Way back at the end of March, we started a piece of work entitled “Encrusted shells” in Alex Hall‘s class “In the Stitch Zone” at Scunthorpe Library. Most of the rest of the group very beautifully finished theirs within a week or two. (By the way, the classes start up again on Monday, 5th September, 2-4p.m.)

Of course, mine didn’t get very far at the time, too many other projects on the go, several with deadlines. I started with some cream perlé uneven eyelets on the calico backed linen, added some bullion knots in the rayon that seemed to find its way in to everything I was working on at the time, and some drizzle stitches to add more texture.

I must have done some more on it at some stage since then, but there’s no photographic evidence. It was a little more encrusted with stitches when I picked it up this week, more eyelets in various thicknesses of perlé and more untwisted fancy yarns in the drizzle stitch.

I could see the hoop line on the fabric, but the hoop itself wasn’t with the piece and the threads, nor the bag of shells and star-fish. It had been borrowed for another piece of work, but now it’s been found I’ve added some French knots, and some twisted single chains.

I added some deliberately uneven blanket stitches, which somehow feel rebellious!

Then some pulled work stitches went in, not trying to follow instructions, but just drawing first three threads together, then a row of four, and then five……

……. and then some variable ones, which give the impression of ripples in the sand. These felt good to do, so I think I’ll do some more.

This is where it’s reached: not an encrusted shell in sight yet, and I want to do some more random pulled stitches.

This morning I’ve found the bag of shells that inspired my colour palette and some of my textures. It’s still got grains of sand, but most of the shells are too big actually to incorporate into the piece. The hoop is only a four-inch one, more fabric on both ends so it can extend, but not on the width.

I’ve placed a bit of broken shell around a little clump of drizzle stitches, but not stitched it down yet; there’s more stitching to do first.

I’ve also found the star-fish that Sue gave us all at the class, again I’ve just placed them for the moment. They are tiny and very fragile (as the end of one tentacle broken off testifies, I’ll probably tuck it under stitches to hide that), so these will be the last thing to be added. I love the texture of them upside-down.

Although Mags Bradley’s painting class stops for the summer, we sometimes have had a couple of all day sessions out somewhere. This summer, the first one was on the hottest day of the year so far; when I got back in the car, my car thermometer was reading the outside temperature as 42ºC, and then hovered between 40ºC and 41ºC driving home.

We all met at the house and wooded garden of one of the people in the afternoon class, and most of us chose to sit in the shade and draw (or paint). To my shame, I hadn’t picked up a pencil or brush since the last class, so I decided just to go for it, using a Berol hand-writing pen, which means no rubbing-out and no option to correct any mistakes.

I started with a few pots of geraniums, working fast and loosely, and just kept going, adding the open door. I then started the arch and the tree as a separate sketch, with the intention of having a page of several bits that caught my eye. I made a mistake with the placing of the tree in relation to the arch, and tried to correct it. It’s still not quite right, but I realised that if I put the window in, it would look more or less right. I was so pleased with it that I didn’t want to wet it for the colours to bleed (which can hide a multitude of sins), and even wished I’d used permanent liner. The photo was taken much later in the day, no deep shadows while I was drawing.

I then did a quick water-soluble pencil sketch, with the idea to stitch into it later for the travelling book pages theme of “My dream holiday”; out in the countryside, blue sky and sunny, good company, shared food at lunchtime, doing things I enjoy, exploring somewhere new: all things I try to incorporate into holidays.

Once I’d finished scribbling, I wetted the pencil marks, ending up with this soft sketch. It was simple, capturing shapes and colours ready for stitching. The blob on the right later got cut off!

Having dived straight into the shady spot in the morning, I then went for a wander, just to get my bearings. I wanted to see what everyone else had been up to all morning, and catch up with folk I hadn’t seen for a while.

We then had a lovely pot-luck lunch in the beautifully cool farmhouse-type kitchen. We were all a little reluctant to go back out into the heat, and a few had to leave anyway.

I found a shady little courtyard through the arch I’d drawn in the morning, and sat there drawing: first honesty that had grown through the cracks, and a few little “weeds”, buttercups that had gone to seed and daisies. I did wet this one; the handwriting pen usually goes into pinks and blues, but it was so hot it was drying almost as soon as the wet brush was put to the pen, leaving it more monotone than usual.

I then did a really quick sketch through the arch on the other side of the courtyard. This was a huge laburnum that had large seed pods hanging down.

The heat had really got the better of me by now, and folk were beginning to drift off. I followed one of the others back, going across country on quiet, little country roads that I would never have navigated myself, along a really pretty route, and slow enough to have the windows wide open for the slight breeze.

Back home, I only stitched sections of the drawing, whipped back stitch round the pot, french knots for the flowers in it, lazy daisy stitches (some double) for the leaves on the tree, and back stitches for the trunk and stem. Then what I can only decribe as “cobbled” stitch for the pale pink flowers, catching down twisted loops to give texture.

Several days later I was still stitching late in the evening to get it finished for the swop, and the light was not good enough to photograph it once it was finished. This is a photocopy that is for my own book…..

…..along with a folded photocopy of the original drawing for the inspiration page.

Last night at Alison Larkin’s class, I again continued with my Schwalm heart. It was started at a workshop with Jane Drummond at Lincolnshire Textiles back in February.

I have spent quite a lot of time in the last month reading various whitework books (old and new), and looking on-line to try to find a suitable stitch with good instructions that were simple to follow to work on the two by two grid; most of those that I have found have been on a three by one grid. I have looked up drawn thread work as well as Schwalm. Some books refer to pulled work as drawn thread, as the threads are drawn together as opposed to drawn out (withdrawn). But it was all to no avail.

Several more books were referred to yesterday, and I finally settled on Wave stitch, also known as Mosquito stitch, which is a simple zig-zag stitch. Even that wouldn’t work as shown in the books, because the thread trailed across the back and could be seen from the front. All the other stitches that I’d considered had the same trailing thread visible from the front.

I ended up working it like a cross stitch, and going right across the heart from right to left with a half stitch pulling it slightly…….

…… then coming back from left to right, crossing the first stitch.

I was intending to do alternate rows, but Alison suggested leaving two rows in between as it worked better to the edges. By the end of the session, it had reached this stage. This was almost done, just one main row to do, and the two sides need a few stitches.

The actual stitch has been simple, apart from starting the second row with the first (underneath) stitch going left to right, instead of right to left. That doen’t quite sound right, they both do, BUT the top stitch has to cross the correct way, and certainly all the same way across the whole piece. This was something I wasn’t aware of many years ago, when I did a big cross stitch kit of a lovely “Forever Friends” picture that was bought for my then 9 year-old niece, but was way too complex for her first foray into stitching. Fortunately, someone saw my mistake after only a few stitches and it was quickly rectified, as was my half a line at Alison’s last night.

I’m not sure whether I will leave it like this or add something in each square. Once I’ve done the last couple of rows, I’ll go back to admiring it while I decide.

As I mentioned last week Jean suggested that the one of the peacock feathers could be just minimal running stitches, using the marks from the acrylic ink painted lines as a guide.

What I didn’t mention last week was that the orientation of the whole piece changed when it the group looked at it. I had envisaged it with the feathers up – the peacock strutting his stuff and showing off his beautiful feathers, and had mainly worked on it with the “eye” at the top.

Once the strips were to be left loose, it needed to be turned 180∘so that the loose fabric dangled off the bottom, which is how the feathers are when they sweep the ground behind the peacock.

The marks on the left-hand side of the calico worked best for the running stitch approach. I used a shiny viscose rayon purple thread for most of the lines.

Then there was the reel of gold for the “eye”, and a lovely lime green 21st Century cotton for the outer edge of the eye.

The reel of gold has almost become my trademark, it has been used on so many pieces. Another larger reel turned up, with even more on it. It’s very fine, inclined to come unravelled off the cone, and with a tendency to tangle. None of the others wanted it, so guess who came home with it? And very pleased that I did! It’s a slightly lighter, brighter gold, and it’s actually quite nice to stitch with. It’s only when I take it out with me that it tends to come adrift, so it just has to be used at home. I’m going to have to live a very long time to use them both.

I made some purple and lime green cording on the sewing machine way back in February, at a sweetie-wrapper workshop at Scunthorpe Embroidery and Textile Association (S.E.A.T.A). Yes, I was Debbidipping from one project to another, but I did half have the peacock feather in mind when I made it. The cording was couched over the painted lines on the calico.

For the “eye” on the third feather, my original idea didn’t work. I have a roll of yellow organza which I tried to layer up, but it frays dreadfully and I wanted to have a non-fraying edge. I tried several layers, stitched through a white felt “eye” to give a textured effect, having discarded yellow and neutral: both killed the yellow of the organza.

It didn’t look right at all. Jean came up with some gold leather, which didn’t look right either.

Back to the organza, two layers, but the bond-web had disappeared into the black hole again. I searched all over, to no avail. The only suitable sticky stuff was Misty fuse, worth a try. Perfect, it actually made it sparkle more. A line of gold thread was couched down the centre of the eye, some green Goldfingering around the edge, and two couched rows of slubby green yarn a few millimetres away.

The three sections are totally different weights. My initial idea had been to make three separate pieces, but I think I like them better as one. The centre is the heaviest and draws the eye in, and when you go closer in to see the detail you also see the other two, the lighter on the left, and on the right a weight somewhere between the two.

So for the moment it is stretched and laced over one piece of mount board, but it could also be split into three separate pieces. Some of the threads and fabric have been left hanging, but they could also be changed. It was then ready for the Grasby Embroiderers Exhibition at Elsham Open Gardens earlier in the month.

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As I mentioned last week, the recent body of work for Grasby Embroiderers was called “Altered images”. I started with thinking how images could be altered, and jotted down words and phrases on a scrap of paper. When I do this, I have words coming in to my head so fast that it’s just a case of getting them down, spelling mistakes and all, before the next one takes me in a different direction: lots of possibilities.

Around the same time we were playing / experimenting at the painting class (still on Zoom, I think), and I came up with this, based on a peacock feather. It hadn’t quite worked but I liked some of the mark making effects and the colours, except they were real peacock feather colours.

What would happen if I used complementary colours on the colour wheel? It certainly played tricks on my mind, so I did a rough sketch and labelled the colours I needed to use for each section of the feather.

This is a very crude water colour and acrylic inks trial piece. I liked the size and the crop, and the flow of the directional marks of the purple section.

Here’s another attempt, using bright yellow and lime green for the “eye” of the feather. I was very happy with this one, so much so that it actually had stitching added to it and became a finished piece.

I decided I’d do a tryptich, and marked three rectangles on the same piece of calico, with enough “waste” between each one to cut them out and mount them individually, then stretched it on to a frame. I wet the fabric in places and added purple acrylic ink. Now to be patient, walk away and leave it to dry.

I was surprised to see how much it had bled and become much lighter, much more so than on watercolour paper, but I was happy with the result. I had an idea already in my head for the middle one. The “eye” was a padded felt teardrop shape, that would be covered in gold glass beads. The top two are not glass and catch the light quite differently.

It was a long, slow process, the beads deliberately going in random directions. Several migraines later I finally finished the beading.

I then started adding strips of purple velvet, fine cotton and silk stitched down the centre of each strip.

The light catches the beads altering the colour of them.

More strips were stitched down, following the directional lines of the painting.

I ended up painting a piece of silk to get the “right” green.

The green dried more or less the same shade, but again the purple dried much lighter. The piece was then torn into strips, with the green packed up close to the beading.

I’ve also added some teal coloured velvet and some pinky sari strips of silk. The painting still wasn’t stitched at this stage. We had one of our monthly meetings before I’d stitched the purple silk and it was suggested that I leave them loose. I did, but not as loose as shown here. More strips were needed as well.

I did have some ideas for the other two panels, but as Jean got up to leave she caught sight of the back and suggested that I just did minimal running stitches to emphasize the painted lines. It sounded a good idea to me, as this one had already taken a lot of stitching and still needed more. To be continued….

A few months ago it was arranged that the Grasby Embroiderers group, of which I am a member, was going to have an exhibition of our recent work at Elsham Open Gardens this weekend.

We have hung / displayed the work late this afternoon. It’s a lovely light, airy village hall and the work looks good. Some is our new body of work entitled “Altered Images”. We all started with an image of our choice, and then altered it in some way: colour, distortion, reflection, surreal.

The group banner that we all worked on a few years ago is having another airing, too. There were nine of us at the time, and we each did two green letters in techniques of our choice. They were then appliquéd to the stitched background. There were many hours of work with a varigated thread, stitched on canvas on the diagonal in both directions. It has been mistaken for a piece of fabric on a few occasions!

To go with the garden theme, the flowers that were at The Old Rectory exhibition in Epworth last year are also on display. Some new pieces have also been added, and they look quite different when they are displayed differently too. There will no doubt be a different group of people attending the Open Garden event as well.

We’ve also done a canvas work and French knot garden….. or two, or three, or four of them in some cases. It started with a little workshop that Helen did for us all.

We each chose our own flower or leaf for inspiration, which gave us a colour palette as a starting point.

Helen had also prepared and painted the canvas (green) for us all. The photo doesn’t show how textured it really is, but it’s made in two layers, the bottom one just French knots and the top more French knots around the square of canvas work stitches.

This one of mine was inspired by a rose garden. Certainly pinks are out of my comfort zone, but they were a nice change. We chose our own canvas work stitches too, so they all look completely different

The yellows and greens are far more my colour palette, and were inspired by daffodils and narcissi, a lovely pop of colour after the winter. They are mounted on painted coasters, so aren’t very big. All the same, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess as to how many French knots it took to finish them, and I certainly didn’t do any more for a while afterwards!

The weather forecast is for a hot, sunny weekend, so hopefully it will be a well attended event. I’m helping to man the display on Sunday, so will take more photos then and try to get to see some of the gardens as well.

In the last week or so, I’ve finally picked up my Schwalm heart again. Yes, I was procrastinating about it; as I’ve mentioned before, cutting out threads (drawn threads) of the fabric terrifies me. I just don’t trust that the whole thing won’t fall apart. A couple of months ago I’d got to the cutting stage. It helps to have forgotten quite how long it took to get the stitching and preparation done.

It was an in-house workshop that we did with Jane Drummond at Lincolnshire Textiles back in February. It was a completely new technique to me, but I have previously used some of the stitches, including the Coral stitch above. Albeit a long time ago, it improved with a bit of practice on a test piece, as the photo shows.

We had to select a motif from a circle, a tulip (three or four different infill stitches) or a heart, which I opted for.

We traced the design on to tissue paper, then pinned it on to the evenweave fabric, making sure it was on the straight grain. I then used a pale pink sewing thread to tack through using small stitches, but next time I will use pale blue as it shows up better. The tissue paper is then scored with the point of a sharp needle and the paper carefully removed, leaving the tacking stitches outlining the design.

The fabric was put tautly in a hoop and Coral stitch worked over the tacking line, the knots 2-3 mm apart. A line of chain stitch is worked inside the Coral stitch (I used reverse chain stitch, because I find it easier to get it even).

Then buttonhole stitch is used to outline the scallops.

By the end of the day, I had tried all three stitches, and just needed several more hours to finish it.

By the March meeting I had finished the chain stitch and done just over half of the button holed scallops. Several pieces were finished completely and looked beautiful.

By the end of March I’d finished the buttonhole stitch.

It was looking decidedly grubby, in spite of me washing my hands before starting work on it each time. Partly, I think the graphite had gone through with the pink thread when I’d tacked the design through the tissue paper, so I gave it a wash and blocked it before starting the cutting. I thought it was less fragile while all the threads were still there! This is where it stalled.

I’d got no further until our last monthly class with Alison Larkin (nor with the beaded collar that I worked on last month). The light wasn’t going to get any better, so time to stop procrastinating and just do it.

It’s certainly a slow, methodical process, and I soon found that I could snip the threads closer working on the back.

It took about two hours to take out two threads, to leave two threads right across the heart. I’d run out of time to start the horizontal threads, but also I was admiring my work so far.

Enough admiring, the first snip on the weft threads. No going back now.

Again, easier to work from the back.

Now I just need to decide on my infill stitch, but first I want to enjoy it as it is.

This is the theme we have for the travelling pages for S.E.A.T.A. this month. We did a printing workshop with Jan Dowson a couple of years ago, when it was still Scunthorpe Embroiderers Guild, and I wrote about the process in Colours and textures 16 October 2020. And although I deliberated about what to do with the more or less finished main piece in Decisions, decisions 23 October 2020, I still haven’t done anything with it.

I knew that I had a test piece of four paisley shapes, printed with acrylic paint, on some gold-coloured sheeting that is about the right size for a travelling page. I used the big piece to give me ideas for stitches. The perlé and cotton thread colours that I used echoed the printed colours.

I backed it with a piece of calico, and used my go-to stitch of reverse chain stitch to outline the first “whale”, and French knots to fill the shape.

The next one was outlined in Coral stitch wanderingthreadsembroidery (also known as Snail trail stitch or German stitch), a knotted line stitch, then filled in with individual fly stitches

This one is stem stitch round the edge and lazy daisy stitches to fill in.

The final one was button hole stitch and stab stitches to fill in .

I’ve started stab stitching around the shapes, but not finished it yet. It looks as if it will be a last minute finish this month! The piece of mount board is cut ready to lace it round.

I still need to do my inspiration page too.

Last Sunday twelve members of Lincolnshire Textiles did a full day of Collagraph printing with Sinclair. We had a talk on the Saturday afternoon for the whole group, which served to whet our appetites.

We were all keen to get started on the Sunday morning, prepared to get messy, so wearing old clothes and / or an apron.

Sinclair started by demonstrating how we should prepare our “plate”, a piece of mount board that had textured items attached with sticky-backed aluminium foil tape. 

As stitchers many of us had fabric and threads, as well as twigs, leaves, sandpaper and mark-making items: coins, lego, knitting needles, wire, etc.

I’d had a quick scavenge round the garden before I set off, grasses, sage, rosemary, textured leaves and petals. I also found a bag of fabric scraps: net, canvas, linen with a machine stitched zigzag edge, even a cape gooseberry skeleton.

A die-cutter was used as a press and some things were embossed into the foil tape before it was stuck to the mount board (cape gooseberry skeleton), and other bits were put on the mount board under the foil.

The mount board could also be scored into with a knitting needle, wire, ball point pen, or have parts of the top layer of mount board peeled off; there’s a whole range of techniques to change the surface. Smooth, rough, raised finishes all take the ink differently, giving variations in tone.

We spent the morning making three plates each, which were then put through the press dry to make sure everything was well stuck down. It also then showed the textures better.

After lunch we had a demonstration of how to apply the ink and put the plate and dampened paper through the press. We were all given a palette of red, yellow, blue and black ink to apply to our plate, a couple of toothbrushes and off we went with a quick reminder of mixing secondary colours.

Once you’d inked up the plate the excess ink was rubbed off on some cotton sheeting. I was over zealous on the first two and rubbed off too much. I got some good textures though.

I got so engrossed in what I was doing that I never even gave a thought of taking photos. This was probably a good thing, as my gloves were soon inky, and were tricky to get on and off once the plate was inked up and picking up damp paper ready to print. 

The die cutter could have the pressure altered, which was needed as we had all got different things on the board. Some were much thicker than mine, which generally gave better results.

It was very much a learning curve getting the amount of ink right; sometimes it was possible to put the plate through twice, and the “ghost” print was sometimes better than the first.

I mainly printed on paper, but did two of the plates on fabric. Unfortunately I  had rather too much ink, but never mind, they will get stitched into sometime.

The inked plates are often beautiful in their own right too.

I had a great day and was very pleased with the results overall. Some I really like a lot. It has also  shown me a way of printing at home which I’d previously thought was very costly or not very practical.

Sinclair Ashman’s website is well worth a look.

Or is it the up the garden path? The last few weeks have again been taken up with lots of gardening, both the real and the stitched.

The stitched garden has radishes coming up, variegated green lazy daisy stitches, with little pinky coloured straight stitches.

The ribbon rose cabbages (spider’s web stitch) look very lush and healthy, there’s one tiny pulled little bit of ribbon that might have a caterpillar hidden underneath. They were deliberately done with twists in the ribbon, and uneven to make them look more realistic.

The cauliflowers are huge, with lovely creamy florets (French knots in perlé 5) with cast-on stitch leaves in a fine variegated perlé.

I decided to keep the path straight, to continue it using the same tent stitch almost to the bottom of the garden. It reminds me of the long, narrow garden we had years ago behind a Victorian semi, with the path to one side.

But it wasn’t our garden that had the beautiful veg, it was our neighbour’s. Oh, how I coveted his parsley. A foot wide mass, that never went to seed. I’ve tried many times over the years to grow it, without much success: it always goes to seed and self sets. But I do just about manage to keep enough growing through everything else to use the leaves for most of the year. And I like the effect of it softening other things growing. The flowers are so delicate, too.

The garden is still in soft colours at the moment, and in spite of all the rain we have had on and off in the last few weeks, the peonies are the best they have ever been. It looks beautiful, and is changing every day.