In the middle section of the forewings, I want to gradually blend from the darker blue to the pale blue. First I remove four sugas from a strand of dark blue silk and replace them with four sugas of pale blue (each strand of silk contains 16 sugas). I worked one row of stitches with this blend. I then work two rows in a 50/50 blend and finally two rows in a blend containing 4 sugas of dark blue and 12 sugas of pale blue.
Just when I thought it was safe to start stitching, I have a little more prep to do. I have completed transferring the design by stitching through the tissue paper but now I have to remove the tissue paper! This is nearly as tedious as stitching along all the outlines in the first place. Little pieces of tissue trap under the stitches and have to be gentle pulled free. I have a pair of Berlin Irons that made this process easier. I decided to remove the tissue only from the butterfly that I am currently working on (not because that is as much tedium as I can stand at one sitting, honest). My theory is that the tissue will help keep the white background clean. I also decided to stitch in guidelines to show the direction of the stitches on the fore wings. First I stitched in the lines on the left fore wing. When I came to do the right wing, I could not get the angle right; it conflicted with the left wing all the time. Eventually, I covered the left wing with paper so I could focus on each wing individually.
Finally, I can begin to embroider. YIPEE! First the head - vertical layer foundation in 2 strands of flat silk over 2 layers of self-padding. I had originally requested black silk for this project but Jennifer Ashley Taylor of Needle Artworks, who supplied the design, materials and advice, suggested that I use charcoal grey (very nearly black) instead. It was a good suggestion, I think - thanks Jennifer. The body is stitched in two sections, also in vertical foundation in flat silk. I used one layer of self-padding for the body. The stitches of vertical layer foundation should be perfectly parallel, but on the first section of the body; mine fanned a little at the bottom edge. This was not intentional but I liked it, so repeated it on the second section.
Now for the part I have been longing to do and dreading I will make a mess of - the fore wings. I started at the outside edge and took great care to get the angle of each stitch correct - I found the guide stitches really helped. I also used a gauge to keep the stitch length consistent. I used a single strand of flat silk in the darker shade of blue. I am really pleased with the first row. I don’t always get a sharp edge on my shapes but this time I have. I think using a single strand of silk helped, as did the stitched outline, which seems to support the stitches and hold then in place. I really concentrated on placing the needle tip exactly where I wanted the stitch and then keeping the needle upright while making the stitch.
I found each subsequent row a little more difficult. Since the rows are contoured, I found it difficult to keep track of which stitches are in which row (maybe that is not important). Also, as the wing gets narrower, it is necessary to drop stitches from each row. It was difficult to decide when to drop a stitch so as not to leave a gap. I really took my time and removed stitches if I wasn’t completely happy with them. So far so good, I think. The dark blue is nearly complete on the right wing and it is time to start blending in the paler blue.
I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, and especially to comment on my blog. Every time I see a comment, I am thrilled.
Today, I particularly need to thank Michael of wormspit.com for his comment. Michael, you made me re-evaluate not only the stitching samples for this butterfly, but also the whole project.
You said "You can see Helen Stevens stitching a butterfly here ... I know it's a totally different form of embroidery". I already know and admire Helen's work. I have her book "Embroidered butterflies". So I asked myself "Is my aim to stitch an authentic Japanese Embroidery, or is my aim to stitch the most beautiful embroidery I am capable of". The answer is the latter.
Regarding this butterfly, I had shied away from radial stitching because I thought that would be far too difficult for me. I went back to SharonB's blog and read what she had to say about long and short stitch worked on a curve. Hmmm, if I am struggling with regular long and short stitch how could I hope to manage it on a curve!
I then looked at a recently acquired book Japanese embroidery through the millennium, which includes instructions for Realistic random long and short stitches "bring the needle between the stitches of the preceding rows (not through). The stitches are not uniform and the rows are not clear." Although this said basically the same thing, it somehow made the stitch seem a little less intimidating. I needed to do another sample.
Here are all three samples together
I am really pleased with this last sample. I still need to adjust the direction of the stitches, but I think that I am really to stitch the real thing.
In the cold light of day, I could see that my first trial was nowhere near good enough. In fact, it was rubbish. There is no way I can use this stitch unless I improve a lot. A second trial was necessary. I changed a couple of things. Firstly, trial number one was stitched with two strands of silk in the needle. I usually use two strands for foundations as it gives good coverage but on this sample it looks wrong. The flat silk I am using comes from a different supplier than the silk I've used before. My usual silk is 12 sugas thick, this silk is 16 sugas - a third heavier. For the second trial I used one strand of silk in the needle.
The second thing I changed was the direction of the stitches. On the first sample, the stitches seemed at odds with the wing. However, looking at the two samples together, I think the first stitches are in the right direction. They just look wrong because they are badly stitched and the 'line' is not consistent.
The stitching in the second sample is much better, but there is still room for improvement. I need to pay more attention to the 'line' and make sure it stays true, otherwise the stitches bunch together in some places and spread in others. I also need to pay more attention to the amount of overlap or alternatively, make it more random. As I want a natural flow from one shade of blue to the other, random may be the better option.
I was still having problems with tension because the muslin is so spongy in the hoop. The light was horrible again this evening. It may be the summer solstice but it is overcast and gloomy. Also the silk kept snagging and I am not sure why. I could be the muslin (normally I use a silk background), or it could be the silk itself. It seems to be very good quality, perhaps good quality silk snags more easily. I try to take great care of my hands. I use copious amounts of hand cream and they feel very soft and smooth. Even so, the silk kept catching on the ball of my thumb.
Yesterday, I was reading this article on saganishiki (Japanese silk & paper brocade) on the Wormspit website. Today SharonB has a link to this video stream about Jacquard Weaving on the V&A sight. I found them both fascinating.
I love coincidences. It may be wishful thinking, but I believe that a coincidence is a good omen. I had decided to start with the blue butterfly that represents my second brother. I always envisaged that the top wings would blend from one shade of blue to another and the best way I know of doing that is long and short stitch. By coincidence long and short stitch is the TAST stitch this week.
In Japanese Embroidery, long and short stitch is an advanced technique, taught at level VII. I am on level III. I have done long and short before but have not been completely satisfied with my efforts, but ... but I really want to do the top wings of this butterfly in long and short stitch.
I decided to do a trial before I attempt the real thing. I traced the design onto calico which I stretched into a hoop. I used that same flat silk that I will use for the final embroidery.
First, I could not get the calico sufficiently tight in the hoop (and it does make a difference). Second, I was really struggling with the light. I could not understand why. I had my spot light on and I have used that many times before. It was only when I started to pack up that I realised that this was the only light I had on, no wonder I was struggling.
I am not totally satisfied with this and certainly want the final piece to be much better than this. Also, I want an larger area of light blue at the inside edge of the wing, but this has given me an indication of how it could look and I am reasonably please with the trial. I will however, wait until the weekend so that I can stitch in daylight.
It seems to have taken me for ever, but I have finally finished transferring the design to the silk back ground. I really do not like preparation. I find it tedious and I want to get on with the "real" embroidery. However, this is the first time I have ever transferred a design by stitch and although it was really tedious, for once I think it was an important part of the process. While meticulously stitching along every line of the design I have had time to consider and contemplate how each element could be approached and I have come up with several ideas for each butterfly.
I have scanned the original design and printed out sheets of each butterfly to try out some of my thoughts before I begin stitching.
In Japanese embroidery, you stitch from top to bottom and from left to right. This is a practical approach, as you stitch with your right hand on top and your left hand below. Stitching top to bottom, left to right avoids your top (right) hand brushing against the completed embroidery and spoiling it.
Following these rules, I will start with either the butterfly that represents my Dad or the butterfly that represents my second brother. I think I will start with my second brother. This is the butterfly that I have the clearest idea of. I always joked that he was the "blue eyed boy", and blue is my Mum's favourite colour. His butterfly will be stitched in two shades of blue and will include black from my Dad's butterfly and Silver from my Mum's butterfly.
Here are the designs that I roughed out on paper. The silver looks like a pale lilac on these scans.
I may modify things whilst stitching, but this has helped me to form a basic idea of how the butterfly will be stitched.
I am currently transferring my Flutterbies onto the silk background. The design is printed onto tissue paper; I am stitching through that and the silk using Japanese running stitch. This is like running stitch except the stitch on the reverse side is very short so the stitches on the right side are almost continuous. On straight lines I use fairly long stitches but around the curves I am using shorter stitches to give a smooth curve. The process is fairly tedious but it is an effective way of transferring a design and if I decide to change any part of the design, the stitches can be removed without trace.