish #2 would be if each center was spotted with one tiny little 2mm gold spangle like this:
I’ve found some, but they come in a couple of different gold tones. I am waiting for my wave lines gold thread to arrive, then I’ll try to get as close to it as I can with the spangles. I won’t be working with that thread or the spangles until all of the blue and green bits are finished and the piece is safely mounted on my larger, flat frame. And that can’t happen until after the coming weekend because I have promised to lead a beginners’ blackwork class in Rhode Island, and I want to have my Big Green Sampler on display using my big scrolling frame.
How do I decide where in the spot to place a design? It depends. Most of the time I look at my shape and find the “meatiest” part. In a square that’s easy – it’s the exact center of the shape, but for oddly contoured areas, it’s not always the geographic center. Then I look at my chosen fill and find the bit of it I want to emphasize. I center the element of the design I want to emphasize at the “meaty” point, and work from there out to the edges of my chosen shape.
Here are a few examples:
In the first red sample, I’ve more or less centered the fill in the shape, starting with the little flower in the middle In the second, I placed the first acorn I stitched so that there would be one full, uninterrupted iteration of that motif, then completed around it according to the fill’s motif spacing. In the gears, knowing I couldn’t get an entire dragon in the shape, I tried to place at least most of one in the upper left first, knowing that the eye starts looking there. As a bonus, you can see that I tried to roughly center the circles-plus-flowers motif in the maroon gear to the dragon’s right. I started that shape’s fill with the twined edges of the interlace immediately above the gear’s center hole.
How do you get such crisp lines and corners?
First, the silk I am using is longer staple and less fuzzy than cotton floss. The red samples above are DMC cotton, and you can see the halo effect around each stitch. Second, I I also wax my threads rather aggressively – even silk. This compacts them and makes them more difficult to pierce. Since each stitch is so short on 40 count linen (20 stitches = 1 inch), loss of sheen and coverage from waxing is not a problem.
I’m using double-running, with occasional short hops in “heresy stitch” to avoid getting caught in a dead-end. Once I’m done the back of this piece will not be visible, so I am not taking pains to make it totally and completely two-sided. However, I do use double running logic for the most part, for better thread economy and to avoid possible show-through that results from long hops across the back.
As I’ve described before, I use a blunt-point needle to avoid piercing the threads of my ground cloth, and never take an over-two stitch: one unit on my chart = one stitch, at all times. While others do use a sharp to pierce the stitching thread, I find that I don’t like the look produced by piercing previous stitches: it’s often bumpy. I prefer the butted-end-to-end look I achieve with a blunt.
You know this isn’t historical blackwork, right?
Yes, I know that, and I never claimed that it was.
Blackwork is a portmanteau term that covers many, many substyles of high contrast work, often but not always done in monochrome. There are counted substyles and non-counted ones. Some are single color or limited color range works done strip-style, counted or uncounted. Some use abutting areas, each clearly outlined, and filled with various stitched treatments, occasionally but not always geometric, and not always done on the count. Some use stippling as shading either inside or outside of their motifs. Some of those rely on tonal variations to give the piece a three-dimensional feeling, and some don’t. And there’s a whole school of modern blackwork that dispenses with outlines altogether, and uses the tonal density of the patterns – sometimes sticking to a limited number of base designs with modifications, and some using a wider range of fills to achieve a range from light to dark. This last group draws inspiration from engravings and lithographs to make intricately shaded and modeled images.
What Fishies shares with historical styles are the use of heavy outlines, metallic accents, and geometric, counted fills. What it doesn’t share is subject matter – this is a Japanese-inspired, quasi-traditional composition. Also, the complexity of the fills I favor is not particularly well documented. Historical inhabited blackwork tends to simpler fills than the wildly detailed ones I often use. I do note that the body fill for Fish #1 WAS adapted from a historical source – from a sleeve shown in one of the late Elizabethan era men’s portraits, that – of course – I can’t lay hands on right now.
Happily I have no pressures to abide by covenants of historical accuracy for this work. I’m having fun. End of story.
Any other questions? Feel free to post them here as comments, and I’ll try to answer.
More progress has been made on my Two Fish blackwork piece.
I’ve gotten more questions about how I go about doing these. I’ll try to answer them here, rather than piecemeal by message. If you have additional questions, please feel free to post them in the comments. I’ll sweep up all that lands there, and then answer them in the next Fish post. First – today’s progress:
And the questions….
Where can I get this kit?
There is no kit, it’s an original composition of classic elements that I am designing on the fly. I won’t be publishing a chart for the final project, or releasing it as a kit.
The Resident Male had mentioned a two-fish embroidery a while back, so I started by looking at a few on-line images of swimming koi. Here’s a post about designing original projects drawn from various sources of inspiration.
Using the freeware GIMP graphics program, I adapted a couple, starting by tracing some, then merging them to blend parts together, simplifying details, changing proportions, increasing the spine curvature, and tweaking angles – until I had a fish I liked. Then I flip-mirrored it so that I had two fish circling each other. After that I added the “water lines” behind the pair – adapting them from the bit below (from a book of traditional Japanese wave and ripple designs – Ha Bun Shu, by Yusan Mori, circa 1919), also traced, augmented a bit and then enlarged.
Once I had the whole thing drawn out, I sized it up to be my desired dimension, using the GIMP resize feature, and printed it out on paper.
How did you prepare your cloth?
I selected a piece of 40-count linen, cut a square about 30% larger than my target design dimensions, hemmed all four edges, and basted guide lines to help me identify the center point. On this project I am picking out those guide lines as stitching encroaches on them. I’ve got no need to keep them intact because nothing depends on placement against them. For the record, I’m working my fills over 2×2 threads – 20 stitches per inch.
How did you get the drawing onto the cloth?
I used the poor-girl’s light table – a big window, and a bit of painters’ tape. I took my resized drawing and taped it to my dining room window, then centering the basted lines of my already-hemmed and center-identified fabric over the marked center of the on-paper design, I taped the ground cloth to the window on top of the paper pattern. This is the same method I used for my Ganesh project, although I had just Scotch Tape in India:
Then I traced the design onto the ground using a bunch of pencils I had to hand – some washable pencils intended for cloth marking, some not. I’ll probably regret not using Proper Pencils, but the urge to get going does not always wait until optimal supplies have been secured.
Did you graph out the whole design?
Nope. All I transferred to the cloth were the outlines. For inhabited blackwork (the substyle that uses outlines plus fills), I never graph out the whole project. Once the outlines are on the cloth, I work my fillings right into the spaces indicated, if needed, by looking at a sample of the design, either on another cloth or on paper.
At the time I did the tracing, I had absolutely no firm thoughts about colors, fill designs to use, thickness of outlines, or how to work the water lines. I knew I wanted to use a hand-dyed indigo silk, and possibly some couched metallic thread, but that was it.
Where are the fills from? How do you pick what fills to use?
In truth, I have no idea which fill I will use for any particular spot until I am ready to stitch it and make my selection. Most of the fills I’ll use on this piece are in Ensamplario Atlantio, my free eBook of blackwork geometrics, but I may draft up more or tweak existing ones as needed.
In this case I started with the largest area on the darker of the two fish. I wanted something vaguely reminiscent of scales, but with more interest. I thumbed through book and hit upon the knot design. For the other side of the fish, I used the same fill, but offset it, to imply movement (mating the design across the fin area would have made a flat, static composition). I wanted the tail to feel “swishy” so I chose a design with a prominent swirl. For the back fin, I chose one of the lightest fills, for contrast. The fin behind the fish uses a darker effect fill than the fin in front, again to add depth. And so on.
I try to scale the chosen fill to the size of the area where it will live. Big areas get the largest, most demonstrative fills. Small areas get smaller repeats. Sometimes though I’ll violate this, if a larger design has a smaller sub-element that will fit entirely in the current space – like picking one strawberry out of a larger repeat and using just that.
Do you ever pick a fill you regret later?
Sure. Sometimes a fill does not show to good advantage next to its neighbors. Then I pick it out and try again. But this doesn’t happen very often.
What about the outlines?
I almost always wait to embroider the outlines until all of the adjacent fills have been completed. This gives me a bit of time to be satisfied with the fills as worked, and lets me cover up the edges where fills meet. It’s MUCH easier to cover up than to work flush to a pre-stitched outline, especially when the fill may require a half-stitch at the edge for complete coverage.
The exception for this was my Forever Coif. Instead of drawing the design on my ground, I used cross stitch to lay down my outlines (based on a familiar design, charted in my New Carolingian Modelbook), and then in-filled the to-be-stitched areas with geometrics. Finally, I over-embroidered my cross stitch outlines to make them heavier and more prominent. The original cross stitching does not show:
On Two Fish, I am using mostly reverse chain stitch for the outlines. The thinner accent lines inside the fins and tail are split stitch. Differences in line thickness are achieved by using different numbers of floss strands.
Why not? This is an original, modern piece, done using styles and techniques inspired by historical stitching. There are no Embroidery Police waiting to ticket me because I am using multiple colors.
I started out intending to only use the indigo – a product dyed by a friend of mine. While I love the look, I decided I wanted to play with an additional vector of contrast, so I liberated some commercial Au Ver a Soie Soie D’Alger from my big green sampler project and began experimenting. I liked the additional depth it gave. I may do the other fish as a tonal “opposite” to this one – a traditional treatment of the two-circling-koi motif. If I do, I may swap placement of the colors as well as changing up the density of the fills, so that Fish #2 may have a less dense green body, but darker blue fins and tail.
And the wavy water lines?
Right now, I am still thinking couched metallics. I haven’t decided between gold or silver, or a mix of both. I have some nice silver passing thread brought back from my Paris trip, but nothing comparable in gold, and only a limited quantity of the Sajou stuff. So I have to find the **right** thread for them. That’s going to be tough, with no local sources. I’ll have to rely on recommendations, on-line reviews, and catalog descriptions. Suggestions will be gratefully accepted!
It’s been a while since I posted last. Hectic doesn’t begin to describe it. Kitchen finish, work-related deadlines, college graduations, and last – a blissful vacation week on Cape Cod in our new beachside condo, full of kayaking, golf, good food, and the active pursuit of doing absolutely nothing. All in all too many things to accomplish, with too little time to document any of it.
But through it all, a modicum of sanity-preserving handwork has happened: three pairs of hand-knit socks (my default no-thinking project of choice); plus some others.
First, thanks to the generosity of Certain Enablers who shall remain unnamed – a vintage shrug. I began working on this just before the vacation break. On US #9 (5.5mm) needles, this one was a quick knit. At left is the photo from the pattern. At right is my piece.
Those projections on the side are the sleeves. Obviously, I haven’t seamed the thing up yet. A bit of pretzel-type manipulation is slated to happen that will result in a T-shaped seam in the back, and the graceful drape of the simple drop-stitch rib pattern curving in the front. Or so we hope. I have the piece left on the needle because I haven’t decided yet on whether or not I will be doing some sort of live-stitch seam. It’s hot and sticky right now – too hot to sit with this tub of alpaca boucle on my lap. I’ll go back and finish this piece off when it cools off a bit. I’ll have to rush though, so Target Recipient can take the completed garment off to university with her next month.
Second is also a time-linked project. The first of two, in fact. I am edging off the two inspirational samplers I did for the girls, backing them and readying them for simple rod type hanging. Here’s the first. I’m hand’ hemming the backing/edging cloth to the stitching ground. The backing cloth is in one piece, strategically folded to be a self frame. I’ll baste a length of chain threaded on some thin woven tape in the bottom fold to provide weight, and leave small gaps in the two top corners for insertion of the hanging rod:
The second one will be close behind – the other sampler I did this fall/winter past. Also finished out for hanging from a rod. More on that after I’ve laid it out. In fact, if folk are interested, I’ll use the second one to illustrate the folding and stitching logic required to do this.
And finally, just for fun with no deadline attached (so you know what I’ll be working on tomorrow evening), an Autumn Lace shawl out of some unknown Noro fingering weight yarn, augmented by some Noro Taiyo Sock. The unknown Noro was also from the same Enabling Anonymous Donor, and was perfect for a project I’d been planning on working up for a long time:
Here you see the first course of leaves (worked bottom half, then top half). This is not a particularly difficult pattern, but it is an exacting one, with a pattern that has to be closely followed, and that is not within my capability to memorize. More on this one as it develops.
Another question from the inbox: “So, what’s up with those snails?”
No mystery – just a bit of silly that’s been codified into semi-tradition.
The original strip of snails was one of the first patterns I doodled up – inspired by the non-counted snails in Scholehouse for the Needle (1624). That was way long back ago, when I was still in college. They’ve wandered in and out of my notes over the years, first appearing as a spot motif, and eventually ending up in my first and second hand drawn pattern collections (published in ‘76 and in the early ‘80s) and eventually my own New Carolingian Modelbook. I dedicated that form of the pattern to Mistress Peridot of the Quaking Hand – a local resident of the SCA Barony of Carolingia (Eastern Massachusetts/greater Boston area), famed for her calligraphy and her unselfish sharing of the same. The artist behind so many excellent awards scrolls. Peridot’s own device features a sleepy snail.
Maybe it’s a subliminal comment on slow, steady perseverance inherent in needlework, but for whatever reason, I have used that snail on the majority of my samplers. Not all, but most. Here are charts for some of the ways my little creeping friends have shown up. The original row is at the top left. The all-over of snails circling little gardens with ominous intent is from the Trifles sampler. The ribbon strip at the lower left is the bit I’m currently stitching in blue and red.
A couple of people have written to me saying that they’d like to do an original inhabited blackwork piece, but don’t want to do the traditional Elizabethan scrolling flowers, or yet another chessboard. They are hesitant to draft up their own main design, and are unsure where to start. They have asked for some leads on places where they can find drawings particularly suitable for or adaptable to use with counted fills.
I present some suggestions. Mind you – none of these are endorsements or product placements, and are intended as a first step for gathering inspiration.
1. Coloring Books. They come in all flavors from very simple line drawings aimed at kiddies, to complex pieces targeted at over-stressed adults. What you want are ones with large enough spaces for the patterns to play. A mix of large and small areas to fill is ideal because it will allow use of fills of various complexities and densities. Given the vast diversity of what’s available now, a coloring book project can be anything: a kid’s cartoon character, a historical vignette, a Alhambra-style geometric, a complex mandala, something relevant to your faith, a detailed bit of nature drawing, or a cheeky paisley. Dover has a particularly lush collection of coloring books, many of which contain designs that would appeal to an adult.
2. Stained Glass Patterns. These are especially easy to use for blackwork because of the limits that handling tiny bits of glass impose. The drawings tend to have bold outlines and large, flat fill areas.
3. Maps. Proud of your country, home state, county or city? All of those nifty borders outline areas just waiting to be stitched. Collections of clip art for classrooms and teachers contain some of the simplest, most clearly defined examples.
4. Wallpaper Samples. The all-over designs of some wallpapers present excellent opportunities for the use of fills. There are hundreds of collections on-line that can be combed for inspiration.
5. Antique Ironwork. Grills, meshes, fences, and guards are like iron lace. With lots of “white space” between the bars, just waiting for embellishment. I took some photos of ironwork at the V&A that show what I’m thinking of.
6. Architectural Drawings and Plans. There are tons of illustrations of houses and other buildings (also lots of photos). For example, I’m drawn to pix of Craftsman era bungalows.
7. Patchwork Quilting Patterns. There are thousands, some appliqué, some pieced (both geometric and crazy-work), all perfect for this type of stitching. Again, there are thousands of these available on-line both paid and free.
8. Stenciling Designs. These are produced in several scales. There are large ones intended for use in interior decoration, often as borders or furniture accents. There are also smaller ones intended for finer airbrush work, like the one I’m using for my Trifles sampler. In any case, a quick Google search turns up plenty.
9. Mosaic and Tile Patterns. Like stained glass, these often need little or no resizing because the tesserae (mosaic tiles) are just big enough to use as stitching blocks. Here’s a pile of regular layouts.
10. Lace Samples. Many designs intended for lace can be adapted as blackwork outlines. For example, the looping patterns intended for traditional Battenberg could be in-filled using counted geometrics, with the outlines themselves either being stitched, or applied over using soutache cord or a narrow tape or braid. Here’s what I mean.
These are just a few ideas off the top of my head.
I just got back from a quick business trip. Sadly, I came back with a hitchhiker – a bad cold. But to cheer me up upon arrival was my package from Hedgehog Handworks, with my new Hardwicke Manor sitting hoop frame:
As you can see, I was so excited, I had to try it out right away, even before wrapping the inner hoop in twill tape. I’ll do that this weekend.
First the specs of my long-coveted indulgence. There are two joints providing freedom of movement. Looking at the back of the thing, the first is a slider that regulates height. The turned barrel at the base of the main vertical has a wooden screw tightener, allowing the vertical arm to be raised and lowered. Minimum height (pushed all the way in, with the frame positioned parallel to the ground) is 13.5 inches measured from table top to BOTTOM edge of the frame. Max height on which the tightening screw can be brought to bear is about 18.5 inches. The vertical stick also allows the frame to be rotated left and right, provided the wood screw is loosened to avoid damage.
The second degree of freedom is the y-shaped joint at the top of the vertical stem. The fixed attachment piece from the round frame fits into the slit of the y-shape, and is tightened by a bolt with a metal wing nut. (I will probably replace the wing nut with something a bit more finger-friendly in the future). This allows the frame head to swivel up and down, allowing access to the reverse of the work.
“Orthodox” use position and all of the pix I can find on line show the large paddle piece at the bottom being slid under the left hip, so that both legs sit upon it, and the frame is presented across the user’s lap. Users are also shown sitting bolt-upright on a chair or a sofa.
I’m a bit more relaxed. My favorite stitching chair is a Morris chair, with wide wooden arms, like mini-shelves left and right. It reclines. Instead of sitting upright, I tend to stitch in the reclined position. I also don’t want to bark the chair’s woodwork with the frame, so instead I straddle the base, with the paddle-bottom underneath my right thigh. I can adjust the position of the hoop so that it’s perfectly comfortable and accessible in that position.
All in all, I am VERY pleased, although I may need to stitch myself a small bolster on which to rest my left elbow when working with that hand beneath the frame. The chair arms are too high for comfort, and some support would be useful for extended sessions. Oh heavens. A quick project to make something useful that I can cover with MORE stitching. However will I cope? 🙂
In the same order, I also received some tambour embroidery hooks. I won’t show them here, but will save them for a future piece. Hmm…. that elbow cushion… What do you think?
And finally as a cheer-me-up, Younger Daughter, Needle Felting Maven and all around good kid, saw that I was in need of a small, weighted pin cushion that was presentable to leave here in the library next to my chair. Although she usually does far more intricate shapes (dragons, tigers, airplanes), she made me a little sea-urchin, weighted in the bottom center with a couple of big rupee coins, for extra sentimental value. It’s adorable, simple, in colors that match the rug in the library, and at about 1.5 inches across, with the coins giving it a low center of gravity, so it doesn’t go skittering off – the perfect size and weight.
Finally, I have been making progress on Trifles. As you can see, I’ve got less than a quarter of the surround left to go. And every single gear uses a different filling.
Trifles is moving right along. Waxing the thread has greatly speeded up production. You can see my working method: filling first, then outline to cover up any edge fill irregularities.
Here’s the gear set now:
I’m having fun picking out the fillings on the fly, trying to vary density, color, and form, so that abutters contrast nicely. For those who have asked – yes, every filling used so far appears in Ensamplario Atlantio. I have it downloaded to my iPad. My favorite sewing/knitting chair is a Mission-style recliner with very wide, flat wooden arms. I am able to stand the iPad up on one and zoom in on the chosen designs as needed. Very convenient.
Progress will get a bit less exciting from here on in. I plan to totally fill the ground around the motto with gears, each worked in a different filling design. No other colors will be used. I’m sticking to the deep russet red, chocolate, gold, and silver. I may or may not add some real brass gears as embellishment. I may add some small large-eyed tiny critters stuck in the gearwork, sort of like the soot sprites from the movie, Spirted Away. That’s another of the target recipient’s favorite fandoms.