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.

Three Little Blackwork Squares

During the first half of June I was busy with this little Blackwork project. Three squares each with its own Blackwork pattern. IMG_0521As you can see, each embroidery piece fits into a square card mount. These are 14cmx14cm. The Blackwork pieces are six cm square.

The fabric is a 32 ct Murano in white. This fabric is a rayon/cotton mix and is quite easy to work with. I did each square in the same thread. Unusually for Blackwork, at least for me, this time I chose a variegated thread. This was from the Anchor stranded cotton range and is a fine mix of blues, pinks and purples. As usual with my Blackwork I stitched the pieces with a mixture of one, two and three stands of the cotton.

Each of the patterns has a centre stitch or stitches. Quite often I would leave some of these empty. However on this occasion I decided to completely fill every gap. Just to ensure that the full effect of the pattern emerges.

I am quite pleased with the finished product, though as usual not sure what to do with them. Each piece took between nine and ten hours of stitching. Slow work indeed!

I am still on a Blackwork roll and my current project also features a variegated thread. This time just in blues.  Happy stitching.

Three Bookmarks

This was a challenge set by the chair of our local branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild. A little something to keep us busy during the latter half of April, while the branch is no longer able to meet. I did three bookmarks as I had three suitably sized pieces of fabric available. For bookmarks I tend to use Aida band as the sides will not fray, so you only have to worry about the top and the bottom. Here they are.IMG_0461The first one features the heart motif, one of the many traditional motifs used in Palestinian embroidery.  I used a red and a light blue cotton thread from the old Clarks range. Two strands in cross stitch.

The middle bookmark is from a border pattern from Bargello Magic by Pauline Fischer and Anabel Lasker. For this I used a light and dark green thread from Anchor’s Tapestry wool range. Unusually for Bargello this pattern is stitched only with horizontal stitches, as opposed to the normal vertical stitches.

The final bookmark was a bit of an experiment. I wanted to do one with a Blackwork pattern. Usually I work Blackwork on a 30 or 32 count fabric. This time I was using a 16c count fabric. So the pattern comes across as much larger than normal.  The other experimental bit was to use a variegated thread, again not usual with Blackwork. Anyway I used one strand of the Tequila sunrise thread from Watercolours by Caron.

This was a simple, but fun challenge, with a end product that can actually be used. Most unusual for me. Happy stitching wherever you are.

2019 – embroidery highlights

Looking back over 2019 I can detect some similarities and some differences with previous years. I worked on 23 projects which is very much in line with my yearly average.  The big standout difference is that for the first time since I started embroidery, I did fewer Bargello pieces than other types of embroidery. A big surprise, not for nothing is this blog called The Bargellist. Anyway quite pleased as it is good to extend my repertoire.

The 23 projects last year were shared fairly evenly amongst my regular embroidery endeavours. I was definitely surprised to discover that I had done more crewel work than any other – seven projects in all. Another five were in Blackwork, of various colours! Four projects were of traditional Palestinian designs, the same number as Bargello projects. The list is completed with three projects  in other styles. This included my not altogether successful attempt at Goldwork.

I try to keep a (reasonably accurate) account of how many hours I spend on actual stitching. A perusal of this record shows that, other things being equal – size of project – Blackwork and Palestinian embroidery are the most time consuming. A Palestinian piece – fours stars in a field of lilies – took up just over 46 hours stitching. While another Palestinian piece – Rosebuds in Blue – involved 39 hours stitching. Two Blackwork projects – Red & Black and a single motif in plum shades – each took up over 30 hours of stitching.

So far I do not keep any record of how much time I spend preparing for a project, working out the design, choosing fabric, threads etc. Nor do I keep a record of time spent on finishing off a piece. Maybe something for the future.

Generally speaking, bearing in mind the size of a project, Crewel work or surface embroidery is the least time consuming. Almost certainly because it does not involve completely filling the fabric with stitches. Bargello patterns do fill the fabric, but they are usually quite easy to follow as they only involve vertical stitches.

As regards highlights from the year, a bit of a difficult choice as I liked all of the projects, even those that were not totally successful. I very much enjoyed a new approach to using traditional Palestinian motifs. New to me that is, as the idea came from an article in Embroidery magazine on the work of Palestinian American embroiderer, Jordan Nassar. I managed three pieces using this approach. You can see the first one here.

I even tried this approach, using a single motif,  with a Blackwork pattern, which you can see here. It was a bit of a surprise to discover that three of my Bargello projects were variations in what I call Free Form Bargello. Some people might not even regard them as Bargello, but hey ho. Here is an example in Black and magenta.

The most unusual project from last year was stitching a three dimensional piece. This was from a workshop run by Anita Hutchison for our branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild. Quite challenging, but I did finally finish it, which you can see here.

The crewel projects were all quite varied. I particularly liked my first attempt at stitching a Boteh Jeghe, or Paisley pattern design. My two thistles are also rather charming, if I say so myself. During the year I treated myself to some lovely yarn from Elvincraft on the Isle of Skye. A variegated thread of alpaca and silk. Lovely to feel and to look at. I used this for a simple Autumn petals design, which you can see here.

My favourite piece from the year however was my attempt at Dennis the Menace. This was part of a sample for the new Dundee Tapestry project. I haven’t shown this before but include it now with this post.IMG_0299

I have already started on this year’s projects and guess what, my first piece is in Bargello!

A Colour Wheel in threads

My latest embroidery project was finally finished yesterday. I started it in the middle of December, so it has taken a long time to finish. A lot longer than anticipated. All of 53 hours work over 24 days. Then again, it is quite a dense piece of stitching.IMG_0377I got the idea from something I saw on the net. Stitching a colour wheel with threads seemed a simple task at the time. Getting the design onto the fabric was the first really challenging task. Lots of attempts with compass and then stitching the outlines in black. The original design had six empty sections which once I got started didn’t look right. So I had to extend each of the six central sections so they all met.

The fabric is a 32 count Murano in a cotton/modal mix. So lots of tiny stitches. For the embroidery I choose a quite dense Blackwork pattern, but one with a bit of variety. The threads are all cotton and I worked with two strands throughout. I didn’t think this particular project would have benefitted from the use of different thicknesses that I usually include in my Blackwork projects. As the emphasis is on the colours, an even density was more appropriate I felt.

The threads themselves come from a variety of manufacturers. I normally use DMC threads, but this time in addition I used threads from Anchor, Clark and two names I have never heard of before – Red Heart and Pari Lustra. I had to go looking for some of these threads as my existing stash didn’t cover all the colour shades I needed.

This was a major challenge for this project, getting the right balance of colours. With a traditional painted colour wheel you can mix colours to get the right shade you want. Not an option with yarn. The primary and secondary colours were not too difficult to find, but the tertiary colours were a real challenge. Two in particular were very difficult to find. The first was the blue and green mix. I ended up using a dark turquoise from DMC. Nice colour but perhaps a bit too blue? The other challenge was to find a red orange mix. For this I used a bright orange red, again from DMC. It is very bright and could have stood for the red. Which meant that the red itself is perhaps a bit on the dark side. It is a medium red, also from DMC.

I am pretty sure that I have never used so many different colours in one piece before. I tend to work with a quite limited palette. Seeing all these colours together also confirmed my predilection for the red-blue-violet shades. Of course I use all colours at times, but this range is definitely my favourite. The piece is now safely ensconced in a  Nurge wooden hoop.

This was essentially a project from last year. Now that it is finished I can begin to think about what I want to do this year. Nothing much in mind at the moment. Wish me luck.


Bargello in Reds and Turquoise

I have been quite busy, embroidery wise, recently. I had two projects on the go and then had to devote myself to a commission of sorts. Unpaid commission of course. I have managed to get myself involved in a group working on a Dundee Tapestry. As part of their work of securing funding from trusts etc they wanted a couple of samples of what the tapestry might look like. So, as the only embroiderer at their last meeting I got landed with this task. Not particularly difficult, but a bit time consuming. I can’t show any photos of this work as the group has still to get copywrite permissions.  The two samples were Denis the Menace and the Strathmartine Stone, which features some Pictish drawings. They look pretty good, so I hope to be able to show them some time in the future.

Back to my ongoing projects. One is now completed – a free form bargello design in reds and turquoise.  Here it is.IMG_0301The fabric is my usual 18ct Aida in pale green. For the thread I used one strand of Paternayan Persian wool, a lovely, soft yarn. The three reds are from their Christmas red collection, whilst the two turquoises are part of their Caribbean blue series.

As with most of these free form bargello pieces the pattern emerges as I go along. There is no design to follow. It is a fun way to work, though it does require a bit of thinking ahead. Just to make sure that there is a reasonable balance among the reds.

While I was working on this project I remembered I had done something similar with the two turquoise threads. Checking back I discovered that in March I had in fact completed another free form bargello. Then the base colour was purple. As with the current piece, the threads are all from the Paternayan Persian wool range. For some reason I didn’t post about that piece, so here it is now.IMG_8735All goes to show just how easy it is for me to forget what I have done only a few months ago! Old age is beginning to show, alas. Anyway happy stitching everyone.

Or nué completed

I have now finished the stitching part of my goldwork project. It didn’t get any easier, if anything a bit more difficult. For some reason I found it even harder to get the gold threads to lie down smoothly and evenly on the fabric. Anyway it is now done.IMG_0266As you can see the second semicircle is far rougher than the first one. Not sure why this is the case. To complete the design I wanted to add something different to the remaining unstitched fabric. I decided on something very simple – a very loose curve. For this I used an extremely fine gold thread. Lots of these fine threads in fact, held in place with some couching, using one strand of the dark rose cotton thread. This time the ends have been deliberately kept loose. This provides a clear contrast with the close stitching for the semicircles.

I was quite surprised to find that it only took just under 14 hours of work to complete the stitching. A more experienced embroiderer could have done this in less time. I now need to find a way of finishing the whole thing off. Tidying up the back, in other word.


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.

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.


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.