Reading Highlights 2018

Some time since I posted about what I have been reading. Years probably, so this post is a brief overview of some of the highlights from last year. Despite regularly New Year resolutions to broaden my reading, I always end up mainly reading crime novels. As well as exciting reads, good crime novels offer an insight into the social situation in wherever and whenever they are set. So first up are highlights from my crime reading. I start with new authors.

Jane Harper is an Australian writer and last year I read her first two novels. Both feature Federal Agent Aaron Falk. The Dry is set as the title suggests in the parched outback of Victoria state, while the second, Force of Nature is set in a rainy, thickly forested part of the state. Both are very good and the natural surroundings play an important part in the novels. The Dry definitely edges it for me. You can almost feel the heat and the drought. Jane Harper has now published a third novel, The Lost Man, this one set in rural Queensland, with different lead characters.

Cal Moriarty is an English writer. The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is her first novel. It is set in the early 1980s, somewhere in the south west of the USA. The novel is not just about solving a murder, but explores the going-ons within the mysterious religious group The Faith, which dominates the region.  Excellent and unusual story telling. The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is the first of a quartet of novels with the overarching title of Wonderland.

Jacqueline Winspear is an English author who has written an impressive 14 novels in her Maisie Dobbs series. Somehow I managed to read seven of them last year. I read numbers 11, 12 and 13 first and was sufficiently impressed to go back to the beginning. I have now read the first four in the series. Maisie Dodds is a private detective at a time when very few private detectives would have been women. Her first novel, Maisie Dobbs, starts in 1929 with her very first case. However her researches take her back to her childhood and to her work as a nurse in the First World War. This is a recurrent theme in these early novels. Though a murder has to be solved the cases all turn around something to do with the war and its aftermath. The more recent ones take us up to the late 1930s and are more about spying in the lead up to the start of the Second World War.  

Finally an unexpected and very pleasant surprise.  A new detective series set in Dundee, where I live. Great to read about places you know. Hania Allen is the author of this new series and the first novel is The Polish Detective. The title is not altogether surprising as Hania Allen’s parents are both Polish. Though she was born in Liverpool Hania lives in Fife and has lived in Scotland for most of her life. The Polish detective is DI Dania Gorska, who now works for Police Scotland in Dundee. She is plunged into the mystery of a series of brutal murders and the equally mysterious disappearance of two teenage girls. Looking forward to more of this series.

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Study in Black and Magenta

My first post for 2019 features my last project for 2018. At least it was meant to be finished in 2019, but with one thing and another the work continued into January.

img_5200For rather obvious reasons I have titled this piece Study in Black and Magenta. The inspiration for both the design and the colours come from a dress I saw someone wearing at a wedding reception in Switzerland. The reception was partly outdoors in the grounds of a restaurant which overlooks Lake Zurich. The dress was stunning I just knew that one day I would try to emulate the pattern in embroidery.

Finally got round to this last month. The fabric is a 28count Brittney from Zeigart. This is a cotton/rayon mixture which I use a lot, mainly for blackwork. I think this was my first go at Bargello with the fabric.

The design is a kind of free-form bargello, consisting of rows of vertical stitches, each with a count of six. The resulting pattern, though inspired by the “dress”, is mine. Usually I outline at least part of the pattern on the fabric in pencil.  This time I just started stitching and made the pattern up as I went along.

I started with the magenta colour, stitched a bit and then added in some black. Continued in this way for the lower half of the piece. I then completed all of the upper half in magenta as I was beginning to run out of this thread, and didn’t want to buy any more.

Two different threads were used for this project. The black is one strand of Appleton wool. I works pretty well on the Brittney and gives good cover on the fabric. The magenta is from the Rajmahal ArtSilk range. This is really primarily made of rayon with a bit of silk. It is called Purple Dusk. This range of threads is very bright and luscious. However I find it hard going to work with. Difficult to get the thread to lie down evenly. I used all six strands for this piece and even then an odd glimpse of the underlying fabric can be seen. Thankfully the fabric is in orchid and blends with the Purple Dusk.

The finished piece measures 9cmx14cm.  This is the nearest I could get to the proportions of the Golden Mean. Altogether I have spent 22 and a half hours working on this project. Slow work indeed. Now to figure out what to do with it!

Embroidery Tiles

This will be my last completed piece for 2018. At least the stitching is finished. My inspiration for this project was the beautiful world of ceramic tiles. I first became aware of their beauty and the skilled craftsmanship that goes with them while we lived in Catalunya. A treasure trove of ancient and modern tiles were to be found. A few, of the modern variety, now decorate our home.

One of the most charming aspects of ceramic tiles is the way that individual tiles can be placed together to make a larger composition. Sometimes this can be geometrical but often the tiles are designed to illustrate a scene or tell a story.

I would love to be able to create a ceramic tile, but the next best thing, for me at least, was to try and create one with embroidered fabric. The inspiration for my first go, was not Catalunya, but our very own Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I used a Mackintosh style tulip as the focus for the design. The rest of the design is my own.

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As you  can see I made four tiles in such a way that they would meet together to make a larger composition. The fabric is a very fine red linen. I ironed on a backing to give a bit of stability to the fabric and reduce the amount of stretching as I stitched. Unfortunately the backing fabric did not attach itself completely evenly. The result is that some air bubbles can be seen. One to iron out for future attempts.

To go with the red fabric I chose colours in the turquoise/acquamarine range for the embroidery. Silk, cotton and wool threads were used to provide a bit of texture. For the centre of each tulip I used a silk thread from Japan. Blueberry is the apt name for this lovely variegated thread from the Glissen Gloss Colorwash range. I used four strands for the long and short stitch.

The outer petals of the tulips are stitched in slanting satin stitch. I used two shades of DMC cotton for this – very light turquoise and light blue green. Two strands of the thread was used for the stitching. The base of each tulip is filled with seeding stitch.  I used two shades of another silk thread for this – Soie d’Alger from France.  Two strands in either pale blue or dark green. The tulips are finished off with a stem stitch outline with a single strand of black cotton.

One corner of each tile is embroidered, so that the four can meet and make a single pattern. In this case triangles – one full and two half triangles for each corner. The very edge of the tile is a quadrant which is meant to turn into a circle when all are put together. Another variegated silk thread from Glissen Gloss – crystal bay – was used for the triangles. I used a simple satin stitch with four strands. The seeding in the quadrants is stitched with the same silk thread. As with the tulips the corners are finished off with a stem stitch outline in a single strand of black cotton.

Though each tile is a separate piece of embroidery, I wanted the four pieces to come together as a single composition. I have tried to achieve this unity by using the stalk of each tulip to wind its way round the outside of each tile. For the stalks I used two strands of Fine d’Aubusson wool from France. The broad chain stitch is finished off on one side only, with a stem stitch outline in a single strand of green cotton.

The stitching for this was all done on one piece of fabric. When finished I had to cut out each square and then attach each one to a solid board so that each piece would look like a tile. Easier said than done! I almost made a complete mess of this part. First off when I started to cut the fabric I forgot to leave a margin on one side of two of the squares. I recovered in time to not repeat this mistake with the other sides, thank goodness. However I realised that I had not left enough of a margin on each side.

This meant that when I came to glueing the fabric to the boards there was very little leeway to ensure that the board was completely covered by the fabric. With two sides there was of course no leeway at all. To try and cover for my mistake I have painted that side of the board with red paint.  Just about works!

The final piece of the jigsaw is to glue each tile onto another solid board. I have still to decide which background colour – black or white – to use. I posted some photos on Instagram and Facebook and most of the replies were in favour of a black background. Black does look good, but in the photos the black is a bit hazy, which is why the photo above has a white background.

Some lessons for the future. Each square is meant to be 10cmx10cm. Once again I found it impossible to mark this out completely accurately on the fabric. Need to improve my competence in drawing on fabric.  The board I have used to turn the embroidery into a tile is on the thin side. I will need to use a thicker board next time.

This was a fun project to work on. I will definitely be stitching more tiles next year. I am particularly interested in some of exquisite Islamic tiles from Iran, Syria and Turkey. I saw some wonderful examples in the Gulbenkian museum in Lisbon last year. They will be my inspiration for more tile embroidery in 2019.

Two that got away

This is a cautionary tale, suitable perhaps for this time of the year. Oh, how easy it is get things wrong, very wrong. Exhibit One.IMG_8478This, or a similar combination of three pomegranate motifs is one I have used twice before. So it should have been easy peasy to repeat for the third time. But, alas, no! Each pomegranate is supposed to be equidistant from the other two. However you can see quite clearly that the gap on the upper right is almost twice as large as the other two. Horror!

What made it all the worse is that I did not notice this error until I had finished stitching. How dumb can you get! Apart from this, I rather liked the work – the stitches and the colour combination.  Moral of the tale – check and then recheck your design, before starting to stitch!

Exhibit TwoIMG_7704This one should have been even easier – just five concentric circles. But no, you can’t rely on anything being easy. Despite possessing a good compass, I was clearly unable to draw five simple circles onto the fabric.  The inner circle is just about OK. Thereafter they get more and more skewed. It should not be that difficult to draw circles on fabric. It seems to be for me though.

At least this time I recognised my error right away. Nevertheless I decided to finish the piece as it was a bit of an experiment anyway.  To use different shades of the same colour as the fabric. With five different threads and five different stitches. That part worked not too bad. Definitely worth doing again, correctly this time.

I have decided to keep both pieces, as reminders of how easy it is to get things wrong. All before any stitching. I also have two New Year’s resolutions. 1. Must check each design before stitching. 2. Learn how to draw accurately circles on fabric.  Can’t be that difficult?

Happy, error free stitching!

Five Easy Pieces – Series 2

I received a gentle reminder recently from a follower of the blog that I had not been posting much. To my surprise I checked and discovered that my last post was way back in August. Not good, however I have been busy at work with embroidery. Just not posting. I put photos of my work on Instagram and if you use this app, you can see them by checking out @rutherfordalister.

While Instagram is a great tool for sharing there is a lot to be said for keeping up a blog. I find that writing about my work is good for me, as it encourages me to keep a record of what I have done and more importantly to reflect on my work. So it is back to blogging.

From late summer through autumn much of my work was devoted to Series 2 of Five Easy Pieces. This all started way back in late 2009 when out of nothing in particular I made a geometric design  – a square with five sections with a diamond in the centre. Each section was stitched with a different Bargello pattern. As the stitching was relatively simple and was made up of five sections,  I called the finished work Five Easy Pieces. This was my minor honouring of the great Jack Nicholson film of the same name.

At the time I had no plan in mind, but I liked the finished piece and over the following year I completed five more in same vein. All with five sections and all stitched with Bargello patterns.

This summer, nearly nine years later I decided it was time to repeat the exercise.  This time there was a bit of planning involved. Once again there would be five pieces and each one would be made up of five sections. However this time each piece would fit into a hoop frame. The patterns would once again be Bargello, but with a definite contrast of colours.

Two of the hoops are 20cm, while the other three are 17.5cm. Plain wooden hoops, nothing fancy and fairly cheap. The fabric is a 18ct Aida canvas.  I used a wide range of threads for this series, though DMC cotton was the most used. While the hoops were circular, only two of the pieces have circles for the outer rim. The various patterns come from embroidery books on my shelf.  All except two, which I found on the Bargello Needlepoint website. Here are the five easy pieces.

No 1IMG_8506

One of the 20cm hoops, this piece has and outer and an inner circle with four quadrants. Mostly stitched with three strands of DMC cotton, with Anchor cotton for the inner circle.  This was stitched in greens to provide a contrast with the purples and pinks of the outer sections.

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The only piece to be stitched on a pale yellow canvas, the first of the 17.5cm hoops. A diamond shape was used for both the outer and the inner sections. Paternayan wool was used throughout this piece, one strand only. Yellows and orange in the centre provide the contrast to the blues and purples in the outer sections. The way the finished work was fitted into the hoop gives a slightly different look to the Bargello patterns.

No3IMG_8348

This is the most unusual of the five pieces. Instead of four different Bargello patterns for the outer sections, I have used just one. An adaptation of a four-way pattern from Dorothy Kaestner’s Four Way Bargello book. The finish is very different from the other four pieces. The outer rim is a circle and the centre is a small octagon. For the four-way pattern I used Anchor Pear Cotton No 5, in greens and purples. The octagon was stitched with six strands of Rajmahal ArtSilk thread in blues.

No4IMG_8507

I used a slightly different green fabric for this piece. Instead of circles I went for a hexagon for both the outer and the inner rim. For the colour scheme I decided on some colours that I use very rarely. No point in them sitting in boxes forever. So the outer sections are in red coppers and old gold threads. Three strands of DMC cotton. The central section is in black and greys. Two strands of Appleton wool. Quite like this colour combination.

No5IMG_8434For the final piece I went back to a 20cm hoop, with the pale green fabric. This has an outer octagonal rim and a circle in the centre.  Cotton threads for the outer sections, mainly DMC cotton with some Anchor threads. For the centre I used one strand of French wool – Fine d’Aubusson. The reds in the centre contrast sharply with the light blues and aquamarines of the outer sections.

All in all I am quite pleased with this second series of Bargello medleys. Quite an effort trying not to repeat any of the patterns, but I just about managed. I may do another series sometime in the future, but probably not with Bargello patterns.

Another Brigid’s Octomino

This has become one of my favourite subjects for embroidery since I was first told about it some years ago. It is an example of a similarity tiling. They make lovely patterns for any type of embroidery. I usually use a cushion stitch as squares are probably the basis of most tilings. This time though I wanted to experiment a bit and decided to use a different stitch. Lozenge stitch was the one chosen and it results in a very unusual octomino.IMG_8010The lozenge stitch makes an elongated rhombus, which results in a very elongated octomino. There are eight octominos in the complete composition. To highlight them I have used two different threads.

One is a bright single strand red in silk from the Debbie Bliss range. Made in Romania the threads are primarily for knitting, but I love the soft feel of them and use them sparingly in my embroidery.

The other is a variegated pima cotton from the Caron Watercolours range. I chose Tequila Sunrise to go with the red.

The fabric is a 16 count Aida in white. The work is fairly easy and the stitching was completed in just under five hours. Using quite thick threads means the surface has as raised look to it.

I have temporarily put the finished piece in an oval hoop. It is a woodgrain flexi hoop and I found it almost impossible to get the finished work to fit into the hoop. I did succeed, but the piece is not centred. Not sure how one is meant to achieve this. Anyway it looks OK, so I will leave it around for a few days before deciding what to do. I like the oval shape, but it is a bit too awkward to use, so not sure if I will buy any more.

Happy stitching!

Three Orchid Petals

My latest hand embroidery piece is now finished. It hangs in an circular hoop. The outline for the piece is more or less the same as for an earlier piece – Out of Mexico.  I liked the basic shape and the idea of keeping the finished piece in the hoop frame. Here is the finished work. IMG_7997

As with the previous piece I have used various Blackwork patterns. The fabric is a 28 count Brittney in Orchid, quite appropriate for the subject matter. The outline of the petals I took from a design in the book Bargello Magic by Pauline Fischer and Anabel Lasker. Here it forms the basis for a Blackwork composition.

The blue outline is stitched in heavy chain stitch with Appleton two ply wool. The outline of the petals is a simple stem stitch in light pink from au ver à soie’s Soie d’Alger collection. The colour almost merges with the colour of the fabric.

The inside of the petals I split into two parts, for no particular reason, I have to say. Both parts are filled with two contrasting patterns with more threads from au ver à soie’s Soie d’Alger collection. A deep purple and the stitching varied from one, two to three strands of the silk.

For the background I used another of my Glissen Gloss Colorwash silk threads. A variegated blue, called Blueberry. The pattern is a medium dense pattern and four of the twelve strands was used throughout.

The cord for hanging was braided on a Kimihimo board, with two shades of perle cotton blues from the DMC range.

All in all I am quite pleased with the result. I like working with hoops and using them to show the work off. So much so that I have ordered a few more hoops. You can expect to see some more work in hoops. Not always Blackwork though, at least I hope not.