Friday, April 15, 2011

Autumn in the Cape

It's a lovely time of year in Cape Town. The extreme heat of summer is behind us and the Southeaster has died down leaving the weather pleasantly warm and with almost no wind. 

It's always a sign that winter is definitely on the way when the Plectranthus bloom. I was too late to catch mine in full bloom, but did catch a snap of a small plant that grew from a cutting I simply pushed into the ground last year. I just can't get enough of that rich purple-blue colour.

The other plant that seems to have done well this year is the ribbon bush, Hypoestes aristata. It's so full of flowers that the stems are starting to droop under the weight of the them.

As you may gather I have been spending some time out in the garden, so I haven't done as much stitching as I would have liked. I was working on one of Jenny McWhinney's very sweet little designs and will post a bit more about the project when I make some progress. It's my first attempt at needlepainting and the going has been slow. This is as far as I've got with Monet the mouse riding on his bicycle.

Bronwyn, Simon and little Jake have arrived from London and we are all going up to Kruger Park for a few days so there will be very little stitching for a while. Till next time, autumn or spring, enjoy the change of season wherever you are.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hedebo whitework embroidery

Looking through my box of 'Work in Progress' this week I thought it was time to consider the next step on a tea cosy I started on a Hedebo course given years ago by Margaret Roberts. The Cape Embroiderers' Guild is having its biennial or two-yearly exhibition in October and we are being encouraged to complete as much work as we can work to fill the big hall at Fish Hoek Civic Centre with lots of glorious inspiring embroidery.

Hedebo embroidery began in Denmark in the mid 1700's and was used to decorate clothing and household linens. It originated among the people who cut and dried peat for a living and who lived on the Heath or heden. Hence the name. Although there are various types of Hedebo that have developed over time, I rather like the the oldest form which is quite distinct. It is characterised by rich surface embroidery usually with two rows of chain stitch outlining graceful motifs such as leaves and flowers. The shapes are filled with drawn thread fillings similar to Russian Drawn Thread.

The design for my tea cosy is adapted from Hetsie van Wyk's book Embroider Now. I think the book is out of print but every now and then a copy pops up at the good second hand bookshops around Cape Town. I have always admired the photo of a Hedebo tea cosy in the book and wanted to try and make a similar one. Unfortunately there is no pattern, so I set to work drawing up individual shapes and laying them out until I had a pleasing design similar to Hetsie's. Whew! When I say it in one sentence like that it sounds easy, but actually it took me ages to do.

I tacked the design onto my linen and as I was ready to go. I wanted to dive in and stitch the drawn thread areas first, but of course I had to do the chain stitch outlines before I could do any cutting of threads. Surprisingly, although chain stitch is one of the first surface stitches that one learns, I found it quite challenging to make two neat rows of a consistent tension. I tend to work quite tightly and this makes the chain stitch bunch up rather than lie evenly and flat.

The buds and leaves, those pale blue tacked shapes, are the point where I got stuck. Now I have to try and work out what stitches I should use to stitch them. I've pinned the embroidery up in my sewing room and hope that inspiration will strike when I least expect it...

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Embroidery and shopping in Bangkok

2014: Sadly the Pinn Shop is no longer exists. 

Being an embroiderer and a quilter, I searched out needlework shops in the neighbourhood where I recently spent a few weeks just outside of Bangkok in Thailand. To my delight I found one just 5 minutes down the road in the local shopping centre... I mean Shopping Centre.

Central Plaza is a large new shopping mall on not 1 level, not 2 or even 3, but on 7 levels! Besides shopping at Tops the supermarket in the basement, going for tea at Au Bon Pain where they serve delicious pecan nut rolls a bit like a Chelsea bun, and seeking out the needlework shop, I managed to see but a fraction of this enormous but very pleasant shopping centre.

The little needlework shop aptly called Pinn Shop is a charming place. It stocks all sorts of needlework related materials and equipment, like sewing thread, fabric cutters and blades, cutting boards, vilene, lace, ribbons and so on. I was intrigued by the knitting looms, like big versions of the wooden cotton reel with 4 nails knocked into one end that I used for French knitting as a child. Some of the the looms were big enough for knitting a scarf and looked like they could be great fun for little girls. And big girls too. There were also numerous templates and aids for quilters to make variously shaped 3-dimensional 'pom-poms' as quilt units.

As you walk in the door of the Pinn Shop there are a couple of tables in the centre and there always seems to be a group of ladies chatting and knitting enthusiastically with a wide variety of attractive novelty yarns all available in the shop. For quilters there is a small selection of cotton quilting fabrics, mainly dusty pinks and toning fabrics when I visited. There are also sewing kits for making soft toys, cushions and interesting bags of all sizes. At the back is a workroom with tables and sewing machines set up, perhaps for sewing classes.

Finally in the corner I spotted the embroidery section. Besides the usual things like needles, scissors and frames they have embroidery kits, all cross stitch as far as I could see, and the complete range of DMC stranded embroidery floss and perle cottons and some fabrics too. It was kind of comforting to know that if I needed any embroidery thread it was only 5 minutes away by motorcycle taxi.

If you are looking for a kit to embroider of the much revered Thai king or his family then this is the place you'll find it and you'll have a wide range to choose from.

The staff are helpful but speak little English, so you will have to make do with a lot of signing if you want something special. I was looking for red machine thread and was able to make myself understood enough so that the assistant went looking through a big storage drawer under the display of cottons. In the end I made do with a DMC cotton quilting thread she found which did very nice machine satin stitch, perhaps because it was thick and soft and gave a nice coverage.

Leaving the Pinn Shop I did find a small haberdashery section in the Central department store which also stocked cross stitch kits and they had the full range of Anchor stranded embroidery floss. There was little else of interest for embroidery but again there was an interesting selection of hand knitting yarn.

It does puzzle me that knitting is apparently such a popular hobby in Bangkok, where the daytime temperature seems to hover constantly above 30 degrees Centigrade. Firstly, it seems to me too hot to want to knit and secondly, there can't be many suitable occasions for wearing anything knitted in that hot humid climate.

As I mentioned in my last post I did find a quilting shop not too far from where I was staying, called Pretty Quilt Shop which you can see here. And very pretty it and the quilts were too. There was a good selection of cotton quilting fabric and lots of bits and bobs for embellishing like lace and tulle. In the back of the shop an area was set up with sewing machines which I believe you can arrange to use if you buy fabric from the shop and don't have your own machine at home. There were 5 or 6 ladies working at the tables and sewing machines but it looked as though they were taking a class as they all seemed to be working on similar pieces.

I really loved the display of creative patchwork bags in the shop. If you are looking for a kit for making a patchwork bag that is different or you are looking for handles for a bag that you are sewing then you are sure to find something suitable here. If I'd had longer in Bangkok I would have investigated doing one of the handbag courses. It would definitely have been worthwhile and fun because they are not traditional patchwork at all. One of the assistants spoke excellent English, so I'm sure that my lack of understanding Thai would have been no problem. Maybe next time...