Roman Rose

This is another piece to feature one of the traditional Palestinian motifs. This one is known as Roman Rose, and this particular design comes from Margarita Skinner’s book – Palestinian Embroidery Motifs, A treasury of stitches 1850 -1950. I have used many of the designs in this wonderful book, but this is the first time I have used Roman Rose.

The fabric is a 14 ct Aida in pale blue. It is a bit of a left over from a previous piece. The threads are all DMC pearl cotton No 8. I worked with two colours, lavender and rose, with two shades for each main colour. The idea was to have at least two colours for each rose, which I think works quite well.

The stitched area is just 23cmX5.5cm and I have finished it off as a wall hanging.

2020 – a year of stitching

I haven’t posted a review of a year for some time, but 2020 was a bit unusual, so perhaps worth recording for posterity!

Looking back over the last 12 years, since I started embroidering regularly, I discover that there is a remarkable consistency in the amount of projects I complete in a year. I tend to manage around 23 projects each year, with the occasional outlier. Last year was one of these, as I completed a grand total of 28 projects. This number is a bit deceiving, as no less than seven of these were very simple projects. Work that took 10 hours or less.

I also noticed that there were only four projects that took up more than 30 hours of stitching. Most of them were around the 35 hour mark, with just one biggy – 59 hours. This is quite consistent with recent years. Further back I would regularly do more projects that took up more stitching hours. Must be getting lazy, or just older!

As regards the projects themselves, all were in one or other of my four regular styles of embroidery – Bargello, Blackwork, Surface embroidery and traditional Palestinian embroidery. The largest number was in surface embroidery, though most of these were very simple pieces – Christmas ornaments or something to go on a Christmas card. Orkney standing stones was a more substantial piece, as was this flower, part of a decoration for a jewel box.

Bargello has always been a staple of my embroidery and last year I managed seven projects. Nothing particularly stand out, though I did make a start on series three of My Five Easy Pieces collection.

I also completed seven Blackwork projects, though one was to finish off a colour wheel which I started in 2019. The projects included a number of small squares which were designed to fit into little square mounts.

Traditional Palestinian embroidery is another staple of my embroidery. Last year I managed five pieces. They included a particular favourite, which features old keys, a recurrent symbol in Palestine, to highlight the Right of Return campaigns.

Coronavirus was a most unwelcome irruption in 2020, one which alas, is still with us. However lots of artists rose to the challenge of helping people survive with some hope for the future. Many offered their work for free. I took advantage of two of these free offerings. The first was a lovely drawing from Suzanne Scott who trades as WhimSicAL LusH. Though primarily for artists I used the drawing as inspiration for blackwork embroidery.

The second freebie, was this wonderful Palestinian design by Jordan Nassar. This was made available by the Mosaic Rooms in London as part of a project aimed at encouraging people to experiment with traditional Palestinian embroidery. 

Finally, and possibly for the one and only time, I went and bought an embroidery design! The Lotus Flower is a lovely design by French embroiderer Pauline Texidor. For the princely sum of €10.00 you can download the design with very helpful instructions. As your typical mean Fifer, this was an outrageous expense!

I have made a start on my first project for 2020 – another piece using traditional Palestinian motifs. This one is based on Rose buds.

Happy New Year wishes to one and all.

Rose Buds in Blue

I have just finished stitching my latest project – Rose Buds in Blue. This is another piece inspired by the work of Jordan Nasser. It features a single traditional Palestinian embroidery motif. IMG_8830The motif is Rose buds, though it is in some places known as orange blossom or airy fairy. I think rose buds is the original. The idea is to work a single motif in different colours. In this piece I used four different shades of blue. All are from the DMC cotton range and two strands were used for the cross stitches.

When designing this piece I had a clear idea in mind.  The overall composition involved diamonds and squares. Starting with a diamond shape in the centre and gradually expanding outwards with a square, another diamond and the final square. This is what the composition looked like before I started stitching. IMG_8755You can clearly see the outlines of the diamonds and the squares. Alas the finished piece is not so clearly defined. The rose buds motif does not lend itself to neat edges. Also the two inner shades of blue are quite similar and do not contrast very well. Still, enough shows to give an impression of the shapes behind.

For my next major project I hope to try some gold work, but at the moment I am still in the cogitating stage – ie I haven’t a clue as to what design I want. In the meantime I am continuing with pieces that involve various shades of the one colour. This time using a blackwork pattern.

And now for something completely different

I have just started work on a new project. Not sure if it counts as embroidery proper, though it does involve a needle and threads. The aim is to make a three dimensional object. In my case I hope to end up with something resembling a bowl. Here it is after two hours concentrated work.6EE7992C-D70B-4589-8BE5-0B4BC943F67CIt currently looks a bit of a mess or rather a complete mess! Still most of the time was spent getting the base ready. To start you need a polythene bag filled with rice. You then wrap sticky tape all round the bag shaping it as you go to end up with something approaching the bowl like object you had in mind. Not an easy task! Next up is to wrap thread round the base in all directions to make a stable and evenly distributed mesh. Definitely did not achieve this.  But you go with what you have. Most of what you see in the photo is the mesh.

Once the base is complete you then begin to turn the mesh into a three dimensional object. This is achieved by wrapping other threads round bits of the mesh, pulling as many mesh threads together as you want. Gradually you should end up with an open structure, with bits of the sticky tape on the base showing through.

I don’t have any plan in mind for this project. I’ll just work my way up, down and along the base as the moment takes me. So far I am working with four different coloured threads, all Shetland wool. Not sure I have enough wool to complete the piece, so may have to use some other wool threads.

I got started on this piece at a Guild workshop on three dimensional thread work which was led by one of our branch members here in Dundee. Anita Hutchison was an excellent tutor and all the materials were supplied.

I suspect this will be a long term project as I intend to work on this on an on and off basis. It is quite hard work pulling the threads in the mesh together and getting the other threads wrapped round. So a few hours each week may be enough to going on with.

I will regularly post an update of my progress on my Instagram account – rutherfordalister.

My reading challenges for 2019

These are my personal challenges for this year, as opposed to any organised ones. Basically the challenge is to broaden my reading away from my current reliance  on crime fiction.

To this end I have set myself two challenges. The first to read at least one non fiction book each month. The second is to read at least one general fiction novel each month. An additional challenge is to read one book in another language each month. This could be in any genre.

I have set similar targets before, so there is no reason to think I will succeed this year. However at least I have made a good start for January and February.

The first non fiction book was Mary, Queen of Scots, by John Guy. I wrote about this history here. The other non fiction was Inside Russian Politics by Edwin Bacon . This is an excellent and balanced introduction to modern Russia. A good counterweight to the pervasive anti Russia narrative of the media.

The two general fiction novels Were The House Girl and Efuru. The House Girl by Tara Conkin is set in modern New York and 1850s Virginia. The story of an escaped slave and a lawyer eventually link together. I listened to this novel in its audio version.

Efuru is the first published novel by a female African writer. Flora Nwapa an Igbo from Nigeria writes about the life and plights of a village woman in colonial times. All from the perspective of the woman. Flora Nwapa was an inspiration for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, though Nwapa’s writing is a world away from Adichie’s.

I also managed to read two Spanish language books. In January I read Las Palomas de la Boquería by Jordi Basté and Marc Artigau. A new case for detective Albert Martínez who has to solve the mystery of the woman found murdered in the market by the Ramblas in Barcelona.

The other book in Spanish was Los Casos de Comisario Croce by Argentinian author Ricardo Piglia. Piglia writes in a range of genres including occasionally crime novels. This one is a collection of short stories, the cases of the title, featuring comisario Croce who is base on the coast of provincial Buenos Aires. Set mainly in the 1950s all provide a fascinating insight into the Argentina of that period.

Now to keep up the good work!

South Uist Landscape

This is definitely one of my embroidery highlights from last year. Something very much out of my comfort zone of bargello or blackwork. Trying to recreate a complex landscape is not my scene as it were. It all started in August 2017 when I was on holiday in the Western Isles. We had a wonderful time and the scenery was spectacular. Once home I was keen to try and render one of the views in embroidery. So many to choose form, but the one I hit on was this one from Lochcarnan in the north of South Uist.

img_6097 (1)I have never tried anything like this before, but with the assistance of Jane, the tutor at the embroidery group I attend, I was determined to give it a go. After lots of procrastination I finally got started sometime in March last year. I say sometime, as most unusual for me, I have not kept an accurate record of my work on this project. Anyway I started by painting the top third or so of the fabric in blue as the basis for the sky. The rest was painted in a yellowy green for the base for the field and grasses.

The lower part of the design I worked separately on a rough green fabric. This included the grasses at the bottom. Once I had finished stitching this section I simply glued this fabric to the base fabric. For the rivulet and the inlet I cut out the shape from an old silk painting we had bought in France some 30+ years ago. Never throw anything out! This was then partly glued and partly stitched on to the fabrics.

The rest of the composition is made up of various threads, mainly cotton and wool, felt, bits of other fabric, cane and metallic thread. The latter two were for the fence. I split short bits of garden cane and the sections are held in place with fabric at the bottom of each cane bit. Here is the finished piece.img_8542The sky is a bit bluer than appears in this photo. As you can see I have used a variety of stitches in the piece. I have deliberately kept a chunk of the fabric stitch free as I felt that to overload the piece would be counter productive. Less is more as they say!

All in all I am quite pleased with the outcome, worth all the sweat and tears. I may try something similar again, but not sure I could do more than one per year. Perhaps something smaller.  The finished piece is with my framer so I still have something to look forward to.  Happy stitching!

Why we need another independence referendum in Scotland.

Yesterday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made her much anticipated announcement that she intends to hold another referendum on independence in either autumn 2018 or early spring 2019. I don’t normally write about politics on this blog, but I thought some readers from outwith Scotland may like to hear my views on why this referendum is necessary.

I am in favour of independence for Scotland, but this post is not about that. If you are interested in my views on independence here are a couple of posts, here and here, which sum up my position.

This post is rather an attempt to explain why another referendum is so necessary. The one word answer is Brexit. It may be hard for people not living in Scotland to realise just how much of a divide there is between Scottish opinion and English and Welsh opinion on the EU. In last year’s EU referendum 62% of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the EU. This figure is almost certainly lower than the actual numbers who support membership of the EU. In Scotland 16-17 year olds can vote as can EU nationals. But they could not vote in the EU referendum, as Westminster set the terms for eligibility to vote.

All the evidence from polling is that these two groups are very strongly in favour of remaining in the EU. Both groups will of course be able to vote in the next Scottish independence referendum. So it is most likely that it is not 62% of Scottish voters who want to remain in the EU, but closer to 70%. Yet this very large majority is to be completely ignored by the UK government. A government which has made it crystal clear that there will no exceptions to a clean, hard UK Brexit.

Of course in 2014 a majority of voters in Scotland voted, 55% – 445% to stay in the UK. However at that time the UK was in the EU and a major plank of the NO campaign was that only by voting to stay in the UK could Scotland remain in the EU.

So we have in effect two mutually exclusive majorities in Scotland. In 2014 a majority for staying in the UK and in 2016 a majority for remaining in the EU. But Scotland can no longer have both. If we want to stay in the UK we have to leave the EU along with the rest of the UK. On the other hand if we want to remain in the EU, we will have to leave the UK.

For many people in Scotland this will be a difficult choice. A choice not of their own making. A choice that has been imposed on them by a UK government that has only one MP elected in Scotland and a government that has shown zero interest in reaching a compromise with the Scottish government.

The only democratic way out of this impasse is another referendum. There is a majority in the Scottish parliament in favour of another referendum, made up of the Greens and the SNP. Both parties made it clear in their manifestoes in 2016 that a Brexit imposed on Scotland against the wishes of voters in Scotland would be justification for another independence referendum.

For this referendum to have any sense it needs to take place before the UK has formally left the EU.This would ensure a smooth transition for Scotland to full EU membership. Which points to autumn 2018 or spring 2019 at the latest. By then we will all know the broad outline of whatever Brexit deal the UK government has managed to reach with the EU. All the Ts may not be crossed but enough will be known by then to enable voters in Scotland to make an informed choice.

The ball is now firmly in hands of Theresa May. To reject the referendum would be an affront to democracy. To try and postpone the referendum until after the UK has exited the EU would be nothing more than an attempt to punish Scotland. The only reason there will be another referendum is to avoid Scotland leaving the EU. So the referendum has to take place before Brexit has been consumated.

This is a referendum that has been made in Westminster and specifically by the Tory party in England. Without Brexit there would be no second referendum, certainly not in the near future. It is not only people in Scotland who now have to seriously rethink our position regards the UK, but people in Northern Ireland now face a similar choice. There of course the alternative to Brexit is unification with the Republic of Ireland.

Remember all this is the result of the Tory party putting their own party interests above everything else. What an irony it would be if it turns out that it is the Conservative and Unionist party which presides over the demise of the UK.

Mixing it up


When you first start dyeing, there’s an overwhelming range of colours to choose from. As well as thinking about what kind of materials you want to be dyeing, whether you are going to need any auxiliary chemicals for the techniques you want to use, you need to think about what set of dyes you’re going to use to get you started.


Now this is all a lot easier if you have an infinite budget and the cupboard space to match. You can just buy a bit of everything to try. Some suppliers offer ‘starter kits’ as well, with smaller amounts of a range of different dyes to get started. Many dyers will tell you though that all you need is a small select palette and you can mix the rest. So is it really worth investing in a big range of different dyes?

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Reading Highlights – May 2016

Almost back to normal reading wise last month. Down to six books, well, in reality five books and three short stories. Four crime novels. Once again no non-fiction, which continues to surprise me. Though I guess I read a lot on politics and current affairs online. Anyway, back to the books, this time they included two by authors new to me, both very good, as were the others.

Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn – this is the fourth (and last?) novel set in the early years of apartheid in South Africa. Once again Detective Emmanuel Cooper and his Zulu colleague Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala combine to solve another murder mystery. This time the prime suspect is Shabalala’s eldest son, and the victims are two white people. Not an easy task for the duo, ably aided and abetted by Dr Daniel Zweigman. Will be disappointed if this is the last in this excellent series.

The Serbian Dane, by Leif Davidsen – more of a thriller than a crime novel, the narrative revolves around the attempt by Vuk, the Serbian Dane of the title, to assassinate Iranian author Sara Santana. The Iranians have placed a fatwa on her and Vuk has been hired, via a Russian connection to kill her. Santana is due to come out of hiding for a press conference in Copenhagen. Tasked with protecting her are Per Toftlund from the Danish police and Lise Carsten the journalist who is organising the visit. Will they succeed in foiling Vuk’s mission? This is the second of Davidsen’s novels I have now read. The first was the Woman from Bratislava, another very good thriller.

Un barco cargado de arroz, by Alicia Gimenez Bartlett – the latest in the Petra Delicado series set in Barcelona. This time the victim is a homeless person. No witnesses, nothing to go on, it looks like this will be a very short unresolved case. But Petra is nothing if not determined and a bit bloody minded to boot. With her regular sidekick, Fermín Garzón and the additional help of Yolanda Santos, from the guardia urbana, Petra embarks on a lengthy investigation which leads her deeper and deeper into the dark side of Barcelona.

Everyone Lies, by A D Garrett – this is the first novel to feature Detective Inspector Kate Simms and forensic scientist Nick Fennimore. Theirs is a very strange relationship.  Both are trying resurrect their careers after both were demoted five years previously for their involvement in a botched investigation into the disappearance of Fennimore’s daughter. Simms is now in Manchester trying to solve some unexplained drug related deaths. Her investigation at an impasse when she calls up Fennimore, now a lecturer in Aberdeen. The two decide to work together, but without informing Kate’s superiors. A dangerous tactic which leads to evermore complications and dangers for both Kate and Nick. A.D. Garrett is the pseudonym of writing duo Margaret Murphy, an award winning writer, and Professor Dave Barclay, a renowned forensics expert.

The Girl who wrote in silk, by Kelli Estes – this is a sad, but lovely and finally uplifting tale from a dark chapter in American history, the expulsion of Chinese people in the 1880s. As a consequence of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese living in Seattle, including those born in the USA are rounded up and expelled. A ruthless, and racist ship owner, Duncan Campbell, decides to dump the Chinese on board his ship. Only one survives, Mei Lien, a young girl. Her story forms one part of the novel. The other is the current day story of   Inara Ericsson, great-great-great granddaughter of the same Duncan Campbell. Inara discovers  a piece of elaborately embroidered cloth hidden in the family’s island home. It is this embroidery and the story written on it that eventually links the two protagonists, Inara and Mei Lien. A wonderful story which personalises and exposes a nasty part of America’s history. Not that we are exempt from this here in the UK or in Europe. Strange that so many people need to find someone else to blame for their difficulties.

Three short stories, by Anton Chekhov – I am very slowly and intermittently working my way through the collection of Chekhov’s stories translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The three I read last month were: The house with the mezzanine; The man in a case; and Gooseberries. All rather sad, but very illuminating of the complexities of being human.



Orange, yellow and blue

My latest embroidery project is now finished, at least the stitching part. It is a fairly simple abstract design in orange, yellow and blue threads.File 01-06-2016, 14 15 07

The inspiration for this composition came (loosely) from an idea in Brenda Day’s book – Bargello. There she used the zebra as the basis for a design. In my case I wanted to use up more of my stash of Paternayan persian wool. The fabric is an 11ct penelope canvass.

I started out by drawing a few curving lines on the canvass and then began stitching – simple vertical lines each over six meshes. Except where sections meet at points etc. Originally I intended to work with just orange and yellow threads. However I quickly realised that I did not have enough of these two colours to fill the canvass. So I decided to add a bit of blue as a nice contrast to both the orange and the yellow. But I also felt that these additional bits in blue should not be more curved sections. Hence the blocks of colour that break up the original design idea.

I had a (very) flimsy idea of a composition to begin with, but almost immediately I just started to make the design up as I stitched along. This is a fun way of embroidery, basically free-form bargello.

I am quite pleased with the outcome which is nice and bright, kind of Aztec like in a way. Will now lie around for a while, as I try to figure out what to do with it. I managed to use up all of the orange threads and most of the yellow, with a little blue still left. There is still a fair amount of reds, greens and purples in my stash. Another free-form bargello in the pipeline?