Two Thistles

Yesterday I finished off my latest project. It features two thistles with some stems. It is stitched on a neutral coloured linen fabric. Here it is.AAE2D741-CFA6-481E-B27A-134E2F71C338The top of the stem consists of padded trellis stitches. There are two base layers in green cotton threads with the top layer a dark green silk thread from the au ver à soie range of Soie d’Alger silk. The trellis part is stitched with a variegated silk thread in jade from the Glissen Gloss Colorwash range from Japan.

The stems are also stitched with the same variegated colorwash silk threads. A heavy chain stitch was used for the stems.  The prickly stem is stitched in palestrina stitch. I used another variegated thread for this. A cotton thread this time, also in jade, from the Caron watercolours range. To add an illusion of nature to the piece I continued the stems beyond the frame. A bit of a hassle as the stitching had to be done after the main body was in the frame. But OK I reckon.

The pièce de resistance of the work is the flowerhead. For this I used a mixture of purple threads. A silk from the Soie d’Alger range and two slightly different coloured purples in Appleton wool. The stitch is the turkey rug stitch, sometimes known as Ghiordes knot stitch. Good for feathers and thistles.

The finished piece is now in a 18cm wooden hoop frame. For hanging purposes it is attached to a braided cord which I made on a Kumihimo card. I usually use pearl cotton for this, but this time I used one strand of Appleton wool in green and purple. Gives a much thinner cord.  Happy stitching everyone.





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.

Ten years embroidering

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.

20082008-10-23 13.56.12This 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.

20092009-03-25 15.35.52By 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.

20102010-10-15 12.55.392010 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.

2011P1000113This 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.

2012P1000573During 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.

2013P1040744This 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.

2014P1060405During 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.

2015IMG_1540This 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.

2016IMG_4160In 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.

2017IMG_4636 (1)This 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.

2018img_8542This 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.


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.

Four Stars in a field of Lilies

This is my first new project for 2019. The inspiration came from the beautiful works of Jordan Nassar, a Palestinian American embroiderer. His work was featured in the current issue of the Embroidery magazine.  Jordan Nassar uses the traditional Palestinian embroidery motifs in a very unusual and innovative way. Often just one motif is used, but in different colours to give the impression of a landscape for example.

As a lover of traditional Palestinian embroidery I was very taken by his work and could not resist trying something similar myself.  This is what I have ended up with.IMG_8545In my case I have used two motifs – stars and lilies. The fabric is an 18ct yellowy green Aida cotton. The four stars are in dark coral with a very dark blue centre. For the lilies I used a range of turquoise and acquamarine colours to provide a gentle contrast with the red stars. Though I did include a very light yellow green for the lilies by the centre. The first time I have deliberately used a thread that is almost identical in colouring to the fabric itself.

The threads are from the DMC cotton range and two strands were used for the cross stitches. The frame is 21cm in diameter and it was quite difficult stitching full cross stitches close to the edges. Another slow piece, this one took me just over 46 hours of stitching alone.

It was a bit strange to work with just one motif for almost all of the piece. At times I longed for a bit of variety. But in the end it was worth it. I rather like the finished article, and I definitely plan to do more pieces in this vein.



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.