Friday, October 9, 2020

Dainty Hardanger

I was looking through my cupboard for some inspiration when I found these little Hardanger treasures. Most of the small embroideries I do are given away, but these I couldn't part with.

Some years ago I was fortunate to do classes with Lynne Laver of Fish Hoek, a popular seaside town in Cape Town. Lynne designed the most intricate and beautiful Hardanger pieces. Turn this little sachet over and you are in for a surprise.

The embroidered back is quite different. And it is smaller than the front. It's the front that forms the see-through lacy edge.

The blue needlecase and tiny pincushion have a delicate edge stitched with DMC cotton sewing machine thread. The challenge for me was all those picots. It was also the first time I used a coloured thread for Hardanger rather than the traditional white on white.

Talking of colour, the scissor keep and pincushion were embroidered with a space-dyed thread by Chameleon. Rather than detracting from the embroidery, the soft coloured thread complemented the dainty Hardanger stitches very well.

There was nothing predictable about the reverse side of Lynne's scissor keep pattern either. I'd been wanting to try out that stitch in the centre of the kloster block for some while and here was the opportunity. 

The triangular piece at the top of the scissor keep folds down to keep the scissors in place. I still have to find a pretty pearl button the correct size for the fastening. 

Somehow I know I will never actually use any of these. I just enjoy looking at them when I come across them in the cupboard. Perhaps you have treasures like that too?

I hope you are keeping well and safe. Enjoy your weekend and happy stitching!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A New Pulled Thread Book - in French

I received a dictionary of pulled thread stitches for my birthday last year. Unfortunately for me, it's written in French. The languages I studied at school were Engish, Afrikaans and Latin. I don't speak a word of French. Or Latin.

The first thing anyone says when I mention that the book is written in French is 'Just use Google Translate.' And certainly, I found the translations useful. It's when I got to the technical terms that things became less clear. One translation amused me. After all, does one really use 'wire' for pulled thread embroidery? I did sort that puzzle out pretty quickly though.

Mary Corbett's review of a needlelace book, translated from the original French, alludes to the tricky question of translating specialized embroidery terms in a meaningful way. I can see now that not only is a bilingual person required for the translation, but preferably one who is familiar with all the very specific terms too. You can see Mary's comments in her blog post here.  Anyway, overall, I think I got a fair sense of what the text in my new book is covering.

The book itself is beautifully designed and a pleasure to page through and study. The graphics are clear and self explanatory. There are also diagrams of how the back of each stitch should look which is useful for making sure that you are working the stitch in the correct direction and the right sequence of the steps. The depth of information and care with which it is presented is remarkable. I'm just sorry that my photos don't do it justice.

The book covers the basic pulled thread stitches beginning with Satin stitch, goes on to Four-sided stitch, and includes Wave stitch, Faggot stitch and a few others. There are also many variations of these basic stitches, together with a photo of the stitched example. Finally there are combination stitches also with beautifully embroidered stitch samples.

The book Jours fils à resserrés by Marie-Helene Jeanneau was published in 2019 by Neva. Sadly Marie-Helene passed away the previous year. The book is labelled Volume 1.  How I would love to have seen what she had planned for Volume 2. 

Although I got the gist of the book and the stitch diagrams were clear and easy to follow, I would still like to be able to accurately interpret every word.  I think there is a wealth of useful information and technical know-how tucked away in those (to me) unfathomable French terms. 

I contacted the publisher to enquire about an English version of the book. He did say that there was an intention to translate it at a future date, and that it may be published by another publisher. I'll keep a lookout for that.

'Till next time, happy stitching!

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Leaf SAL and August Weather

August in Brisbane was windy. Very windy. The wind blew all the washing off the line on Monday.  Pehaps that's a reminder to use the pegs. We had a few days of dust storms too, when the skies were pink from morning till night with the dust blown in from the inland desert areas. You could taste the dry dust in the air, even inside the house. A little rain is forecast for the weekend. I hope it arrives.

My leaf SAL is almost done. The leaf of chain and French knots was one leaf that went fairly quickly -

once I'd settled on the colours. With each new leaf choosing the colours became more of a challenge. One consideration was that I wanted to avoid having clumps of a single colour all congregated in one small area of the embroidery. Sometimes the colours I had planned just didn't look right so I unpicked and changed them. 

Deviating from the suggested scroll stitch as an outline for my next leaf, I chose Portuguese knotted stem instead. Up close, I really like the way the knot pulls the two threads together and almost looks like a rope. For tying down the lattice filling I wanted the crosses to stand out. Eventually I took out the contrasting pink and settled on a close matching colour after all.

My final leaf is filled with interwoven cross.

What I found interesting while working on the SAL is that stitches that looked uninspiring to me when paging through stitch dictionaries, turned out to be quite intriguing when I stitched them. Interwoven cross was one of them. Doing that last little tug on the thread and seeing how the threads entwined was rather satisfying. But also, the random sprinkling of the crosses as a filling stitch reminded me at times of a star-studded sky, and at other times, a sparkling field of wild flowers. Interwoven cross is a pretty little filling stitch.

My goal of twenty leaves is done. I'll make up a cushion cover once I find a cushion inner and know what size to make it.

In case you're wondering about that big frame, it's a quilting frame. I used it only to stretch out and smooth the wrinkles in the embroidery so I could photograph it before it's been washed and ironed.

Thinking of the weekend and some spring rain reminds me that the pelargonium and the bromeliad in this pot suddenly sprang into bloom. Longer days and warmer weather is definitely on the way here. 

'Till next time, happy stitching!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Leaf SAL - Sixteen leaves

In my last four blog posts, I have been sharing my Leaf Stitch-Along journey. The SAL was arranged by the Embroiderers' Guild Queensland during the Covid-10 restrictions and stay at home orders. These are the leaves I have embroidered so far.

Some I have enjoyed stitching enormously, others have been a challenge. Here's one that amused me no end - Butterfly Chain. It starts off with a line of straight stitches, three to a group. 

The Chain Stitch is added afterwards. It's detached. It lies on top of the fabric, tying the groups of stitches together to form a string of butterflies. And it makes a very pretty line stitch. 

Yet for me the butterflies disappeared, and all I could see was a fish bone!

Then, Twisted Chain Stitch sprang to mind, and I surrounded the fish bone with little fish of Twisted Chain Stitch. I'm still deciding if those will stay.

Other fillings seemed more mundane. I thought a Brick and Cross filling made up of staight stitches and crosses would be straightforward, and quick. But, I unpicked it five or even six times. First, I chose a variegated thread so that the densely worked filling would look lighter. Mmmm... 

After a few attempts and three determined rows I conceded that it simply looked splotchy. 

Then, with plain blue thread, I kept changing the spacing until all the lines looked more equally sized and spaced. 

The result is quite different to what I had expected. In the end, it's a filling that I am rather pleased with.

I have four more leaves to do to reach my goal of twenty. It's been an interesting journey so far. 

On another note, I hope you are able to enjoy doing some stitching today, Thursday 30 July, World Embroidery Day. You will be in the good company of very many embroiderers stitching all around the world.

'Till next time, happy stitching!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Pentas, Embroidery and Caterpillars

The pentas in my garden are still blooming after almost three years. They look a bit untidy, yet I haven't had the heart to prune them back hard because they always have flowers on them. I love the deep red flowers and that bush is suddenly full of buds about to burst open. It's lovely to have colour in the garden in the middle of winter.

Indoors, my SAL leaf sampler is growing. But it's one particular leaf I want to tell you about. The outline is Interlaced Cable Chain. I like the way the green interlacing thread lies neatly on the outside of the yellow cable chain. I followed the SAL instructions and placed a French knot in the centre of each chain. 

Early on I decided that seeing as though I did not have the threads specified with the SAL instructions, I'd simply choose bright cheerful colours from my stash of threads. With that in mind I chose a nice bright contrasting red for the French Knot inside the Interlaced Cable Chain. And those red spots do stand out. Unfortunately the result reminds me of a caterpillar! 

Not just any caterpillar, but the plague of hawk moth caterpillars that we had on the pentas during the summer. For weeks on end, Rod and I collected by hand anything from ten to fifty caterpillars each day on the six plants in the garden. It's a mystery where they all came from because I only ever saw one hawk moth in the garden and never any eggs on the plants.

Lots of birds visit the birdbath next to the pentas and I was reluctant to spray. As summer wound down we finally gave up, sprayed with an eco-friendly mixture, and it was a relief not to have go out each day and hunt for those destructive caterpillars. Yesterday, for the first time in months, I found a lonely caterpillar - the size of my little finger! I guess more will soon be back. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Leaf SAL - 10 leaves

In my last post here I showed you the first of the leaves I'd been doing for the EGQ Leaf Stitch-Along project. Each leaf has a stitch outlining it and a centre filling with suggestions listed for variations. In that vein, I have taken a bit of liberty with some of the leaves and chosen different stitches. Others are waiting for inspiration. In the meantime these were my first 8 leaves.

Learning the more complicated stitches and doing them on the curve of the leaf has been challenging. I can see why they are usually demonstrated on an evenweave fabric which is particularly suited to someone learning the stitch. It does make the spacing much easier when you can place stitches in a straight line and a set number of threads apart.

So, it was nice to do a simpler outline of detached chain with two straight stitches in between. I wasn't looking forward to the buttonhole wheels, but they went more smoothly than I expected. 

Below I have added a further 2 leaves to my sampler, bringing the total to 10. Both the outline stitches  for these two leaves were new to me and rather interesting to learn.

Like me, one of the very first stitches you may have learnt to embroider is chain stitch. How about spicing it up, adding in a straight stitch, and trying Spine Chain Stitch? That sounds simple enough.

Well my version didn't quite turn out the way it should have. It's got spines on one side only, but that was an intentional variation. What wasn't intentional, is that the spines point in the wrong direction. Oops!

If you angle the straight stitches correctly, as shown below, with the spines worked back towards the beginning of the line, they stand out quite distinctly. 

Spine chain stitch - single sided variation

But, if you angle the spine in the direction in which you are travelling, it becomea partially covered by the next chain stitch. And that's why my spines seem to disappear under the chain. For now, I rather like the less spiky effect, so I have left it just like that. It's also a reminder to me of how not to do it in future.

Then I moved on to another variation of chain stitch. For most of the SAL stitches I have used Mary Thomas' Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches. 

I like the single clear diagrams that illustrate how to do the stitches. However, for Hungarian Braided Chain I had to look elsewhere. It's a tricky stitch. I needed to see specifically how to handle the needle and what to do with the thread. 

Mary Corbett's video that you will find in her post here is very good. It shows clearly just how the chain must be left loose as you begin the next stitch, and then exactly how and when to tighten it. I watched the video a number of times, each time noting and learning something else about the movement.

The finished effect is a neat looking, heavy chain. I imagine it would look perfect embroidered on a smart military uniform. I wonder if it is used anywhere for that purpose?

Next time I'll show you how I am progressing on the final set of 10 leaves comprising past 3 of the SAL.

'Till then, take care and happy stitching!

Friday, June 19, 2020

Leaf SAL - Up and Down Buttonhole Stitch

In my last blog post which you can read here, I told you a little about my start to the leaf stitch along (part 2) that I'm doing through the Embroiderers' Guild Queensland. I've enjoyed the challenge of working with stitches that I would not normally choose. This was my progress after three weeks. You can see there's lots of stitch variety there to keep you interested. And thinking.

Each time I finished doing the pair of stitches that form 'up and down buttonhole stitch', I felt a little surprised at the result - a pair of legs tied together! Somehow it seemed almost impossible that doing one stitch 'upside down' and then pulling the thread in the opposite direction at the last minute would turn out like this.

Up and down buttonhole stitch - V shape variation

I think that name, 'up and down buttonhole', is a bit misleading because I expected alternate legs of the buttonhole-type stitch to point in opposite directions, not lie on the same side of the line that joins them, as in ordinary buttonhole shown on the left in the photos below. 

The 'up and down ' however, refers to the alternating way the needle moves through the fabric. You take one stitch downwards in the usual way for buttonhole, but for the next stitch the needle points upwards. Then pull the needle towards the top. Finally pull the thread downwards to join up with the previous stitch.


All I can say is try it. It's a magic stitch. Yvette Stanton's book, The Right-Handed Embroiderer's Companion, has good step by step instructions and a few pretty variations of the stitch too.

A number of times I found myself reverting to ordinary buttonhole stitch as my concentration wandered. And I did quite a bit of unpicking until I got into the rhythm of the stitch. Despite that, it's one of my favourite stitches so far. 

Six leaves done, four more to go to complete part 2 of the SAL.

'Till next time, stay well and happy stitching!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Leaf SAL Begins

The Embroiderers' Guild Queensland have adapted to the COVID-19 lockdown by setting up some digital classes for members while they are unable to get together. I joined the leaf stitch-along. The SAL takes the form of a colourful leaf sampler of surface stitches, offered in three separate parts, each five weeks long.  I was late in signing up, so skipped the first part and started in week six with the second set of ten leaves.  

I thought I'd aim to do twenty leaves - parts 2 and 3 of the SAL. From some scrap paper, I cut out the leaf shape and arranged 20 leaves.  This gave me an idea of how close to place them and also the size of area that would be covered by the embroidery.  

Next came the choice of colours. I was fairly certain that between the small selection of threads I have and those in the two boxes of DMC threads that were very kindly passed on to me, I would find most of the colours suggested in the SAL instructions. But I didn't.

Being in lockdown and ready to begin, I realised that I had to compromise and make do with what I did have. I started stitching but felt quite limited by the small pile of threads that matched those listed in the SAL instructions. Then I remembered Kaffe Fassett's advice 'when in doubt add more colours'. And that made the choice of colours easier. I simply added colours that would match and tone with those that I started out with.

Because I'm using an unbleached calico fabric that washes well, I settled on a blue transfer pen that should wash out easily once the embroidery is complete. I nevertheless used a very light touch when transferring the leaf shapes. And, finally I made a start on my first two leaves.

The dark blue outline is Portuguese stem stitch.  There was a lot of unpicking before I was satisfied that I had an even spacing of my stitches. In the end, I like the nice raised, corded look of the Portuguese stem stitch and will remember it for future use.  Then I learnt that to achieve a pretty laced running stitch, the stitches underneath the fabric should be much shorter than those on top. That involved some unpicking too.

The filling stitches for the leaves come next. Maidenhair fern stitch sounds interesting. 

'Till next time be well and keep safe, especially if you are slowly emerging from lockdown as we are in Australia. And happy stitching!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Hardanger Progress

Some projects seem to be destined to spend a long time in my UFO box. The coffee table runner I wrote about here in my last post has spent many years in that box. 

It was this Hardanger pattern that caught my attention - because of the cutwork fillings embroidered in a contrasting colour and those pretty Maltese crosses and eyelets. 

I found it in an old Burda magazine, a special Hardanger edition, full of beautiful items to stitch. 

I adapted the pattern from the Burda magazine to fit my rather long coffee table.

With the Kloster blocks finished and the buttonhole edge done, it's just the eyelets and the cutwork to be completed.

The little Maltese crosses are a lovely dainty filling and I have done quite a lot of them. 

But, I have found doing the cutwork and filling stitches a little boring and that has meant I don't spend long periods of time doing it. How I admire those embroiderers who work on one item at a time, and finish it, before moving on to the next.

To be honest, there is another reason that I feel disinclined to finish the coffee table runner. I designed it for a coffee table that we no longer have. Unfortunately it was quite badly damaged in a move and has been replaced. The coffee table we have now is a treasure, made by my father, and it is smaller and a much better size for our lounge. 

The other place where I could possibly use a long runner, is on our dining room sideboard. But, the runner is about 10 centimetres longer than the top of the sideboard. The edges would hang over the sides and that would bother me. I did look into unpicking some of the embroidery. I would have to unpick and rework it from the ruler in the photo to fit the sideboard attractively. Decisions decisions!

So, for now the cloth is rolled up, ready to go back into it's pilowcase in the UFO box. 

In the meantime, to liven up my stitching time while still isolating and social distancing to avoid the dreadful coronavirus, I joined a stitch-along organized by the local Queensland Embroiderers' Guild. I'll tell you more about that next time.

'Till then keep safe, be well and happy stitching.


UFO - UnFinished Object

Friday, May 15, 2020

Hardanger and Scissors

I'm working on a coffee table runner I started mmm... let's just say a long time ago. It was after doing my first Hardanger course with my friend Priscilla. Every now and again I take this piece out and do a little more. The title of today's post should give you a clue as to what I am now doing.

I've completed all the Kloster blocks and the buttonhole edge. Doing the cutwork part, which I saved for last because it looked like the most interesting part to stitch, has been rather more tedious than I thought it would be and the runner has spent many years in the cupboard. It's time to make some progress on it.

For cutting the threads I originally used my then best pair of embroidery scissors, a pair of orange Wilkinson Swords. On a subsequent Hardanger course with Hardanger expert Lynne, I learnt that scissors with a finer point and thinner blades made the cutting of fabric threads much easier. That was a long time ago.

Yesterday I started using my little orange scissors and I found I was having some difficulty accurately inserting the points in between the fabric threads. And the cuts were not as crisp and free from fluffy bits as I wanted them to be. This morning I remembered that I keep a small pair of scissors tucked away especially for doing cutwork. And what a difference they make!

The blades of the small brown pair are much narrower and thinner, and the points are much finer too. All I know about the little pair of scissors is that they were made in Japan. And, they work very well for cutting the threads for the openwork on my Hardanger.

So, on with cut four, and leave four.

I hope you are safe and keeping well.

'Till next time, happy stitching.