I have only recently realised that last year was my tenth anniversary of my re-encounter with embroidery. I say re-encounter, since I did some embroidery at primary school. But in reality I only seriously started embroidery as a regular activity in 2008. So this post will feature one piece from each of the past ten years. All my embroidery is hand stitched.
2008This was my first significant piece and appropriately for a beginner it was a kind of sampler. I bought some penelope canvass and a selection of Anchor wool and off I went. Nothing fancy though the harmony and symmetry have remained a key feature of almost all of my work.
2009By 2009 I had discovered the world of Bargello embroidery and have remained an enthusiastic practitioner every since. The piece above is my transfer to embroidery of the tile pattern on the cupola of the Chiesa Madre in Francavilla Fontana in Puglia in Italy. This is the hometown of Alessio’s paternal grandmother. We visited Puglia on holiday in 2008 when Alessio was just two years old. So many memories, but this tile pattern seemed just right for adaptation to embroidery. Stitched on the same canvass as the first piece, again with Anchor wool threads. The colours are as close as I could get to the original on the church. I have since repeated this piece and given it to Pompeia, Alessio’s nonna.
20102010 would see the 40th birthday of our elder daughter Emma, Alessio’s mum. For her birthday I wanted to do a special embroidery piece. I was well into my Bargello phase so it had to be a bargello design. Emma chose the colour scheme and left it to me to work out a design. Again you can see my penchant for symmetry and balance. Stitched on an Aida 18ct fabric with DMC cotton threads.
2011This piece was something completely new for me. The design is known as Brigid’s Octomino. This is a fractal based on recursive replacements of octominos (eight squares) in a self-similar octomino pattern — a discrete similarity tiling. I was introduced to this pattern by Luca, Emma’s brother-in-law. The pattern seemed perfect for embroidery. The basic eight squares can be extended ad infinitum. Each enlargement retains the basic octomino shape. The piece above has just eight octominos. Stitched in a simple cushion stitch on bright red 18ct Aida fabric with DMC cotton threads. I presented the finished piece to Luca as a reward for his inspiration. Since then I have completed a few more of these designs.
2012During these early years of my excursions into the world of embroidery, I soon discovered traditional Palestinian embroidery. As a committed supporter of justice for Palestine, I was delighted to add this type of embroidery to my repertoire. In Palestine, the patterns or motifs as they are known, were originally used exclusively to decorate women’s clothing. Nowadays the motifs have a life of their own, away from dresses. The above piece was one of my first compositions using traditional Palestinian motifs. I used an 18ct Aida in black and DMC cotton threads. Black fabric and bright colours is a traditional feature of Palestinian embroidery. Cross stitch was used throughout.
2013This piece is an example of the versatility of Bargello patterns. I am a great fan of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret Macdonald. For some time I wanted to include a variation on the rose designs in an embroidery piece. This particular piece is I think my third version. Using a triptych frame meant I could include three slightly different rose designs. To complement the sharpness and bright colours of the roses, I decided to use some simple bargello patterns in a complementary colour scheme. Stitched on another 18ct Aida light grey fabric with DMC cotton threads. Apart from the border and stems of the roses which are stitched in a metallic sliver thread. This piece formed part of our wedding gift to our niece, Helen. Happily we discovered later that Helen is also a fan of Mackintoshs’ work.
2014During 2013 I was involved in the Great Tapestry of Scotland project. This was a wonderful experience and introduced me to another type of embroidery – tapestry or crewel embroidery. I was keen to continue experimenting with this type of work and in 2014 I embarked on, for me, the rather audacious attempt to represent an owl in embroidery. To make the finished piece a more complete composition I surrounded the owl with various flowers. DMC cotton and Appleton wool threads were used for the work. A wide range of crewel stitches make up the piece. Owls are a favourite of our younger daughter, Elena, so this piece was designed as a Christmas present for her.
2015This piece is a more traditional crewel embroidery work. At least as far as the stitches go. The inspiration for this work though is Indian. The tulips and other flower shapes are all based on a wonderful Indian tapestry on display in the V&A museum in London. A natural coloured fabric was the base for the embroidery. Most of the work is stitched with two kinds of silk threads – Soie d’Alger from the Au ver à soie collection and variegated silk threads from the Glissen Gloss Colorwash Japanese collection. This piece now hangs in Emma’s living room.
2016In 2015 I attended an introductory course on Blackwork embroidery. I immediately took to this type of embroidery and it soon became a regular feature of my work. The above piece features five different Blackwork patterns. As you can see there is no black to be seen. Though originally stitched in black on white, any colours can be used, but it is still usually referred to as Blackwork. The composition for this piece comes from a series of prints we saw in the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen. Each feature a number of rectangles, some left blank and the rest painted in pastel shades. I liked the composition and have used it a number of times. Stitched on a 32ct Murano fabric with the same two silk threads as in the previous piece from 2015.
2017This piece shows how Blackwork patterns can be used to represent something in nature. Here it is my rendering of a Scottish crossbill. The fabric is a 28ct Brittney in green, which contrasts nicely with the reds and creams of the crossbill. For the body of the bird I used only one thread – a variegated silk from the Glissen Gloss Colorwash range. This silk has 12 strands so I could use a variety of thicknesses to get the desired effect. The branch and beak are stitched with wool threads.
2018This final piece from last year is in many ways my most pleasing. It represents a landscape from South Uist and is based on a photo I took while we were on holiday there in 2017. So much wonderful scenery that I felt I had to try and capture one on canvass. The above is the one I chose and again it was quite a challenge. Very much out of my comfort zone! I painted some of the fabric, added on bits of garden cane and bits of felt. The stitched bits are just made up as I went along, with cotton and wool threads. Not at all what I am used to as embroidery. Still I persevered and I am very pleased with the outcome. It is now framed and I just have to figure out where to hang it.
Here endeth the first ten years. I just hope I can manage another ten! Happy stitching.