Alf Rehn’s shirt

 

Wednesday was the birthday of a Grate Frend (Molesworth) of mine, Alf Rehn.  Alf is the epitome of the modern European: divides his time between London, Copenhagen and Finland, speaks most modern languages, is sophisticated, suave and soigné.  He is on the international speaker circuit, writes books on innovation that get translated into umpteen languages, and is father of my godson.  So, a pertinent question is, what do you get him for his birthday.

Well, some months ago I was telling him about an artist whose work I really love, Elvis Robertson.  Robertson takes old cloths, mainly table linen, and embroiderers the stains on them.  This might sound a bit disgusting to some people, but I think the pieces are exquisite.  For some reason I find the reclamation of these damaged and discarded pieces of fabric really moving.  Here are a couple of pictures of what I mean:

His instagram account is definitely worth consulting too.  Alf said how much he would like a shirt with coffee stains embroidered on it.  I suddenly remembered this and thought it would be a good present for someone who had everything, and if he didn’t like it he could always cut it up for dusters.

I bought a white shirt with a front woven to look like a pintucked dress shirt and went into the studio on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I started by printing some rings with a ceramic ramekin using Golden Fluid acrylics in raw sienna and bronze.  I then sprinkled some copper metallic powder over the wet paint.  This is the sample piece:

IMG_0400

Having got my confidence up, I stamped the paint on the shirt and left it to dry in the warm studio.

IMG_0388

I put it in an embroidery hoop and did satin stitch in ordinary brown stranded embroidery thread and added some tiny coffee coloured beads.  I decided to embroider just the button flap as a design feature.

IMG_0391

This is a shocking picture of the finished shirt:

IMG_0393

Fortunately, Alf loved it and has promised to send me some photos of him in it when he wears it, which he says he will do when he does one of his big strategy talks.  More news to follow then.

Straight stitching

img_0082

Most embroiderers, myself included, have at least one book on their shelves called something like 101 Embroidery Stitches.  This is a bit like having all those programmes on an automatic washing machine: 80% of them are superfluous.  Most of my work uses a very small number of stitches: running, seeding, back stitch (whipped and otherwise), fly, herringbone, colonial knots.  But for a project that I have been doing for the last couple of weeks I decided that I would branch out a bit and try something new.

I wanted to do something with the lines and striations on some beach pebbles:

img_0016

I was also influenced by the spiky vegetation around the beach where I found the stones:

I wondered about lacing some herringbone or cretan stitch but in the end reached for the magnificent and ancient Constance Howard’s Book of Embroidery Stitches.  This is a real oldie but goody, black and white throughout but magnificently clear:

imgres

It is now quite expensive on Amazon and the like, but there may well be copies in second-hand book shops and, if so, they really worth snapping up, particularly if, like me, you love seventies embroidery.  Plus Constance Howard apparently used food colouring to dye her hair, which makes her a style guru as well.

All that aside, I decided, unsurprisingly, to have a go at thorn stitch.  It is as prickly as its name suggests, but it is also really easy to do and you can use it in a lot of ways.  The basic stitch is:

imgres

This is basically an asymmetric cross stitch over a base thread, which makes it very good for couching.

img_0084

This is a page from my sketchbook showing how I got to this point.  I had a go at it and found that I really enjoyed doing it.  Here are some dark photos of the end results (I experimented with a different form of lighting which didn’t really work):

img_1435

This is the basic stitch done in a fine perlé cotton.

img_1412

This is a thicker thread, but still a basic version of the stitch.  But then I decided to do some couching of a dyed knitting tape which I knotted randomly.  The couched knot approach is a brilliantly simple way to get a lot of texture into something, and this variation really did give me something organic:

 

I also used a mix of threads for the couching, some perlé and then some ordinary sewing thread.  After I had completed the pieces (which I will put up separately), I was so entranced by the possibilities of the stitch that I made a little sampler:

img_0080

I really enjoyed threading the beads onto the couched thread and then arranging and anchoring them with the thorn stitch over the top.  It’s a bit hard to make out but the sample second from the left has a wrapped or whipped couching thread, which also worked well.  The beads are from a charity shop necklace I took to pieces.

I used some other stitches to get a spiky effect.  I love fly stitch because it is easy and really versatile:

 

imgres-2

It gives a softer effect, though, as it is a loop stitch not a stab stitch:

img_1429

Nice here in a very fine perlé thread.

And I used the stitch I learned at the Mandy Pattullo workshop that I went to, fern stitch, which is also pretty spiky:

imgres-1

I have used this in other projects:

 

In this project I used it as a border:

img_1414

I started this project on a brilliant weekend with Sue Barnes at Shore Cottage Studio in Heswall.  I cannot recommend it highly enough and will post about it separately.

 

 

 

A small thing

img_0700

This is short post about this very small piece which measures about six inches by four inches.  It is made on a piece of old quilt with needle-turned appliqué.  The appliqué is mainly done with plain fabric which I monoprinted, but I used such small pieces that it just looks like striped fabric:

img_0701

The fruit is meant to look like an apple, although I think it looks more like an orange.  I made the piece because someone was telling me about the old, and now defunct, I think, Austrian custom whereby young women would put a piece of apple in their armpits and then do a ritual dance.  At the end of the dance they would give the apple slice to their lover who would eat it.  I presume if he refused the relationship came to an end.  The way I was told the story was that the lovers put the apple slices in their armpits and then danced together all night and then swapped slices at the end and went home with their lover’s scent impregnating the fruit so they could continue to think of them.  I think this is a nicer version.

This was a quick piece to make and I think the old, battered, frayed quality of the piece goes with the old, romantic tale.  The piece of old quilt came from the Welsh Quilt Museum in Lampeter.

Red Rabbits

image

I am starting in the middle a bit with things here.  This is the second quilt in a series, and I have yet to blog about the first, but I am aware that it has been a while since I posted anything and this is easier to photograph than the first piece.

This is one of those quilts that started off as a quick demonstration piece of an improvised quilt made with the leftovers of a previous piece.  Then, of course, I decided to make it a bit more interesting and to put some appliqué on it.  As I have recently rediscovered a love of hand appliqué, that’s what it had to be.  In this instance, because the pieces – the rabbits – were so large, I decided to user the freezer paper method.  With this method you iron the freezer paper shape onto the top of the fabric and push the turning under with your needle.  Then you pull the completed shape off the top.  I prefer this to trying to get the paper out from under the shape when you use it underneath, particularly when you have something as tricky as rabbit’s ears.  This probably sounds like badly translated instructions if you are not a quilter.  If you aren’t and you want to see what I am talking about there are dozens of examples of the technique on You Tube.

I got the rabbit design from a clipping from a magazine that I kept because it appealed to me and I knew that it would come in useful at some point.  Unusually for me, I didn’t keep a note of who the original designer was.  All I know is that it was on a ceramic:

image-2

It was quite easy to stitch.  I thought that I would be clever and just cut the shape of the chin and the legs and arms and then turn the edges back.  But, of course, this requires a turning on both edges so you end up with a very large gap.  I made a test piece and decided that I would have to do the outline with embroidery:

image

I am rather glad that I did do the test – the piece on the right, before cutting the whole thing out.  I usually cut first and make samples and major mistakes later.  In this case the little bit of extra time was well spent.

After I had finished the piece looked a bit empty.  I thought briefly about doing some lettuces and carrots for a rabbits’ picnic, but my sketches were really a bit too twee.  I fell back on good old flowers.

image-3

These needed a lot of surface embroidery but they worked reasonably well in the end.  I like the fact that they look a bit vintage, which is one of the aims of the piece.  The flower centres, which are raised, are suffolk puffs sewn on backwards.  The outline embroidery on the rabbits is whipped backstitch which I find a lot easier than stem stitch, particularly with a chunky thread.  The surface embroidery here is all done with three strands of embroidery cotton:

image-4

I love using seeding as a quilting stitch even though it takes forever.  I haven’t done it for a while but I think the red here complements the big stitch on the body of the rabbit.

The quilt as a whole is a bit jumbled.  The outlines are not always clear, particularly the leaves and some of the petals on several of the flowers, but in this case, I rather like the effect.  It gives it a lived in, vaguely faded feel, even though almost all the fabric is brand new.

 

As a bit of a trailer, this piece also illustrates another project that I am working on which is about working with ugly or old-fashioned fabric, the sort of thing that you find in your stash which you bought years ago which is good but essentially out of date.  The rabbits are done in this fabric and the backing, which I will show in a subsequent post, is truly horrible and I genuinely do not know how it got into my stash.  More on this project as I go along.

Teeny tiny sewing machine

IMG_5274

I have just come back from a long weekend break in Spain.  While we were there we had a less than successful stay in Murcia, where the Medieval Historian had been many years previously.  Sadly, everything shuts in Murcia on a Monday which was the only full day we had there, so I did not get to do my very favourite thing of sketching in an archeological or folk museum.  But, looking on the bright side, the shops were open and were having major sales.  I will blog about them separately, but this is a quick post about a tiny hand-held sewing machine that I bought in Tiger.  I think it is originally a Norwegian firm, but Tiger now has lots of branches in the UK, and is worth going into regularly as it turns over its stock very rapidly.  I bought these sequins, for example, in the Bristol, and they are now permanently out of stock:

IMG_1287

The other reason for going in is that they play great music and I had a nice time singing Tamla Motown classics with the assistant in the Brighton branch on another trip.

Having said all this, it is a cheap and cheerful shop with an interesting selection of things for makers such as rubber stamps, beads, sketchpads, washi tape and so on, but once it’s gone it’s gone.

In Murcia I picked up a pair of snipping scissors with a case which looks like a long thin mouse (I am always looking for scissors to take on planes), and the mini sewing machine.  It is a good job that I did.  I assumed that the product range would be the same in Murcia and Bristol, but I was wrong.  I can find no sign of this product on the British Tiger website, even though I bought it less than 48 hours ago.

So, I bought it because it was so tiny.  I knew that I was never going to make a full set of curtains with it, but I thought it might have potential.  It does sew quilting weight cotton reasonably well, but the stitch is a chain stitch, like the one that I used to have on my toy sewing machine as a little girl, and which I wish I had held onto.  The best bit of this is that the chain stitch is so tiny and delicate:

IMG_5275

I wonder if it has potential for use in embroidery.  The stitch is far tinier and regular than I could ever achieve.  I will experiment and report back.

 

Brunel Broderers’ Exhibition at Newark Park

posternp16

On my recent visit to Newark Park I was lucky enough to see the Brunel Broderer’s exhibition, which was of work made in response to the house and gardens.  I really hate singling people out in exhibitions, because often it is just a matter of taste as to whose work you prefer, but there was some glorious embroidery on display.  I particularly liked seeing the sketchbooks accompanying the work, and I liked the way that it was spread throughout the house and not just in the gallery.  For example, my good friend Liz Hewitt had this rather lovely piece in a little ground-floor reception room:

IMG_5162

This is a little taster of the rest of the show:

The combination of this very high quality contemporary needlework, and the older pieces I mentioned in an early blogpost make this a really good day out for sewers of all sorts.

 

 

 

My last post was about Newark Park and the Laura Ashley bedroom.  While I was there I also found time to admire some of the wonderful needlework around the house.  There is a good range of embroidery, although nothing very modern.  This is just a picture show, as I do not know enough to make sensible comments:

I begin with a selection of cushions.  The one at the top is an outstanding example of shabby chic.

Chairs and benches also got a look in.  I liked this florentine needlepoint armchair, again on bare boards and doing its bit for shabby chic country house charm.

This is a nice, and I think, quite modern needlpoint rug.  Rather brave to have a cream background here:

 

I felt a pang of recognition about the star quilt hanging in the stairs.  It was mounted on a cotton bedspread.  Doing all that work over papers clearly was enough and the idea of quilting it was just too much.

There were some very old fragments of embroidery but these had to be kept in very dim light.  These photos were taken with a phone camera and so are not brilliant, but I wanted to include some of the older work.

I might well do something with these images.  I love the way the stitches are used to create volume.

Apart from the pieces of needlework themselves, there was a lot of inspiration in the gardens:

Because the day was rainy and overcast the white flowers in particular really glowed.

Still more applique

IMG_0592

This piece is backed onto some curtain interlining and then washed in hot water to give it a vintage feel.  This particular interlining seems to turn into tungsten steel when you give it this treatment so I thought I would stick to something fairly simple for this piece, a spray of leaves.  Once more it is based on a lovely piece by Mandy Pattullo:

images-10

Her’s has a lot of dynamism because of the swirl of the quilt piece behind it.  Mine is much more stable and sedate:

IMG_0591

I wanted to use these lovely purple-y Laura Ashley pieces which were given to me by Gill Bonham, one of the Bristol Quilters.  They were mainly quite fine lawn pieces and very easy to applique.  I decided to embroider them in pink because of the lovely foliage on some flowers I was recently sent:

IMG_0594

I love that pink edge on the shiny strappy leaves.  I was wondering what to do lift the piece and I decided to add some buttons:

IMG_0593

I am not normally a big fan of buttons, and I do actually know someone who genuinely has a phobia of them, but on this occasion I thought they matched the naive quality of the piece.  Furthermore, these all came from my mother-in-law’s button box which I inherited when she died.  Most of them are fairly vintage, which fits in with the general theme of the series.

This little piece has some really old Laura Ashley prints.  The background has some of what looks like Indian woodblock print and this is some of the first designs the company produced for clothing.  The navy and white prints in the above piece are also quite old ones.

It was a delight to do, and I think my hand applique has really improved over the course of this project.

More applique

image

This is the latest of my Mandy Pattullo/Laura Ashley pieces.  The background is pieced paper (English method) hexagon patchwork with an overlay of Laura Ashley fabric applique.  I had thought that I would do a fairly minimalist piece with just the dark flowers at the top like Mandy Pattullo sometimes does:

IMG_5048

but I thought mine looked a bit bare:

image-1

I wanted to use these big plastic rose buttons that came as a free gift with a magazine as the centres of some somerset puff roses, and I think that worked quite well.  I wish I had taken a photo before I put the roses on, because the hexagon looked like a cartoon cactus sticking out of the pot.  Anyway, I decided this needed more, and for some reason, I suddenly thought of the Baltimore originals I had in mind when making the pieces: the rick rack braid rose.

I don’t particularly like rick rack braid apart from the really tiny stuff which looks lovely on borders if you have the patience to stitch it on, so this was something that I didn’t have in my stash.  I went to Flo-Jo in Bristol which is a great shop selling fabric and haberdashery and running workshops and dressmaking classes.  It is run by really lovely enthusiastic people and stocks particularly gorgeous ranges of unusual fabric.  Of course, they had a range of rick rack and I bought some red, pink and orange.  Old Baltimore quilts seem to me to delight in virtuoso effects and experimenting with the latest thing, and they often have 3D elements like these roses.  They are really simple to make.  You take two pieces of rick rack, twist them together like plaiting and then roll them up.  The final stage is to pull back the outer rounds to make unfolding petals.  There are lots and lots of demonstrations of this on You Tube in particular, and they are mostly stuck together (opinion varies on the merits of a hot glue gun), but I stitched mine for authenticity (although I expect the ladies of Baltimore would have used a glue gun if they had had one available).  As an aside, there was a wonderful video of a woman making daisies rather than roses out of rick rack which she then fills with pearls and sticks on lace and which are really not to my taste.  At the end of one of the videos she makes leaves out of synthetic ribbon.  ‘You need to burnish [i.e. singe] the ends together,’ she trills gaily and proceeds to take what looks like one of those things used to light gas rings on cookers and to waft it in front of her ribbon, slightly singeing her fingers.  ‘It doesn’t hurt,’ she says, ‘well not really.’  I am not sure that I really want to scorch my finger ends for ribbon leaves but it doesn’t seem to do her a lot of harm.  Pyrotechnics aside, there are some very clear tutorials available, and, of course, fans of Baltimores will know that Elly Sienkiewicz’s books contain explicit and well-illustrated instructions, particularly her book on dimensional applique.

I am not sure if you can tell from the photograph at the top but I made a big central rose of red and pink twisted together, and four large red roses and four small pink ones.  They are really good fun and quick to make, and the best bit is at the end when you pull back the outer rounds and the rose almost leaps forward.  The You Tube demonstrators tend to stick them on rings or brooches or hair slides.  I would just recommend going easy on the lace.

I finished off with some big mint green leaves with the veins done this time in fly stitch.  In the end, I rather liked the naive charm of the piece, and I think it is an interesting example of something I have written about before: your relationship with your work.  You might think that you have finished, but your work will whisper, or shout very loudly as it did here, that it is not finished.  And you have to finish it because otherwise it will go on shouting until you do.

More embroidery

My last post was about the fox piece that I started at the Mandy Pattullo workshop I attended.  I really like Mandy’s work and I wanted to do a bit more with some of the ideas that we discussed at the workshop, so here are a couple more pieces.  They are worked on top of a variation of a hexagon rosette all done in Laura Ashley fabric and then applied to a base.  These were then washed at 90 degrees and tumble-dried.  This gives a nice antique-y feel to them, but it also makes what is already pretty dense fabric almost impossible to stitch into.  I live and learn.  I thought just embroidering through the top layer would be okay but the furnishing (decorator) weight, if anything, got denser rather than softer.  Still, the end results were pretty and confirm me in my view that more is more with regard to decorative pieces.  A few tasteful marks would have been useless.

First is this piece which has a vague look of seventeenth-century crewel work to me:

image

Compare it to one of Mandy Pattullo’s pieces and you can see the influence:

IMG_5038

The second is rather more folk-arty, I think:

image-1

It reminds me a bit of Pennsylvania Dutch art which I have always loved since my mother’s penfriend sent me a tiny PD pendant when I was a very little girl:

This one is applied to an IKEA linen tea towel cut in half.  This would be lovely to stitch into were it not for the upholstery weight rosette behind it.  I am particularly proud of this piece for an odd reason: I managed to find my set of yo-yo or suffolk puff makers which I bought years ago before I realised what a fruitless task making suffolk puffs is.  But on this they really work and the gadget makes them quick and easy to make.  I had three go-s at the plant pot before this finally worked.

I am really enjoying making them, and the medical profession is very keen on my doing embroidery at the moment, and so everyone, temporarily at least, is happy.