Saturday, 29 March 2008

February TIF - Finished

Please don't tell anyone how much fun I had stitching the final part of this design. If 'they' get to know, I'm sure they will make it illegal.

I wanted an entirely different texture on this part. Again I wanted to show movement but this time a rolling movement. I didn't want any straight lines so the little button hole and chain stitch that I used was free form, following the curved outline. Mostly I have used buttonhole wheels and whipped or woven spider's wheels with French knots and bullion knots to fill some of the spaces.

So I just started randomly placing wheels.

And added more.

And continued adding wheels and knots until I filled the entire shape.

On October 30, 1961 the USSR tested the Tzar Bomb on the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago. It was not the first H-bomb test nor the last, but it was the biggest most powerful nuclear device ever detonated.

As I was only one month old, I obviously don't remember it but the spectre of nuclear war hung over my childhood like the enormous mushroom clouds that resulted from the tests.

I find it rather poignant that such a potent and strangely beautiful image is the result of something so disgustingly evil.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Front to Back, or Back to Front

In a comment, Bonfieldjane asked why Japanese embroidery stitches the foreground elements first when most other embroidery techniques stitch the foreground elements last.

In Japanese embroidery the elements of a motif, such as the petals of a flower, and individual elements are defined by leaving a small gap between the stitching. This is called a one-point open space and is one of the things I find most difficult to control. The gap should be big enough that the shapes are clearly defined but not so large that they look clumsy.

The upper elements determine the shape of those behind them, not the other way around so it makes sense to stitch them first. This is particularly so with heavily padded embroidery. In the picture below the uppermost petals have been padded and stitched, they determine the placement of the padding for the next layer of petals.

The stitching on these petals fits around the (hopefully) perfectly shaped top petals.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule and I will learn about those in later Phases. If you can't wait 5 years (at my current rate of progress) for me to reach Phase IX, you can read why Jane is stitching back-to-front in this post.

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Karahana, Petal Turnover

Many years ago, I saw a gold work sampler on display in a local embroidery shop. I was very taken with it, particularly one technique that I dubbed 'wave effect'. The first time I saw Karahana, I recognised the 'wave effect' on the petal turnovers. In Japanese Embroidery it is known as box couching.

It is usual to stitch the decorative outline of a shape last, to neaten and define the edges. Unusually the turnover on the petal is outlined with two pairs of #4 gold, couched round and round before the shape is filled with box couching. A grid of guidelines is then stitched before the padding is worked. The padding is strands of padding cotton, that are couched with very close stitches to form a firm, smooth support for the gold.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The couching method used is called 'single strand, to and fro'. A single strand of #4 gold is stitched into place at one side of the shape and then laid across the shape at right angles to the padding. It is then secured with a stitch at the other end before being bent back on itself to form a pair of threads. These are couched as a pair, working back from the second stitch towards the first stitch.

To form the box pattern, the gold is only couched after every second row of padding, so that the thread is raised over a pair of padded rows and a valley is created between the pairs. This is repeated for several rows, couching into the same valley, after which, the couching stitches are made between the original pair for the same number of rows.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

The valleys continue alternating in this way until the shape is filled.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Phase IV – Karahana

Phase IV is designed to teach the student how to work with metallic threads. Japanese metallic threads consist of a very narrow strip of paper with a metallic coating, wound around a silk core. The threads come in a variety of thicknesses, determined by the thickness of the silk core, and metallic finishes including imitation metals and real precious metals.

The weight of the threads are described by numbers #1, #2 etc. The higher the number, the heavier the thread. #1 and #2 are fine enough to stitch with but the heavier threads are couched onto the surface of the fabric.

On Karahana, I will be using three weights, #1, #3 and #4 real gold and #1 twisted real gold. I have chosen to work with real gold, rather than imitation gold because it is said to be easier to work with.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

As always the foremost elements are stitched first, so the six raised elements in the centre of the flower are the starting point on this design. Starting with the foremost segment, each is padded and stitched before starting the next one. I have used 3 layers of padding cotton, then one layer of orange silk, starting with small stitches in the centre and making each subsequent layer slightly larger. I am aiming to create a smoothly rounded shape over which I will stitch a horizontal layer using #1 gold.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

When all six segments are complete, they are outlined as one piece with a couched pair of #4 gold.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Padding is fast becoming a favourite technique of mine, I love the extra dimension that it gives to the embroidery.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Friday, 21 March 2008

Stitching in Bournemouth

If you have never been away on a residential course or stitching retreat, I can tell you that you are missing out on a wonderful experience. The first time I went to Bournemouth for a Japanese Embroidery course I was so nervous and full of self doubt – my stitching wouldn’t be good enough; others would laugh at my efforts; they would be a well established group and not welcome newbies. Of course all of these fears were totally unfounded – it was a well established group but they made me and the two other newbies feel totally welcome; not only did they not laugh at my efforts but were supportive and encouraging; and while I still have tinges of doubt about the quality of my stitching, I am learning to view my ability in a different way. Firstly, I try not to expect myself to be perfect at my first (second, third …) attempt at a new technique (that’s not easy for a Virgo). Secondly, I have come to realise that above all I love doing the embroidery. While I still want my stitching to be the best I am capable of, I no longer (well rarely) spoil my enjoyment of actually stitching by striving to reach a level that I may not be able to achieve yet.

This year I returned to Bournemouth for my fourth course. I still get very excited about going. I look forward to seeing friends from previous classes and the prospect of making new ones. This is a five-day residential course, so there is no cooking, cleaning or washing to attend to, just stitching, stitching and more stitching.

Japanese embroidery is taught through a series of Phase pieces, each designed to teach a different group of techniques. As the class is mixed and students are working on different Phases, tutorials are given one to one or in small groups. Typically the tutor will demonstrate a new technique then give you the opportunity to practice it for yourself. It is comforting to have the tutors on hand if you don’t grasp the method at your first attempt. During the week you learn and practice all the new techniques required by the piece.

Phases I – III concentrate on the basic techniques of silk embroidery. Phase IV, the piece that I began at this year’s class, is all about gold work and I will be working on a design called Karahana – Gold Flower. I think that I will enjoy this Phase (I’ve enjoyed I – III immensely) because I am partial to couching. By the end of this Phase I expect to be totally cured or totally wedded to the technique for ever more.

Whether you are looking to learn a new style of embroidery, or wanting to spend time practicing your favourite discipline, I whole heartedly recommend that you attend either a residential course or a stitching retreat, if at all possible. All stitching time is valuable but when you can do it in the company of like-minded stitchers, and share tips and experiences, the benefits are immeasurable.

Happy stitching

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

February TIF - Stitching 2

I had such fun stitching a small part of the main motif yesterday evening.

I wanted the background to be totally flat and the foreground to be slightly textured. The main part of the motif I hope to make more textured but this part needed movement and direction. In an effort to show that I have used linear stitches: back stitch, stem stitch and chain stitch mainly. However, I did not want a stripy effect, so I mixed up segments of each stitch in various lengths, then I started whipping and wrapping the foundation stitches, again varying the colours and techniques. I also used Pekinese stitch in places to vary the texture.

Looking at the enlarged picture, I can see that there are still some lines of solid colour, so I may go back into these with more stitching, but overall I am very pleased with how it looks.

I am so excited that I have done something so random and spontaneous. Now I can’t wait to get started on the main area of the motif and try out some of the ideas I have for creating the texture I am looking for there.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 16 March 2008

February TIF - Stitching 1

I barely managed any work on my February TIF for three weeks. First I took a week out with my injured thumb, then although I took it with me to Marrakech I didn’t get much done. I could have done some in the evenings except that the lighting in our hotel room was not bright enough for me to stitch by. It was probably a good thing as it meant that I completely rested my hand for the week before my Japanese Embroidery.

Again, I took it to Bournemouth thinking that I might want to work on it in the evenings but I was so enjoying my Phase IV that I worked on that as much as possible.

As I said in an earlier post, there are nearly 1500 cross stitches in the background. I’ve done a little bit here and a little bit there and finally completed them.

Next, I worked on the foreground. I’ve experimented with pulled thread work here to create a completely different texture and feeling from the background. This is the first time I have done any pulled thread work and I really like it. I think I will have to try more of that in the future.

So now that background and foreground are complete. I think that I have achieved what I wanted to with the darkest blue fading into the lightest and a completely different look to the foreground.

Now I can start work on the main motif.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A Week in Marrakech

After two and a half weeks of 'holiday' I am finding it a little difficult to settle back into real life!

Marrakech was everything that I hoped it would be: vibrant, colourful and exciting. Twenty plus years ago I took a holiday in Tunisia with a friend. I found that very exciting but as we were two young and fairly inexperienced travellers we were very careful about where we went and what we did. I always felt that I had missed out and hoped to return some day, if not to Tunisia then to North Africa. Morocco is only a short distance from Southern Europe but it is a world apart. The buildings, the people, the very fabric of life, are different.

We stayed in a lovely, traditionally decorated hotel in an area that is being heavily redeveloped and modernised. I was much more interested in the old walled town. The pulsating heart of the Medina is the Djamaa el Fna Square. By day it belongs to the tourists eager to have their photographs take with snake charmers or water sellers. Come late afternoon or early evening local men fill the square, crowding around story tellers and entertainers before they settle down at one of the many 'restaurants' that set up in the centre of the square for an evening meal of tagine and couscous. This water seller was very keen to show me his embroidered coat and leather pouch studded with multi-national coins. I told him that I had no money but he insisted I take his photograph. I knew that he didn’t believe me about the money (I was telling the truth, J had wandered off into the crowd with all our money!) but he smiled and said it didn’t matter. Every time we passed through the square after that I search for him but it wasn’t until our last day that I finally spotted him and was able to give him some money. He seemed very pleased and surprised that I had remembered him.

The souks are a shopper's paradise. If you can buy it here you really don’t need it! The maze of alleyways is filled with more sights, sounds and aromas than the senses can deal with. Whether 'window-shopping' or on a serious shopping spree, there is enough here to keep a shopaholic happy for days. If you are prepared to barter then there are plenty of bargains to be had.

The peace and tranquillity within the Palaces is in sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of the narrow, congested streets outside. The marbled rooms and lushly planted courtyards offer cool relief from even the relatively mild heat of early spring.

One thing that surprised me greatly was how verdant the city is. Marrakech is full of gardens and in addition the streets are lined with trees, mainly ornamental oranges that bear blossom and fruit at the same time. I had expected a much more arid landscape.

The local people are good looking, with interesting faces, especially the older residents (I love old faces) unfortunately they are reluctant to be photographed. I usually try to respect people’s wishes in these matters and mostly asked before taking anyone's picture. Some refused to be photographed, some gave permission and others agreed if you were willing to pay for the privilege. Once or twice I forgot myself, and quickly snapped a scene that caught my eye without the sitters consent.

I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday and have come away with a good impression of Marrakech. The people were warm and friendly and the city was fascinating.

Links on another blog lead me to this site that has lots more pictures and tales of life in Marrakech.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Do you know this Stitch?

Just checking in between my holiday in Marrakesh and my Japanese embroidery class (sometimes life is sweet!).

I've had a busy few days catching up at work and home so forgive me a brief blog.

Does anyone recognise these stitches found on a teapot cover/holder.

The edging appears to be a form of button hole. I think it is done as a single stitch rather than a whipped buttonhole.

The knots appear to to be made independently and then stitched to the pot holder. These same knots are used as buttons on the sleeves and necklines of kaftans.

This sampler was on display in one of the Palaces (I am amazed that photography was permitted). This was the best photo that I could manage because of the reflection in the glass.

Ok, so I am off to Bournemouth for a week of stitching with like minded ladies, can you think of a better thing to be doing in early March?

Happy Stitching