And even more. Continuing on with the visuals from my 2014 talk on historical counted thread embroidery.
More from the 2014 Schola talk on historical counted thread embroidery.
The stitching on my Two Fish piece is now complete. The only things left to do are to iron out the pleats from mounting on the stretcher bars, and having it framed.
And a close-up:
For those who wanted something to better illustrate the scale of the stitching, here’s a standard US penny on the work:
For the record, the recipient is so pleased with the thing that we’ve decided to keep it here in the house, rather than consigning it to the beach place. Eventually, after framing, it will end up in our bedroom.
Inching along here on my fishies. Yes, did end up getting the Lowery stand last week:
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.)
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:
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.
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.
And its the cold, snowy part of the Boston seasonal experience. Which is not improving my outlook much. But there are bright spots. We do what we can.
Here’s a free offering (also available via my Embroidery Patterns tab, above). This motto just cries out to be a sampler, the irony of using an art that in and of itself requires intensive perseverance to accomplish is just too sweet. Click on the chart image to get the full JPG, formatted for 8.5 x 11 inch paper. (Finished stitching sample courtesy of long-time friend Gillian, who was the first to post a finished piece picture. Her’s is on 14-count Aida, finished post-wash size of stitched area is about 7″ x 9″.)
And here’s the finish from Edith Howe-Byrne on even weave, showing her variant treatment of the concept, using other counted stitches and beads (she’s leaving in the gridwork so she can use this piece as a reference for additional projects):
The alphabets used are (more or less) contemporary with the women’s suffrage movement – found on Ramzi’s Patternmaker Charts site, among his collection of vintage Sajou and Alexandre booklets. The particular one I used for all three alphabets is here. The border is adapted from one appearing in a 1915 German book of cross stitch alphabets and motifs, in the collection of the Antique Pattern Library.
We all do what we can, and I encourage anyone with heartfelt opinions to use their time and skill set in service, as they see fit. Even if you don’t agree with me, filling the airwaves with positive messages rather than caustic imagery can’t hurt.
If anyone stitches this up and wants me to showcase their effort, please let me know. I’ll be happy to add pix of your work to the gallery here.
On my own end, I have been productive as well.
First finished (but not first started) – a quick shrug. Possibly even for me.
This is knit from the generous bounty resettled upon me by the Nancys, for which I continue to be grateful. The multicolor yarn is older Noro Nadeshiko, a blend with a hefty dose of angora, along with silk and wool. It is soft and supple, and although I am generally not a fan of desert colors – is superbly hued, with just enough rose, sage, cream, and grey to be perfect. The accent edge is done is another of their gift yarns – two balls of a merino wool variegated single, worsted weight. I held it double for extra oomph. One thing to note about the Nadeshiko though – it sheds. A lot. And the Office Dogs where I work like to sniff it (it probably smells like a bunny).
The pattern is Jennifer Miller’s Shawl Collar Vest – a Ravelry freebie. It is a no-seam, quick knit, written for bulky weight yarn. The thing fairly knit itself. Four days from cast-on to wear-ready. My only criticism is that the XL size is really more of a 12/14. I can wear it, but it’s very tight, and tends to emphasize attributes with which I am already more than proportionally blessed. My answer to this problem will be to unravel the green finish rounds, and add about 2 inches of stripey, then re-knit the green.
The nifty pin is an official heirloom of my house. Long ago and far away, SCA friend Sir Aelfwine (now of blessed memory) made it for me as a cloak pin. Obviously I still treasure it and wear it when I can.
On the needles is also yet another pair of Susie Rogers’ Reading Mitts, another free pattern available from Ravelry. I’ve done four pair of these, but never for me. I rectify that oversight now.
Obviously, the first one is done. Now for the second.
The yarn is yet another denizen of the Great Nancy Box – a worsted weight handspun alpaca – chocolate brown with flecks of white and pale grey, from Sallie’s Fen Alpacas. The photo doesn’t do the yarn justice. It’s butter on the needles, and gloriously warm. The only mod I make to the original pattern is using a provisional cast-on, then knitting the cast-on edge to the body on the last pre-welt row (to eliminate seaming).
My typing fingers will be toasty when #2 is done.
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.
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.
As usual, I have several projects going at once. Right now these include the giant green sampler, the pullover I am knitting with a friend (now awaiting total rip-back and restart after An Inadvertently Destructive Incident), and the Trifles sampler I am working up for Younger Daughter. Although I do not intend to leave my co-knitting pal in the lurch, the last one is the only one with a hard deadline.
I’ve been road-blocked on Trifles for a while. I wasn’t sure how I would edge it, and what would define the interior space. I knew I wanted to do inhabited blackwork cogs for the filling, but the one I hand-drew wasn’t working out very nicely; plus getting many different sizes of gears to mesh properly was proving problematic. So I set the thing aside to ponder.
I’m now done pondering. My solutions are:
- Work a narrow edging around the entire piece, in slightly heavier stitching than the infillings, in order to define the field.
- Cheat. Use a commercial stencil to achieve the gear shapes. Not only does the stencil present a nice, large field of meshing cogs, it is also calculated to tile properly.
I found the stencil on line. It’s plastic, and much more durable than any downloaded/paper printed solution. I liked the clear differentiation among the shapes on this one, with very little overlap that would require hand-drawing the missing teeth. Although it wasn’t inexpensive, it will save me an infinite amount of grief. I will modify the individual gear shapes on the fly – stitching some with full interior detail as presented on the shapes, and some without, making more solid gears. I also have a little packet of brass Steampunk watch gear shapes, if I decide to add them as an added embellishment.
The narrow edging is yet another design from my forthcoming book, but worked in two colors. And I will be picking out the beginning of the filled gear underneath the letter “T.” Once I have the outer edging finished, I will trace the field using the stencil. Then I will stitch up the gears using fillings from Ensamplario Atlantio, with their edges defined crisply using either back stitch or chain stitch (experimentation will ensue).
On working a symmetrical counted edging without drafting up the entire thing ahead of time – it’s easy on a simple geometrical one like this. Begin at a corner. I improvised a corner treatment, where north/south and east/west meet. Then at the center of the piece (conveniently marked ahead of time by a line of basting), I improvised a symmetrical join, then mirrored the completed stitching previously done. Eighteen pattern repeats later, I mirrored the improvised corner. I will continue my march north until I get to the basted center line. There I will make another decision on how to treat the center and soldier on to complete that edge. I work that same kludge on the left hand edge. Since the centers will match top/bottom and side to side (even if they are different) – no one will notice them, and every corner will be crisp.
As to the thread – I am using the art silk stranded floss I found in India. I am not loving it. It’s rayon, and very slippery. Surprisingly, its tensile strength is less than that of cotton, no where near the mighty nature of real silk. It shreds, and must be used in short lengths. In addition, the plies separate and “walk” against each other. I have to use a laying tool to get even these short stitches to look nice. I would not recommend the stuff, and am glad that I will be using up pretty much my entire stock on this project.