More linen on paper

Frankly, I don’t have a lot to show for the last few weeks. Since I last posted here I have both moved house and had an impossible quantity of work to do. This is a uniquely toxic combination in my experience. I couldn’t recommend it and will do my best to avoid it in future.

However, I did get another little sample done using linen thread on paper, and here it is:

Linen on paper

This uses the only bright colour (and it isn’t all that bright) in my linen thread collection. Either I buy more linen thread, or I mix in some cottons, and I’m inclined to go for the latter, as I like mixing materials.

The stitch here is wrapped chain stitch, which produces a nice effect, but takes ages. (Pleasing effects often do take ages, I’ve observed with some chagrin). What I like about the embroidery in paper is that it seems to sit on the surface, producing a distinctive texture.

So, will I do more? Answer: yes, probably. However, I think it might be a good idea if I spent a bit of time on more focused efforts to design, so I think I shall get cracking on some sketchbook work.

In the meantime, my need to be stitching something is satisfied by the production of more little pincushions. Pictures will probably follow.

By the by, my cochineal series did get exhibited at Ramster’s. Dee Thomas, another Prism member, was stewarding and kindly sent me a photo. They looked good, set out in a horizontal line, at what looked to be eye level.

Ramsters

The next Ramster exhibition is from 10th March to 26th March 2017. I’ve been aware of it for years, but have not previously applied to exhibit here. By the time I did so in 2016, applications were closed, but Miranda Gunn kindly put me on a waiting list. And, woo hoo, someone has dropped out so I have the opportunity to send some work in. Sending the work in doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be selected for exhibition, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this.

I was hoping to include the rather nice poster for the exhibition, but I can’t currently work out how to import the pdf into WordPress. There’s usually a way of doing these things, but I’ve had a few goes and can’t just get it sorted out at the moment. Anyway, click here to go to the Ramster events website where you can find out more about the exhibition. It’s in Chiddingfold in Surrey, so rather a long way from where I live. I’d love to go, but there are various events going on in my life at the moment which could make it difficult to get away.

I’ll report back if I do get to have my work exhibited here. I’m also planning to send some unframed pieces and some cards, so if you’re there and in the shop, please do look out for my work.

 

Embroidery on a bike

Well, it’s not actually embroidery on a bike – that would be silly. To be more precise, this is about carrying the materials for embroidery on a bike. Husband and I have recently completed a very long bike ride indeed, from Worcester in England to Prades near Perpignan in the South of France where we often go on holiday. This was a mad enterprise, really, especially for a person like myself unused to great feats of physical exertion. I didn’t tell very many people about it before we left, because I was by no means certain that I would finish it, or even get very far. But, much to my surprise, I did finish it. Woo hoo.

I was riding a hybrid bike (hybrid, that is, between road bike and mountain bike) which is useful if you’re covering varied types of terrain as we were. It’s not the lightest bike on earth and nor is it a particularly expensive bike. I was carrying two Ortlieb pannier bags attached to a rear pannier rack. These had to contain everything I’d need for four to six weeks cycling. We were staying in chambres d’hotes and bed and breakfast places along the way so didn’t need to carry camping equipment as some brave long-distance cyclists do. But the bags did have to contain useful stuff like spare tyres, inner tubes, pump and basic toolkit as well as clothing sufficient to cover a range of scenarios (keeping the rain off, keeping us warm, having something halfway decent to wear for dinner, spare cycling clothes, maps, iPad, chargers etc). This was all carefully thought out and planned for before the trip, to try to keep the weight down to a minimum.

Some stats – we covered just short of 2,000 kilometres in 31 days. This included a couple of days off, so our average rate of progress per day was around 67km, with some wide variations (the longest distance covered in a day was 97km). The weather was very poor for much of the trip. The English section was made very difficult by strong winds which were almost always against us. And it was perishing cold for much of the trip in both England and France. I’d taken my three season cycling gloves along because I supposed there would be a few days when I might need them; in the event I used them almost every day.

I don’t like to undertake any trip without something to sew, and I put a lot of thought into this beforehand. Think about it for a moment: what would you take if the weight was a big issue?

And what did I actually take? Well, I took two pieces of lightweight calico, each measuring about 18 inches square. I tacked some other lightweight materials to them in places – little oddments of linen, silk, cotton etc. A 6 inch hoop. A small square of felt with half a dozen needles of different sizes. And then threads. I decided to stick with five main colour groups – yellows and browns, pale greens, greys, whites and pinks, intended to coordinate or contrast with the appliqued materials. I put these thread groups into five small ziplock bags, packaged inside a rather larger ziplock bag. Another larger ziplock bag contained the hoop and appliqued calico, the felt with needles and my small embroidery scissors. And that was it. I weighed it all and it came to less than 1lb (450grams) and I felt that I was prepared and willing to carry this amount of extra weight so as to be sure of having something to stitch when time allowed. Here is the yellow and brown selection in its ziplock bag:Yello threads in ziplock bag

And the photograph below shows the selection of threads laid out on a table:Yellow threads spread out

How much did I do? Well, en route, I was just exhausted for the first week or so and would just fall asleep at the first possible opportunity. However, as the trip went on I did find some spare minutes every now and then, and on the rest days I managed to put in a couple of hours or so. Once we arrived at our destination I had determined that I was going to spend a lot of time stitching, and I did. Was there anything I really wanted that I hadn’t taken with me? Well, actually, no. I’d planned this carefully, and in any case, it’s always helpful to have a few constraints in materials supplies. I’m so pleased I took the materials with me – I wouldn’t have liked to go for almost six weeks in total without having something to stitch.

So, you see, it can be done. If any of you are inclined to take a lengthy cycle ride or any other type of endeavour where your baggage is severely limited, rest assured that you can get some stitching done…  Has anyone else done anything like this? Drop me a line or a comment if you have.

Another small piece for sale

Last time I posted I explained that I was making some small pieces for sale. Here is another one in this mini-series:Another small piece for sale

I do like to introduce a highlight colour, and I’m finding it interesting that the highlight that often seems most appropriate is red or pink. Most of this little piece (which measures about 8cm X 9 cm) is covered by a piece of sheer black silk organza. At its edge it tends to curl under a bit which has the pleasing effect of creating a line. It looks somewhat like a horizon line, which is why I’ve placed the piece in this orientation.

I’m enjoying making these small pieces very much. I’ve put quite a lot of work into presenting them carefully. I’ve used a mount cutter to cut an appropriately sized aperture into a piece of mountboard, then I’ve used heavy duty double sided tape to position the piece. Then I’ve covered the back of the mountboard with a piece of heavy card, sticking it down with more double sided tape. Finally, I sign the piece then wrap it up in florist’s cellophane. This is all quite a lot of work, but I’m very pleased with the finished pieces. The mountboard sets off the embroidery very well and the cellophane protects the piece from dust and dirt.

Never apologise, never explain

Yes, it’s been a while. But I’m not apologising for that. I’ve got a life, like everybody else, and it does get in the way. I’ve found the best way for me, personally, to approach blogging is to treat it as an on-going diary which will be a bit sporadic when I’m otherwise occupied. There’s really no point in creating a burden for myself in the form of self-imposed pressure to write a blog post twice a week. So I’m not going to. I’m not apologising but if I write about what I’ve been up to, it is inevitably, a kind of explanation. Mostly, during the month of March it’s been work, sheer hard graft with several trips away and some long hours put in on keeping the wolf from the door. But I have been doing quite a lot of stitching in the interstices (I love that word) and I’ll show some of it on the blog over the next week or two. In the meantime, here’s a picture of one of my thread boxes. Thread box white and creamI think I’ve written in the past how useful I find the cheap wooden drawers from IKEA. I keep commercial stranded cotton in small plastic boxes, and my own dyed threads are in the dyed thread drawer. Everything else goes into these sets of wooden drawers, sorted and classified by colour. They are small enough to be manageable, but large enough to contain what I’ve got. When I want threads of a particular colour I can spill the contents of a drawer onto the desk and rummage about to select things. And tidying up them up afterwards doesn’t take very long. It satisfies my orderly accountant’s mind to have things filed away and tidy.

This is, obviously, the white and cream thread box. It’s somewhat depleted at the moment because I’ve been using neutrals a lot. Those of you who follow this blog may have read my posts in late January and February about whitework. I loved doing so much work around the theme of white but I must say that since then I’ve been enjoying getting back to colour. More on that soon.

 

Experimenting with whitework

Last week I was doing some more experimenting with whitework, and this time mostly on the sewing machine. Here’s the result of an experiment in ‘pulled’ work.Pulled work experiment with sinamay

I’ve placed it over a patterned gold and black paper for a bit of contrast. I set the machine to zig-zag and then stitched lines down and across the sinamay which is the base material. I’d intended to make a somewhat bigger piece but, frankly, it was a nightmare to work, so I scaled it back. Sinamay is a difficult material to use because of it being so brittle. The thread kept snapping and I had to rethread the machine several times just to produce this small piece. Nice effect, though, and worth a certain amount of trouble, I think. Sometimes it’s just fun to sit down and make something without much forethought, in order to see where it will lead. I’m a big fan of sampling as it gives you scope to be creative in a relatively small timescale, using a minimum of materials. I set out a few small bits and pieces of different materials and just got to work to see what I could make with them. With a piece like this, the effect is produced almost at random, once you’ve made the basic decision about materials. The sinamay distorted in unpredictable directions, so there was no real intent about it.

Resolved piece – whitework on paper

Earlier in the week I said I’d write another post about progress on a more resolved piece of whitework on paper. Well, here it is, and somewhat to my surprise it’s actually finished; I got a second wind with it yesterday and managed to complete it.Whitework on paper - resolved piece

As with the sample, I drew ovals freehand on a piece of watercolour paper, and then cut them out using a craftknife. Then I used as many different Richlieu and cutwork techniques as I could think of to fill in the cut holes. I think I’ve made a few of them up myself. Some are more successful than others, it has to be said. I’ve used only one thread for all of this – coton à broder which is one of my favourite threads. I bought a very large hank of it in écru, but it’s nearly all gone now.

If I extend this work, it would be interesting to use a more limited range of styles, perhaps using identical repeats. I don’t know – I’ll see. Maybe it’s time for me to draw the whitework to a close and get back to colour. But dipping my toe into whitework again has been a very pleasant interlude. I’ll no doubt return to it someday.

More whitework on paper

I’ve been doing some more whitework on paper. I based these images on sketchbook work that I did some time ago, thus reinforcing the view that nothing is really wasted. Having struggled with the thick rayon thread (see previous post earlier this week) on my first resolved piece, I decided to make life a bit easier by using a range of different threads. Some are easier to use than others, but they’re all easier than the rayon. Here’s the first sample I did:

Whitework on card

It’s got cotton and silk threads, as well as a bit of rayon. The creamier coloured threads have come out quite yellowy in the photograph, but they look much more neutral than they appear here. I put in lines of backstitch on the verticals but wasn’t completely convinced, once I’d finished, that they were necessary.

So, in the next sample, I left them out and I think it’s more successful:Whitework on paper

I’m still very pleased with the technique, overall, and may well do more of this. Perhaps I’ll introduce a bit of colour next time….

Whitework on paper

I decided to try a little bit of whitework on paper, as a development from the crazy patchwork I described in one of last week’s posts. This development arises naturally out of last week’s work, but also out of my interest in the work of Emily Barletta, whom I’ve mentioned previously. Quite a lot of her work is embroidery on stiff paper, and I like it very much so thought I’d have a go. It wouldn’t work on anything flimsy, so I tried using watercolour paper, which is ideal. I did a few very small samples on one piece of paper, and soon discovered that the best way to do it (for me, at least) is to sketch out the image on the back of the paper, and then punch holes at regular intervals on the lines of the image, using a large pin. I don’t know how Emily Barletta works, but this works for me. Having done a few basic samples, I then had a go at a more resolved piece, which looks like this:Whitework on paper

It is stitched entirely using a thick-ish rayon thread which is part of a collection of very old threads that I was given many years ago. It’s not easy stuff to work with because it snags on everything, including rough patches of skin on my finger ends (of which there are many). However, I persisted with it, and I’m really quite pleased with the result. Because it’s quite a thick thread it casts shadows, so it’s easy to ‘read’ even though it’s off-white thread on an off-white background. I am busy working on some other samples so will report on progress over the next few days.

Book review: Claire Wellesley-Smith – Slow Stitch

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one, and I’m pleased to report that it’s been worth the wait. The book is in the usual 128 page hardcover Batsford format. Its full title is ‘Slow Stitch: mindful and contemplative textile art’. The quality of the images is uniformly excellent and the text is well-written and thoughtful. It’s divided into four sections: Slow, Materials and Techniques, Cross-cultural activity and Contemplative. It’s redolent of a particular philosophy and approach to the process of stitching and it’s worth reading carefully and, well, slowly.Slow stitch

The first section (‘Slow’) relates slow stitch to the Slow movement in general, and discusses the related issues of sustainability and use of resources. ‘Materials and techniques’ identifies sources of old and new materials. It also has a relatively brief section on dyeing using native plants. I expected there to be much more about natural dyeing in the book, but actually there are plenty of other sources of information about this and there’s no particular need to explain it in any greater detail here. ‘Cross-cultural activity’ looks at some relevant stitching traditions, including Kantha and Japanese boro. It also contains a good section on mending (both practice and philosophy) and on piecing and patching. Finally, ‘Contemplative’ is perhaps the most important section of the book in that it expounds the benefits of mindful practice, together with some practical suggestions for developing ideas. I especially like the idea of the stitch journal as a means of daily practice in stitching. I, too, feel that there’s something about stitching that helps in problem-solving, and with the flow of ideas. The process of stitching contributes to creativity and the flow of ideas.

It’s always interesting with these books to see the range of work that the author draws upon for illustration of ideas. Claire has included examples of the work of some of my favourite artists, for example, Judy Martin (if you don’t know about the Mantoulin Circle project, do follow the link and have a look), Roanna Wells, Mandy Pattullo and Christine Mauersberger, to name but a few. And above all, there are lots of examples of Claire’s own understated and calming stitched works. All are beautifully photographed. If you’re familiar with Claire’s website you will know how good at photography she is, and I expect these are her own photographs of her own work.

This is not a ‘how to’ book, although it does contain some guidance about using plants for dyeing and suggestions for e.g. stitching a square and producing kantha stitches. As much as anything, it’s a book about ideas and a particular approach to stitched textiles that I, for one, find very appealing.