Blue on Blue x Two

Following on from my previous project – Blackwork with a variegated thread, I decided to continue in this vein for my next piece. It seemed an easy and straightforward choice. Alas just about everything that could go wrong, went wrong. This project turned into a very good illustration of the benefits of thorough planning and preparation. All pretty much absent from my work practices.

The biggest problem and the source of much trouble was my consistent inability to estimate how much thread will be needed to complete a project. Every since a boy on a golf course I have never developed any sense of estimating anything. Sad. Anyway this project started as a circular design to fit into a 12cm hoop. No real problem, and away I go with the stitching. Only to realise after about a third of the work completed that the remaining thread would not cover the rest of the design.

No problem really, I just had to order some more of the thread. Which was a lovely hand painted Japanese silk thread from the Colorwash range by Glissen Gloss. Number 508, Blueberry. Unfortunately I immediately discovered that my usual online supplier no longer stocks this thread. Desperately searching elsewhere I discover that the Colorwash range has become very rare in the UK. Only one source offered this particular colour, but it would cost over £17.00 for just one. Mainly due to coming from the USA. So I reluctantly declined this offer.

So back to the drawing board! I would like to say back to Plan B, but there was no Pan B. However I still had a few of the little square 6cm mounts, so the new plan was to curtail the design to fit into one of these mounts.

Easier said than done, as first of all I had to unpick a fair amount of the stitching that would not be needed for a little square. There was also the fact that my chosen Blackwork pattern was a very dense one, possibly too dense for me. Whatever, I found that I was continually having to unpick bits again and again when I had miscounted a bit. Still the end result is quite pleasing.IMG_0530

The fabric is a 32ct Murano – a rayon/cotton mix in blue. The thread is a 12ply silk, which is very, very fine. To get variation in texture I use a mixture of two, four and six strands of the thread. it is a pretty dense pattern.

By only working for a 6cm square I had a fair bit of the fabric left. As a good Fifer, I was loath to waste this, so nothing else but to start on another little square. Luckily during my search for the Blueberry thread, I came across a supplier in Dumfries who could offer me another variegated thread in blue from the same Colorwash range. Twilight is the name of this variety.

So, armed with my new silk thread I started on the second of my little squares. This very quickly led to another surprise. Though part of the same range as the Blueberry thread and with the same information on the label – a 12 ply silk from Japan, this thread is very different. I have used this 12 ply thread many times and on every previous occasion I need two strands to get the equivalent of one cotton strand.

So to start this piece I began with four strands as the equivalent of two cotton strands. As I soon discovered the resulting work did not look or feel right. The threads on the fabric appeared so much thicker than I expected. So after a bit of experimenting it became clear that this particular thread was in fact not just 12 ply, but 12 strands. One strand of this silk was the same as one strand of cotton. As I had already started I decided to keep the section stitched with the four strands.  It is in the centre and it does stand out a bit.


The rest was stitched with one, two or three strands. It is quite an open pattern and much easier to stitch than the first one above, and took a lot less time. Altogether I spent about 24 hours on the two pieces. Glad I persevered with this.

More Blackwork embroidery

My latest embroidery project was another endeavour into the world of blackwork. It is a fairly formal composition and for the first time in a long time includes stitches in black. Not just black though, as I have added a bit of red for contrast and excitement! Here is the finished piece.IMG_8717As you can see I still haven’t quite mastered the art of keeping the fabric taut and square. Even when using a four sided frame. Still it all adds to the authenticity of the work. At least that’s my story. The fabric is a fine 32 count Murano in white. This a mixture of cotton and modal. It is cheaper than linen and easier to work with.

For the black sections I varied the work using three different thicknesses of thread. One and two strands of DMC cotton plus the single strand of Pearsall’s Gossamer silk. The outlines in black were stitched in stem stitch with one strand of cotton.

The top left rectangle has a small diamond pattern and the lower right rectangle has a honeycomb pattern. The large square section is filled with an open lace pattern.

The red pattern is an octagon variation with additional squares inside some of the octagons. I also used three different thicknesses for this section. One and two strands of a very dark coral red cotton and a single strand of Gütermann silk. However this silk thread is much thicker than the Pearsall’s Gossamer. So much so that there is little if any difference in thickness with a single strand of the cotton. The silk was also used for the outline of the circle, again in stem stitch.

I rather like this particular composition which I have used before for something completely different. This composition of two rectangles and two squares was part of the exhibition: Images of the Heart – Japanese Ink Traces and Calligraphy, which I saw in Zurich way back in 2012. Unfortunately photos were forbidden, so I had to make do with a very rough sketch of the composition. In the original the two rectangles and one of the squares were simply filled in shades of grey. The lower square had some drawing in it, but I cannot remember what this was.

Suishû T. Klopfenstein-Arii was the main artist for the exhibition and you can visit her homepage here. This has a link to images of some of her work.

Mexican inspired piece finished

I have just in the last week finally finished my latest embroidery project. This was (very) loosely inspired by some Mexican lacquer ware. For information about the background to this piece, see my previous post here.  The finished work looks like this.IMG_7382

The fabric is a 28 count Brittney in dark pine green.  The four flower like shapes and the connecting lines are all stitched in purple from au ver à soie’s Soie d’Alger collection. Only two blackwork patterns were used for the flowers, both quite dense. Each pattern was stitched once in a vertical line and once in a horizontal line. A mixture of two and three strands were used for these sections. The outline of the flower shapes are stitched in stem stitch with just one strand. For the connecting lines I decided on a quaker stitch, using two strands of the silk thread.

The background is filled with just one pattern, a fairly open one. For this I used four strands of a 12 ply silk in jade from the Glissen Gloss Colorwash range. To complete the piece I stitched wavy outline in heavy chain stitch, using one strand of Appleton’s two ply wool in dark green.

When I say the piece is finished, this is only partly true. I am still debating with myself whether I should add a dash of yellow to the centres of the flower like shapes. I will leave the embroidery in its hoop frame. Which reminds me that I still have to tidy up the back. So it is definitely not fully finished!

Anyway I now have two more projects almost ready for stitching. More later.

Scottish Crossbill

My latest Blackwork project is now finished. Or at least the stitching part is! Not altogether surprisingly, for me, it is not in black. Here it is.img_4636

The body of the crossbill is stitched with hand made Japanese silk threads from the Colourwash series from GlissenGloss. This a variegated range with 12 very fine strands. This particular colour is cherry. Quite suitable for a Scottish Crossbill I think.  For variety of texture I used two, four and six strands of the thread. The fabric is a 28 count Britney, a mix of cotton and rayon, in pine green.

While the body of the crossbill is composed of Blackwork patterns I went for something different for the bill itself and the eye. The upper part of the bill was stitched with the redder parts of the range while most of the bottom bill was stitched with the browner parts of the range. A small section of the lower bill was stitched in a mix of yellow and cream threads to make the crossing over of the bill more apparent. The cream thread is a DMC cotton, while the golden yellow is a silk/rayon mix from Rajmahal threads. Both the upper and lower bill are padded for extra texture. The upper bill was stitched with long and short stitch, while the lower part was a simple sating stitch. The eye is also padded satin stitch, this time in a black brown cotton from DMC.

For the branch and cone I used mainly Appleton wool as a contrast to the smooth texture of the crossbill. Two shades of brown in long and short stitch for the branch. The cone started with padded satin stitch in a beige brown, overstitched with a trellis like stitch in brown cotton. Finally the feet, or to be precise, a bit of one foot can just about be made out on the left hand side of the crossbill. This was stitched with a dark pewter grey cotton thread.

I will probably get this framed eventually to go with the Merlin I did last year. Getting to be quite fond of birds as a subject for embroidery. However I think my next project will be back to flowers, tulips to be precise.  Happy stitching!


Merlin in flight

Another Blackwork piece now finished. At least the stitching part is finished I think. Not in black of course, but in blue. Not quite sure why I chose blue. Perhaps as it was a bird in the sky, blue just seemed right? Anyway here it is, hot of the frame.img_4500

The fabric is also in blue, a 32 count murano in light blue. This is a cotton/modal mix, which I use a lot for blackwork. A bit cheaper than linen! Good colour to represent the sky I think. The thread is a dark royal blue silk from the au ver à soie range. I used one, two and three strands in the work. Altogether there are six different blackwork patterns in the piece. These patterns do not of course represent the actual pattern of feathers on a merlin. I just chose those I liked and aimed for a bit of contrast between open and closed patterns. Artistic licence?

I don’t think it shows in the photo, but the beak and the eye are in different threads. The beak is a dark navy blue cotton thread – two strands over the silk. While the eye is a brighter royal blue from the Rajmahal silk/rayon collection.

At the moment I intend to leave the work without an outline. The feathers on a bird never make a single line. So a broken line seems to go with the subject matter.

The inspiration for this piece came from a work we saw during our recent trip to Mull in October. There I came across this simple, but lovely painting on wood.

Version 2On seeing this piece I immediately thought I could try something similar using blackwork patterns.  The outline for the merlin comes from an old, 1972, copy of Book of British Birds. From the same source I have an outline of a crossbill, which may well be my next foray into blackwork!

Blackwork – in red and yellow

Yesterday I finally finished stitching my latest project, another composition in Blackwork. Though as you can see there is no black to be seen, just lots of reds and yellows.img_4161

For the embroideristas amongst my readers, here is some technical stuff about the project. The fabric is a 32ct Murano, a mixture of cotton and modal, which is lovely to work with. I used two kinds of silk threads – au ver à soie and Glissen Gloss Colourwash. The au ver à soie threads were used in the single colour rectangles in dark coral and gold. The remainder of the piece was stitched with Glissen Closs colourwash, a variegated thread, handpainted in Japan. The colours are flame red and buttercup.

There are five blackwork patterns in the composition, featuring squares, diamonds, hexagons and octagons. To add variety of texture each rectangle uses a mixture of strands. The au ver à soie comes in seven strands and I used one, two and three strands. The Colourwash is a very, very fine silk, which comes in 12 strands, so with this thread I used two, four and six strands respectively. Working with three or six strands on the 32 ct fabric is quite challenging and at times you can hardly see the details of the pattern. But it does result in a very visible texture, almost 3D like. Below is a close up of the five patterns.Version 2

The overall design or composition itself is one I have now used three times. The design comes from a series of prints we saw in the Danish Architectural Centre in Copenhagen on our visit there in 2013. I have kept the basic framework of 36 rectangles. This time I tried to  apply a bit of mathematics to the pattern, by using a very rough approximation of the Fibonacci sequence. This produced the pattern of seven empty rectangles, 11 rectangles in yellows and 18 rectangles in reds.

The Glissen Gloss Colourwash silk threads are lovely to work with. I like variegated threads and these come in a wonderful range of colours. However they are best suited to stitching large sections so as to benefit from the subtle colour changes. As I was working each rectangle in three different strand combinations, each section was relatively short. This meant that in order to get the colour changes I had to cut the thread into shorter sections. It more or less worked, but I would not use variegated threads again for blackwork. Unless I wanted to do the whole piece in just one strand. Which doesn’t really go with blackwork.

Anyway I enjoyed working on this piece which I am now trying to stretch back into shape, before framing. To see the original print from the Danish Architecture Centre and my two other versions of this design go here.


Fabric Postcards 2

My second go at fabric postcards is now complete. You can see my first attempts here. This time I went for something in Blackwork. Though as you will see there is no black to be seen. The fabric is a 28ct Brittney mix of cotton and rayon in pine green. For the stitching I used silk threads. Here is the completed postcard.IMG_2235The composition features two of Brigid’s octominos.  As I was going to use Blackwork patterns for the octominos, I decided I needed to outline each of the octominos. For this I choose a silver green thread from au ver à soie. I used one strand of the silk thread for a whipped backstitch outline. This proved much harder than expected and the hardest and most difficult part of the whole project. Partly due to the fineness of the fabric, but mainly because the silver green thread was very similar to the colour of the fabric. This was deliberate on my part, as I did not want the outline to dominate. But it did make the stitching very hard.

Each octomino is stitched with two Blackwork patterns and I used two different threads to emphasise each pattern.  One was stitched with two strands of au ver à soie silk in red carnation. The other pattern was stitched with four strands of Glisten Colorwash silk in Flame. These patterns did require a bit of patience and concentration, but were easier than the outlines.

The finished piece has now been assembled and is on its way to Winterthur in Switzerland. If you fancy entering a postcard in this event, here is the website. Happy stitching!



A bit of Blackwork in Blue

I have been quite busy with embroidery since the turn of the year. Two projects have been completed – one in blackwork and the other an example of traditional Palestinian embroidery.

The blackwork was an interesting experiment for me. I wanted to try and and use shapes from nature as the the basis for the work. I didn’t quite manage this, though the original inspiration did come from nature. Lewisian gneiss is apparently the oldest rock in the world. It is found on the north west coast of the island of Lewis and Harris, hence the name. Moyra Stewart, a ceramicist, based in Fife, has used this unusual rock formation as the inspiration for her ceramics. Most of her work is vases and urns, though she does produce some smaller objects. I bought three stone shaped pieces last year at the Pittenweem Arts Festival. IMG_1595

The ceramics are produced by the naked raku method of firing. Which I am afraid means nothing to me. The results are spectacular though and incredibly light. Anyway this is what I used as the inspiration for my little embroidery project. What attracted me were the very dark lines on the stones. They would create the spaces for the embroidery. I had enjoyed working with the soie d’Alger silk thread on an earlier piece – Indian Tulips – and wanted to use them again. The dark royal blue seemed the most appropriate for this, so the piece ended up as blue work.IMG_1609

To give the impression of dark lines, I used three strands of the silk thread, and chose patterns that were fairly close together. For the rest of the work I used just one strand of the silk and chose relatively open patterns. I wanted the final product to have a very light look to it. So I decided to leave each stone shape without a stitched edging. I think this works quite well with the two shapes on the right, but not so sure about the smaller one on the left. But overall I am reasonably happy with the result and will leave it as it is. I will think about what to do with the piece sometime later. Suggestions welcome!

The other embroidery project was one I have been wanting to do for some time. I am very fond of traditional Palestinian embroidery and their bright vivid colours and patterns. For this project I wanted to incorporate a key. This is the symbol used by Palestinians who were displaced by the establishment of Israel way back in 1948/49. These forced refugees have never given up their right to return. So each family has a key to remind them and the rest of us of their lost homes.IMG_1600

As I wanted the key to be the focal point of the piece, this was not only in the centre, but stitched in a very bright red. The other colours are a bit more muted than I would normally use in this type of embroidery. The design at the top is a variation of the moon pattern. The one at the bottom is meant to represent candlesticks. The design on either side is the lily, which is quite appropriate as the lily is also the emblem of Dundee.  All the work is in cross stitch, the preferred stitch for traditional Palestinian embroidery. The fabric is a 18ct aida in black. The threads are perle cotton.

More Blackwork Embroidery

I am making good progress with my latest embroidery project, which is another encounter with Blackwork. This time it is blackwork with black threads on white. The design is an abstract one, which I have used before, see here and here. The basic design is from an Issey Miyake fashion show, and I have now tried to do it justice in Blackwork. Here is the first two parts of the design.Version 2

As you can see I have used a different blackwork pattern for each main section. Both are from the RSN Guide to Blackwork. On the lower section I have used a Harlequin pattern and on the upper section a Tulip pattern. The Harlequin pattern is repeated six times on the lower section while in the upper section the Tulip pattern is repeated three times. Within each section I have tried to vary the intensity of the pattern by changing the thickness of the threads. I have used two strands and a single strand of DMC cotton for a more intense look, and a double and single thread of superfine silk for a lighter, more open look. the fabric is a 32 count Murano white made of 52% cotton and 48% modal. A bit easier to work with than linen and a bit cheaper too!

The Harlequin pattern was harder to stitch than envisaged, as there is little space between the lines and lots of intersections. Overall stitching with two strands of the silk was very difficult to control and get a smooth, even finish. But having started with this, I guess I just have to continue until it is all done. To complete the composition I have to stitch the other two sections, which consist of two and four parts respectively. Below are more photos of each of the two sections to show a bit more clearly the two patterns. Happy stitching!



Blackwork piece completed!

I have at long last finished stitching the Blackwork piece. This was the design we were presented with, at the introductory course in Blackwork, run by Helen McCook from the Royal School of Needlework. The one day course was way back on 31 January. It has taken me all this time to complete the work. Mainly because I decided to work on this piece in between other work. However it is now done, if not dusted. I enjoyed this venture into Blackwork, though it was very difficult at times, especially when stitching with the superfine silk thread on the Belfast linen. However I definitely intend to do more of this type of work in the future. Though perhaps not quite so intricate.