Tag Archives: blackwork

CRAWLING ALONG, WITH SNAIL AND BEE

Satin stitch (for me at least) is sllloooowwwww. Especially compared with double running. Even though I am not working the satin stitch on count, the degree of precision needed to do the gold, cranberry, and white bits is even greater than the counted green outlines.

That said, progress is being made:

This is the center of the piece. I’m not entirely happy with every leaf or bud part done in satin, but I am not at this point going to go back and take anything out. What is, is. And for the record, as wobbly and multi-directional as my stitching is, that on the historical piece I have used as my inspiration is about as weak as mine.

But am learning as I go, and things are evening out a mite.

First was finding a better needle. It was pretty clear that the blunt tip/small eyed needles I favor for the outlines are not optimal for satin stitch. First, the eye that’s good for two strands of well-waxed floss is too small for three strands of unwaxed. And that rounded point, so well suited for slipping between threads for double running, is useless for piercing ground cloth threads to make nice, neat satin edges – even if those edges are partially “buried” underneath the outlines. I am not sure what size needle I am using (I pulled it from among a bunch of loose ones in my needle case), but it’s a standard larger eye embroidery sharp – not a tapestry needle.

Second was better threading. I am spoiled by waxing the living daylights out of my double running threads. Even if the two strands I use for the outlines require a tiny snip to get a good “point”, waxing guarantees a stiff, thin, easy to mount threading end. Not so the loose flossy strands of this ultra skinny silky stuff, used in threes or fours unwaxed for the satin stitching. They are unruly, prone to separating, fluffing out at the cut end, and otherwise uncooperative. Sometimes in a fit of desperation, I do wax the last half inch, but I prefer not to do that because the wax does drag off and mat down the rest of the strand. So I went looking for needle threaders to help. Thanks to Mary Corbet’s blog, I found some nifty tools, one of which I didn’t know I needed.

To start with, prior to making any purchases, I wanted to corral my needles, because for the first time ever, I was using multiple needle types on the same piece, and the pincushion at my elbow kept skittering off. I rummaged through my box of Useful Things, and came up with two flat rare earth magnets – formerly the insides of two heavy duty magnetic hooks. I’d saved them when the hook parts died. I glued them onto the verticals of my Millenium, in the corners. That worked nicely to keep my needles at hand, yet out of the way.

Now came threading. Obviously a needle threader would be required to cut down on my swearing and frustration. Mary had recommended some from Puffin. I liked the look of them from the structural standpoint, with flat hook style business ends, and not wire loops. So I ordered two in whimsical shapes vaguely reminiscent of Elizabethan coif motifs. One regular size, one small.

The snail with the larger hook works like a dream with the standard larger-eye embroidery needle. The bee with the little stinger surprised me by actually working with my tiny-eye ball-tip needles. Both are magnet-enabled, and now perch on the magnet I glued onto my frame.

And the needles they displaced? This is the thing I didn’t know I needed. Looking back, I could have done something similar with my two plain recycled magnets, but I never thought of it…

I got one of the Puffin needle-keepers.

This is the pretty side of the thing. It is also magnet-enabled, and the two magnets are quite strong. So strong in fact that they grasp and hold together not only through my cloth, but also through multiple folds of my pattern page printouts. So my design pages now sit neatly next to the area being stitched – not on a separate stand, or balanced awkwardly on a cushion nearby. My alternate needles are firmly fixed in place on the flower’s center, while my needle minder does its double-duty holding the pattern.

Here you see the corner of my frame in its stand-clamp, showing off the needle minder (left), and the glued-on magnet with both threaders (right). Everything to hand.

Please note I accept no freebies and make no endorsement deals. And since I don’t indulge myself often, tiny advances in kit are really special.

I’m a happy camper, even in the face of all that satin stitching. Bravo, Puffin! Useful tools, nicely made.

FALLING LEAVES

I did not plan to stitch this piece of crimson and gold leaves as a tribute to Fall, but it’s starting to look that way.

I’m munching along on both the repeat and the border. But being a tad lazy, I’ve been concentrating on the easy-to-do double running, and not on the high-concentration-to-achieve satin stitch. (I envy those who walk through satin stitch and make it look so simple).

This segment is about 65% as wide as the finished piece will be. The center diagonal branches will stretch a bit further to the left, possibly one or one and a half more iterations of the repeat. There will also be a companion border on that edge. I am still deciding whether or not I will add borders to the ends now captive on my frame’s rollers, or whether I will just finish out the design either truncated, or with the narrow diagonal trim, but without the accompanying outer leaves. Lots depends on what this will end up being. That decision is also still up in the air. Pillow? Framed piece? Soft-finished scroll hanging? I haven’t a clue. Not yet, anyway.

In any case, the double running is not presenting a problem. The design is pretty straightforward. Each side of the branch is its own baseline. The only tricky bit is placing the branch sides at the right spot. To do that, I have been using a point where the leaves approach each other closest. That’s the spot with the little “thumb” that sticks out and waves at its counterpart.

I work the next branch side by counting over from the established bit, then proofing my work as I go against other previously stitched areas. Yes, I do make mistakes, but by and large, once I have the pattern down – in this case mostly memorized after so many repeats, counting mistakes are rare.

Much more common is an annoyance of working with one hand in front and the other behind, and blind. Try as I may, I still catch and stitch through my working thread as I push the needle back up from the unseen side to the front. While waxing does help a bit for the double running sections, I still have to stop and de-tangle my stitching thread, often sacrificing a bit to the resulting fray. And it’s worse for the satin stitch areas because those can’t be waxed at all. Not and preserve that lovely sheen.

Since I have only a limited quantity of the thread I am using – more of the vintage “art silk” I bought in India – every inch lost to fraying is heartbreaking. In fact I am working compartmentalized so that I can terminate early, just in case running out of thread becomes all too real.

ANOTHER OPENING, ANOTHER SHOW

OK. Fresh off Cupids, I begin another haphazardly planned piece. As I start this write-up, I have no clear idea as to what I might be doing. But I do know how to start.

I’ve taken a piece of linen from my stash – it’s probably around 40 tpi – and I’ve hemmed it on three sides. The last side is selvedge and I am lazy.

I have also used regular sewing thread to mark out my absolute edges, and the centerlines. I hesitate to say horizontal and vertical because at this point I am not sure which orientation I will use. Note that I have not gridded the entire piece, nor are my basted guidelines done on any sort of regular count (other than following a specific line across the entire cloth).

Now on to think about threads. I’m tired of the DMC cotton I’ve been using. I still have some significant quantities of the faux silk I bought in India. My color selection is more limited, but there are several that remain in multi skein hanks. I’ve picked out some of these in deep forest, a burgundy, a gold, and an off-white/silvery. Polychrome!

Now on to the design itself. And observations on a design cluster.

I’m basing this one (at least in part) on an artifact on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Accession 1894-30-114. The image below is cribbed from their site.

It’s a curious piece, not only because of the use of multicolors, but also because of the clearly counted linear outlines plus the satin stitch fills. Here’s my color-change start:

I haven’t done one of these multicolor, filled pieces yet, and I’m interested to see how I can gild this particular lily. In true bungee-jump stitching style I am not sure if I will fill out the entire cloth with this design, or if I will just do it as a center, then edge it around with other concoctions. Time (and thread availability) will tell.

Now as to why I think this one is part of a design cluster.

While I note that the dating for the Philadelphia Museum snippet is a bit odd (they claim 14th century, which to me is way too early), this piece has significant family resemblance to several other artifacts. One is the center panel of my Stupid Cupid sampler. Both it and the one I’m working now will be in The Second Carolingian Modelbook.

The original of this piece is in the Jewish Museum in New York, Accession F-4927.

Here’s another sample of a similar design. This bit is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 79.1.14, along with my stitched rendition of the a very similar design as presented in  Pauline Johnstone’s Three Hundred Years of Embroidery, Wakefield Press, 1986, on page 17.  My bit is in red at the right. I included the chart for my version in The New Carolingian Modelbook.

UPDATE: The sample in Ms. Johnstone’s book (shown below) is a holding of the Embroiderer’s Guild, #5376. It looks like it and the Met fragments are more long-lost siblings. It’s stitch for stitch identical in every detail to the Met piece.

We have a clear provenance with the Jewish Museum’s piece. It’s dated with a reference to the Jewish calendar year 5343, which puts it at 1582/1583 on the standard Western calendar, and it’s from a congregation in Rome. The lady Honorata Foa either commissioned it or made it herself for donation to that congregation. I’ve written about it before.

The Met’s sample is “Italian, 16th century” (The Embroider’s Guild pegs their piece as 17th century); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s sample is also pegged as Italian, but bears rather that rather specious early date.

Now these three designs are not the same pattern. BUT they are quite similar in composition, aesthetic, and motif. All three use semi-realistic gnarled limbs in combo of stylized leaves and crosshatched branches. Two employ grape or berry clusters, and two use those odd multi-tier bell like flowers along with the leaves. All decorate leaves either all or in part with parallel lines, or segment them with some areas accented with parallel lines. And all use large leaves of similar form. Two employ similar sprig companion edgings, and all refer back to the crosshatched branch form for a small dividing border between the main field and the companion edging.

I have not yet found a modelbook example of a pattern in this style.

So…

Are these all examples of a regional substyle – a design vocabulary popular in Rome in the late 1500s? Are they products of a specific professional family of embroiders, or a commissioned workshop/atelier? Were these motifs in general circulation – copied from household to household either from printed pages or from previous stitcheries? Were they done by or associated with other members of Honorata Foa’s congregation?

We can only speculate, and acknowledge that these designs are in fact visual cousins, and in all probability present a snapshot of a specific style, from a specific place, and a specific point of time.

UPDATE UPDATE:

Oooh oooh! What should I find in the Uffuzi Museum’s on line taste of their current “Colors of Judiasm” exhibit, but another 17th century piece with stylistic ties to the items above! It’s beginning to look like this particular group has very close ties to the Italian Jewish community of the 1600s-1700s!

FLOCK OF STUPID CUPIDS

All that’s left to do is to tweak the corners. They don’t match, which is fine, but they should at least be of similar density. It’s also interesting to note that my so-called even-weave linen isn’t quite even. There’s a distinct difference in proportion between the plume flowers done horizontally and those done differently. The verticals are a bit elongated, north south. The same slight distortion also shows up in the proportions of the bottom cupid strip.

And along the way, I found yet another Separated at Birth example – possibly not siblings cut from the very same artifact strip, but close cousins at the very least.

Here’s an example of the derpy cupid and cockatrice panel from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Accession # 1907.665a (in case the link breaks).

And here’s the same design, in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, Accession # 1971-50-96. This is the one I graphed up for eventual inclusion in the forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook, from which I stitched my rendition. Note that although the stitch counts in the bit below and my rendition are identical, my sample is distorted by the proportions of my ground cloth’s weave compared to the original, which is distorted a bit in the other direction.

Band fragment showing Cupid and griffon in red silk on linen.

AIC dates theirs to 1601 to 1700, and it came to them as part of a Rogers Fund donation in 1907. CH’s sample came from one of my personal heroines – Madeline Hague, collector, curator and historical stitching researcher, and was donated to the museum with other items of her personal collection as a bequest. CH dates this from the 16th-17th century. Both agree on an Italian provenance.

There are some subtle differences between them that I didn’t notice until I had actually stitched up a length of the design. The birds on the narrow companion border on the top edge, although of the same design, do not face in the same direction on both strips. The bow in the AIC example is a bit more detailed, as are the sprouting separators between the cupids and cockatrices, but the CH’s sample has more detail on the cupid’s chest.

Still, the similarities do convince me that the two strips might have been worked from the same broadside sheet or modelbook illustration, or copied from a prior stitchery (or each other). They might have been worked by two people for use on the same original artifact or set of artifacts – cuffs, matching towels, bed hangings or sheets. One intriguing clue is the fact that each one sports a cut end, where the embroidered length is clearly snipped right through the stitching, and a “selvedge edge” where the embroidery deliberately stops before the cloth is cut (on the right on the CH sample, and on the left on the AIC snippet).

So. Were these used in tandem? Are they contemporary? Were they copied from the same source? Were they copied one from the other? We have no way of knowing. But as goofy as this cupid looks, he clearly has a mysterious and secret past.

PROBLEM AREAS? NOT SO MUCH.

Vacation week was quite relaxing, and I managed to get more stitching done than I thought I might. There’s something idyllic about sitting on warm sand under an umbrella, peeping over the top of the embroidery frame at the ebb and flow of the tide.

I squared off some of the missing bits along the right hand edge, and worked on the plume-flowers that march around the outside, rounding two more corners.

Now that I’m back at home and working from a graph is easier than on the windy beach, I will eke out the rightmost edge of the top cupid/lion strip. BUT the empty area to the right of the center strip is too narrow to subdivide with the established strapped frame. I’ll probably use it to sign the piece with my initials and the date. I’ll draft that space up in GIMP and if necessary, add a couple of small motifs to fill out the area.

That will leave just the corners. Once I have all four I’ll decide on how to play them. I might go back and pick out the cornermost plume-flower at the upper right, then introduce some sort of sprout-off-the-corner-point motif for all four corners, mostly similar, but with slight adaptations to local conditions.

Yes, my bungie jump style of stitching did lead to an unbalanced piece, but I like it. The cupid-cockatrice count problem described in the last post actually did me a favor by introducing a bit of movement and unconventionality into the thing.

Now to just finish my Stupid Cupid Sampler, all the while dreaming up the next piece. Planned or improvised? Your guess at this point is as good as mine. But either way, my plans are rudimentary at best, and you won’t see me drafting out the entire thing stitch-by-stitch.

THE DOODLE NAPKIN PROJECT

A few of you have asked about the doodle napkins – a set of eight, all coordinating, but each one different.  With six now stitched and number seven on my frame, I attempt to answer.

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A while back I wrote about the pre-finished napkins and tablecloth I bought from Wayfair.  While I note that neither the KAF Fete napkin set nor the Toscana tablecloth is still in their inventory,  there are several similar products available from them and from Target, Overstock, Amazon and other sources.

Be warned!  Prewashing these is an absolute necessity.  They are linen-look cotton, or linen/cotton blends, and can be expected to shrink appreciably.  So toss them in a nice, abusive load – like a hot wash with some other light color towels or sheets, and have at it.  Compare them when they emerge, and if some are not quite as shrunken as the others (as happened to me) run them through again just to be sure.

My almost even weave napkins firmed up quite a bit, becoming even closer to a true even weave count, which was a surprise.  But I didn’t change my plans for all of that.  I always intended to work my stitching along one edge only, eliminating the need to turn corners, or worry about skew counts.  I’d present them at table as shown, folded in quarters.

Now.  How to begin…

First, I had to have designs.  Simple for me.  I am drawing mostly from my forever forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook, playtesting more of the designs, and using the experience to flog myself towards getting over the hurdle of publication.  I’m working directly from those pages, and am not bothering to rechart anything specifically for this use.  Not even the narrow companion borders (more on this below).

I am also being quite cavalier with layout on the napkins.  They are pre-hemmed.  I am trying to use the same north/south orientation for all of them, keying off the placement of the brand tag on the back, but I am examining the two candidate ends closely, to pick the one that is the most “true”.  By that I mean the one whose hemming runs closest to being true on the count.  There are a couple of napkins that are hemmed slightly skew, and I wanted to make the stitching on them look to run as parallel as possible to the edges.

OK.  With my chosen side to embellish identified, I folded the napkin carefully in half, and used a pin to mark the center point.  Then I measured in from the inner edge of the machine-stitched hemming detail, and placed another pin perpendicular to the first.  I admit I eyeballed the first one, then just used it as the paradigm for placing the second pin on the subsequent napkins (no actual measuring tape was involved).  Pin placement is shown below, with the napkin mounted on my sit-on hoop.

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Once the center point and work boundary are established I begin.  That’s it.  No basting guide lines, no other prep.  Just grabbing my threads and going.  I admit that others may enjoy working with basted guidelines, but for something this small, where the only point of reference is the center, I don’t bother.  Feel free to castigate me for lazy prep.

Threads…  Hmm.  Which did I use?

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The red was easy.  When we were in Paris, I bought a box of Sajou four-strand cotton embroidery floss in red.  I had always intended on using it for a set of napkins.  I had bought linen there, too, but decided that I wanted to use that linen for other pieces that would be less “endangered” by gravy than dinner napkins.

The Sajou Retors du Nord cotton floss is put up on cards of 20 meters.  I am using a red, #2409.  I started with a box of five cards, and have used about half of my yardage on just the four napkins.  For the green napkins, I’m using plain old DMC cotton six-strand floss in #890, in standard pull skeins of 8.7 yards (just shy of 8 meters).  I am stitching with three plies of each thread, even though the Sajou is a tiny bit thinner than the DMC.  I am enjoying using the Sajou because it is finer, shinier, and smoother, but I am simultaneously disappointed in the maker’s quality control.  Each of the three Sajou cards I have used so far has had component plies with knots, shredded sections, or snags – where the individual plies are kinked and not all of the same length in a given span of thread.  While the DMC thread is more matte and a bit rougher in finish, in over 50 years of using it, I have never run into a less-than-perfect skein.  It’s possible that I bought a box of Sajou made on a bad day, but three out of three cards with faults is not what I expected.

OK. The thread is ready, I’ve got my main design in hand, I’ve got the napkin mounted on my frame, with the center point and top limit of my design marked.  Now what?

napkins-7

Starting at the center (red arrow above on Napkin #7, showing the point indicated by the now removed pins), I begin playing with one of the narrow edgings – usually something less than four units tall.  I pick one from the book, or I make on up on the spur of the moment.  In this case, I’m using a pretzel edging of my own devising, also in T2CM.

Using a separate thread for the companion edging, I work three or four repeats off in one direction – usually to the left (for no reason in particular), then I move the working thread out of the way (sometimes winding the excess on a temporary pin), and using another thread, begin my main motif strip – also working out from the center, stitching over a 2×2 thread grid.  In the example above, the weird double leaf meander.  The threads trail off at the upper left because I don’t want to re-position my hoop until I absolutely have to.  Once I move it over, I’ll take each of those stragglers up in turn, and use it to completion.

After I’ve gotten a bit laid down, I re-evaluate the narrow companion border.  If I don’t like it, I pick it out and work another of the same width. Once I’m happy with it I also work it below the main motif.  It’s obvious in the photo above, that I tried out the pretzels, liked them, and went on to stitch up my first length of thread in the strip of it above the main motif, and am now working on its sibling, below.

After I’ve gotten my design established continue on, happily, working my main motif, and eking out the companion borders as I go along but lagging a bit behind, until I’ve stitched the main motif close enough to the end. Once a full repeat of my main motif is on the fabric, I rarely refer to the printed pattern again, working instead from the already-stitched bit.

When I get to the leftmost edge, I take up the companion borders again and improvise a corner turn for them.  If I’ve kept count true the upper left and lower right corners should be matches, as should the lower left and upper right.  Or if I’m very lucky, all four will match.  Or if my improvised corner is looking awkward, I’ll just butt the ends.  In any case, I am not agonizing about the corner treatment.  I’ve seen enough period artifacts where it’s clear that the historical stitcher didn’t invest much agony in them either. (When I’m done with all eight napkins, I’ll post on improvising the corners, because this note is getting too long.)

As to which patterns to do on the next napkin, or what to use on the coordinating tablecloth – it’s all whim.  For the tablecloth, I will probably pick one or more of the largest all-over designs from my books, either to work as a large rectangular medallion in the center or three evenly spaced smaller areas, but I won’t be working strips around the entire perimeter, nor will I be working stripes across the whole width of the table.  And that’s the only advance planning I’ve done so far.

Stay tuned!

SWISH BY SWISH

I continue to make slow progress on my Fish piece.  Again, I plead the heat, the general malaise it creates, my unwillingness to sit under a hot halogen work light, and a reticence to stitch with sweaty fingers.  But as you can see, I’m almost done with the center area gold water swirls.  Just a few “echo lines” are left to add to the group below the head of Fish #1, then I will have to advance the scroll, to get the remaining bits at the top and bottom.  (Swirly lines that currently go off the edges of my stitching area have been saved until the work area is realigned, even if they go over by just a little bit.)  And of course, sign the thing with my initials and the date.

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I do like the way the spirals of gold in the head spots turned out.

More answers to inbox questions:

Where did you get the gold and sequins?

The #5 imitation gold thread came from the Japanese Embroidery Center, in Atlanta Georgia.  The 2mm gold tone pailettes came from General Bead, in San Francisco.  Both were ordered off the ‘net sight-unseen.

How are you sewing down the gold?

Standard simple couching, of two strands held together, flat and parallel (not twisted around each other).  I’m using one strand of gold-tone silk, heavily waxed, taking little stitches across the gold.  The stitches get closer together as curves are formed, and further apart on the straight runs, but generally don’t exceed about 5mm (3/16ths of an inch) apart.

The no-hands frame is an absolute must for this type of work.  I hold the gold and bend it into a curve to match the sketched lines with my left hand, then use the right to form the affixing stitches, taking care not to pull so tightly that I deform the line.  After the length is stitched down and the end cut, leaving about 3/4 of an inch on the surface, I plunge them to the back.  I do this with a heavy, antique needle threaded with a loop of strong carpet thread, and lasso the ends, pulling the loop gently around the waving ends, then quickly yank them to the back of the work. After I finish an area I bundle the plunged gold ends as neatly as I can, mostly trying to keep the resulting bits small and camouflaged as much as possible.  Note that on shortest line segments care must be taken when plunging NOT to end up pulling out one or both of the stitched down gold strands.  Much colorful language ensues when that happens…

How will you finish this piece off?

I really don’t know.  I don’t want to do a fabric scroll or hanging style finish on this one.  Although that would be congruent with the subject matter, I feel it would be too cliche, and take up too much space on the beach place wall where we intend to hang it.  Instead I may opt for a spare non-matted/no glass modern frame.  Possibly a near-invisible thin black one.  But in any case, I suspect I’ll splurge and have this one done by pros instead of my usual dinking around above my competence.

What’s next?

Not sure.  I still have a stitch-itch, although I have a couple of projects lined up to knit once fall weather kicks in.  Possibly a return to my big green sampler, now that I have a reliable stand for it.  Possibly a smaller something-else.

SLOW PROGRESS IS STILL PROGRESS

Inching along here on my fishies.  Yes, did end up getting the Lowery stand last week:

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I really like it and am glad I splurged when I did.  For those looking at the photo, trying to parse it out, the stand itself is the grey metal armature – from the heavy base plate, up to the gripper jaw holding on to the wooden cross piece, to which my stitching frame is attached.

The wooden piece with its grasping flanges that engage my frame is a supplemental purchase – the “Long Frame Extension.”  I strongly recommend it if you have a Millennium or other scrolling frame, especially if it’s large/heavy, or has wide bars.  Because the stand clamps down on the solid wood of the extension, I do not have to worry about overtensioning the jaws and harming the delicate stretcher arm, with its reamed out internal screw threads.

Now, as to actual progress, it’s been hot, and since I sit under a halogen work lamp, and we are not air-conditioning-enabled – I admit slacking off on most hot evenings.  In response to questions about my comfy chair, I post this photo, complete with orb-of-the-sun heat-source mini floor-lamp, Morris style recliner, and frame (supported by its new stand.)

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No, that’s not a real cat in the chair.  It’s a conveniently sized stuffed-toy cat, liberated from the kids’ collection.  It serves as a nice, soft supplemental elbow rest.  You can also see the embarrassing midden of supplies and in-progress projects, heaped into baskets between the chair and the bookcase, and the ever-encroaching box of on-deck items that is slowly taking over the small table.

The floor stand’s foot is tucked underneath my chair, with a couple of bricks on it for good measure.  The extra weight allows me to swing the frame out of my way like a door, so I can exit the chair without having to move the entire set-up, or shimmy under it.

Finally, here’s the paltry progress itself:

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I’ve added sequins to the previously un-sequined Fish #1, who was feeling very jealous of Fish #2’s bling.  The light is angled to make some of them sparkle, but there is a sequin in the center of each grid area in the body.  I’ve also made progress on the gold whorls.  Next are finishing the couched gold lines above Fish #1, doing the spot on his head, and starting on the whorls below him.  Eventually I will have to scroll up and down a tiny bit to access the remaining swirly bits at the very top and bottom of the piece.

And then I’ll be done.

Next project?  Not sure yet.  I have a couple in mind.  Possibly return to Big Green.  Possibly another smaller sampler.  Possibly a cushion to replace the stuffed cat.  Maybe playing with tambour and wool…  There’s no need to rush, I’ll be working finishing up my koi probably until September.

GOLD FISH!

After an annoying lapse of personal preparedness, I am now back from vacation – at home where I left my gold thread.  Sadly, no fish-stitching happened during my break because I was without it.

Goldwork is temperamental, exacting, and oh so rewarding.  I don’t pretend to be very good at it, especially compared to The Masters.  I bumble around at best.

I did play with metal thread embroidery decades ago, when I first encounted the SCA and began looking into historical styles.  I did couched work, direct embroidery with passing threads, and or nuée – a style that involves laying the gold threads across the entire width of the image-to-be, then overstitching it with colored threads to create pictures, almost in raster style, that glimmer as the gold peeks through.  But I had a goal back then – to advance embroidery in that organization, and all of these styles have a high learning curve.  Happily, I stumbled across blackwork – something that’s easy to learn and easy to teach.  I haven’t climbed back out of that hole in the years since.

Back to the project at hand – it’s clear that hooping over gold would destroy it, so for this phase of the work I have moved Two Fish to my flat frame.

twofish-4

The rather unusual scrolling flat frame is a Millennium from Needle Needs in the UK.  It’s a bit on the pricey side, but worth every penny.   Although the design isn’t centered in this early fit, I do not think that the minor bit of scrolling I may have to do will damage the work – for example, there’s no point where I would have to lap stitched fabric entirely around the top and bottom bars.

It became evident very quickly that an extra hand would be needed to do this part of the project.  Or two.  So I hauled out my ancient Grip-It floor stand.  I prefer a side stand rather than a trestle or tilt-top support that sits in front of the worker, and but side-supports are hard to find.

Ancient Grip-It works ok, but its main two drawbacks are that is easily overbalanced by a large frame like this, even when front mounted; and that the jaw is wimpy and doesn’t hold very well – and at the same time, I am concerned about pressure it puts on the finely turned wood sidebars of the Millennium.  Here’s my sadly overmatched Grip-It in action on an earlier piece on this same frame.  You can almost hear the joints squeaking as it strains to keep itself upright. To be fair, since I sit in a Morris style chair as I work, the off side of the frame does get extra support from my left side chair arm.
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I’m on the hunt for a replacement floor stand, so if you have a candidate to recommend, feel free to post a comment.

As far as the stitching itself goes, I’ve begun.  Even with the floor stand, I find I need additional hands.

I want hand one to manage the stitch-down thread (one strand of gold-color silk floss, well waxed) poised on top of the work; one hand to receive the stitch-down thread’s needle below the work; one hand to provide gentle tension on the gold threads to keep them flat and even as I go along; and one hand to manage a laying tool to keep the two strands being couched in flat alignment to each other, and not crossing over each other. That’s two more hands than I currently have…

I can double up the stitch-down needle hand, stabbing the thing into the work on each stitch, then re-positioning the hand above or below and drawing the thread through the ground; but I haven’t found a graceful way to tension and direct the gold yet.  Since I haven’t worked this way in over 20 years, extensive re-training/re-familiarization is needed, and the going is slow but steady.

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UNHISTORICAL FISH

Just to vex my new readership, I start a totally unhistorical stitching project.  Well, not to vex anyone actually.  This piece was bespoken by The Resident Male a while back.  I’ve thought about it for several years, and decided to finally do it.  The ultimate purpose is a piece to hang on the wall of our Cape Cod place, as part of a large collage of sea life art.

The design is based on a double-koi motif, where the fish are circling each other.  I began with a clip art of a single fish, and simplified it, changing proportions and angles, and removing detail that would be obscured by my chosen stitching style.  Then I mirror imaged and flipped a duplicate of my first fish, placing it opposite it’s sibling, and trying to get them more or less balanced and centered as a composition.

For the last bit – the “water lines” in the background, I thank the Public Domain Review, for posting a link to a book of traditional Japanese wave and ripple designs – Ha Bun Shu, by Yusan Mori (circa 1919).  My chosen ripple was taken from page 22.

So, with my inspired-by fish, and borrowed water lines (with some of my own extensions to eke out the composition’s dimensions), I end up with this – already shown window-traced onto my prepared ground:

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The ground chosen is an almost-white 40 count linen, hemmed on all four sides.  I’ve marked the center with basting lines of old, non-crocking plain old sewing thread.  I will be picking them out as I encroach upon them because there is no central guide purpose they serve after aligning the initial tracing.  I will be using silks, mostly.  Originally I thought I’d be stitching only in a hand-dyed natural indigo, colored by (and occasionally available from) my Stealth Apprentice, but last night I changed gears and have added some commercial Au Ver a Soie Soie d’Alger, in a deep green.

I will be working my two fishies in a combo of styles.  The fish themselves will be done in inhabited blackwork, with fills inside strong outlines.  I’ll pick the fills on whim as I go along, and possibly come up with some new ones along the way.  The fish will not be direct opposites of each other – the inner detail will vary, but one will definitely be lighter (using less dense fillings) than the other, and placement of the blue and green may swap.

Right now I’m toying with doing something different for the outlines, instead of my usual plain old chain stitch.  Not sure yet what, but I do want to vary the width of some of them analogous to heavier brush strokes.

The water lines will probably be done in gold or silver (maybe both), possibly simple couched strands, possibly something else.  I bought some heavier metallic threads at the Sajou store in Paris, and have been hoarding them for the right project.  They may well come into play here.

And the first little bit – a filling from Ensamplario Atlantio, the fourth part:

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So.  Do I have a plan? Kind of.  But I still like the fun of designing on the fly.