Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Embroidered Ring – Stage 2 and PBS

(This is a longish post but lighter on text – phew!)

Suddenly things have been happening rather more quickly, however, I will need to relay them in chronological order.  So, before I talk about Plaited Braid Stitch (PBS) some more, I need to explain how I got ‘there’.

First off, I visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, because I happened to be there on business.  I was primarily interested in seeing their new textile gallery and after that, the Saxon & Vikings section and on my way out I also saw their wonderful RINGS collection.  I only had an hour to spare in there, and I was jolly hot with all my de rigueur  woollies,  so my notes were pretty rushed.  I’ll talk about the visit some more on another occasion, especially as 2 (whole) weeks later I had to return. 

This leaflet is not actually the bright yellow you can see here, but the scanner seemed to concentrate on carefully picking out the central detail of this Chinese enamelled belt.  What amazing work went into that piece.  I hope the actual item is on display.


Museum ideas

For now I’ll say, The Ashmolean is a truly fantastic place and I especially like the way everything is set out; it makes a lot of sense for researching purposes, as you can compare artefacts from neighbouring countries easily and are able to thereby plot the progression and eventual cross-pollination of ideas very clearly.  I think what I like most about this museum is it reminds me so much of an antique shop that’s crammed full of stuff (yummy), rather than, say, a sepulchral, minimalist ‘temple’ to the high art of days of old.   

So the following weekend I managed to carve out some ‘me’ time and get a few ideas down from digging around in my stash and pouring over clippings of some gorgeous flower rings that had appeared recently in the press:

Pink flower ring

Yellow mini flowers ring

I also pulled out two new(ish) book purchases:

Tracy Franklin

I’ve yet to really study the Tracy Franklin book above, it looks utterly delicious but I have to admit, my hands do tremble a little when I dip into the feast that is: The Beader’s Floral by Liz Thornton & Jill Devon:

the beaders floral by Liz Thornton & Jill Devon

I bought this the last time I was in Brighton (did I mention how much I love Brighton ??- lol).  (Psst: don’t think about it, just get it! – not what I would call ‘a beginners book’ but who cares, if you borrow Beader’s Bible from the library and read it in conjunction, then its not so difficult – the ideas in here are the stuff of dreams !)   

Then I went to my stash of ‘visuals’ and dug out some other cute things to get the creative cogs turning; like these wallpaper samples.  They’re very clear jumbo designs that would easily translate into 3-d and notice how they feature a lot of silver:

Stash idea - wallpaper

Coz remember, the ring has to be silver…


and more irresistible Brighton finds… I sourced this in a wonderful old rusty-door-handle-Aladdin's Cave-of-a- shop…very nice people, fought their way to the back for me to wrench out this man-made vision…


Would you just look at this terribly pretty Chinese bead that I bought at the Covent Garden Bead shop in the Summer.  I kind of thought at this stage of my ‘rummagings’ that I would ‘maybe use this bead as a colour reference’??  Its much prettier in the flesh by the way...

Chinese bead - Covent Garden

Then I got out a piece of my freeform crochet that I did a couple of years back.  I tend to use it now as a construction-reference-sampler-thingy.  I didn’t originally use a pattern for this piece, as I was just trying to replicate an embellishment detail I had glimpsed on a lovely dress in Monsoon.  The dress was way out of my price range, but the small crocheted panel was something I had to ‘possess’… 

crochet sampler - freeform

Then I got to work drawing and turning ideas over in my mind and stringing up some herringbone stitch blue and silver beads and stuff, including the sweet miniature silky leaf ribbon they sell in the scrapbooking section of my LYS:


This is what I ended up with, when I stopped and thought: ‘I would really like to add some PBS petals’…

Now to wind back a bit, as I said, because of what I had gleaned from Jacqui Carey’s book (see last post) I found I was able to manipulate the overall shape of the PBS from this:


to this, by altering the beginning of the stitch to a single chain…and as you can tell, things are starting to go in a totally different direction…


At this stage my thinking was that I would probably use this triangular shape of PBS and the supporting fabric and then just cut it all out and somehow form a little petal shape for the ring..


So I cut the earlier section of PBS out, together with its gold Acorn brother that you can see here, and started to manipulate them to make them look more like components of a ring… Then I forgot about the ring entirely and started to really STARE at what was happening to the 3-d PBS…


That was when I made the first of my discoveries.  By moving it around and trying to get it to look like a petal I arrived at this…

PBS 3-Potential

Above you can see the section of PBS is not only flexible but in so doing, IT DOES NOT UNRAVEL !….Now you might think that the remains of the linen was probably still holding it together, but let me tell you, immediately after this photo was taken, I actually pulled all the linen fragments out and it still didn’t unravel.

Then I remembered something I had read in Jacqui Carey’s Sweet Bags book:

“Plaited Braid stitch reminds me of a 4-twill braid…”

With this idea (remember, I know very little about braid-making except what I saw at Kentwell Hall – see earlier post) the ‘explorer’ in me married up this ‘notion’ of an actual braid, together with what I had learned about the Vikings making their upside-down Ceylon stitch wire knitting round a rod or support (can you see where I am headed?)….


….and I produced this:


This is a completely 3-d ‘braid’ made out of Plaited Braid Stitch that was not stitched onto background fabric first but instead, incorporated a Viking construction method. 

It is the same on all 4 sides, it is square-shaped; even & extremely flexible..


(Didn’t I tell you this would make you sit bolt upright !)

This is NOT all, next time I’ll show you how I made it and what that led to….!

cya !

Sunday, 5 December 2010

‘Sweet Bags’ by Jacqui Carey – an amazing book

(Warning: long post! – try as I might to make them shorter…)

After I worked out how to make the acorn, but before I made the video, I received a copy of this wonderful book published last year by a textile scholar here in the UK.

The author is a braid maker ‘by trade’ and is actually an expert on Japanese braids.  Well, it turns out that because she was eager to work out how the Elizabethans had made their braids, she also had to study the embroidery on them in very intricate detail.  In so doing, she has handled many extant Sweet Bags stored in various museums around the UK. 

The book is her ‘file’ of discoveries and it contains revolutionary ideas.  She adds that she has compiled further evidence that she may yet publish at some future date.  (I sincerely hope she does.)

The book is wonderfully thick, full of incredible detail and very comprehensive diagrams, oh, and its also paperback ! 

Just to recap a little…

If you recall, I mentioned I felt I needed to have a copy of ‘Twixt Art & Nature’, if for no other reason than to really try and understand the types of metal threads they had back then.  Because of that, I hung on for 6 months to obtain it from an internet bookseller (NOT amazon), who eventually informed me that the Bard Centre were unfortunately not going to print any further copies.  Well from that day, to the day I received Ms Carey’s book, I was a walking heap. 

Now (thankfully) I am certain that whatever is in the ‘Twixt’ book, it cannot possibly contain the same level of ground-breaking, authoritative dissection of minutiae that Ms Carey has put into this major contribution to our understanding of how differently the Elizabethans did things back then.

If I may add, because she is a braid-maker, braid teacher and braid scholar, she has this incredible clarity of purpose with the very technical conundrum of ‘what goes where’ in terms of thread direction, in these closely worked miniature items.  She cuts through all the confusion, in my opinion, by carefully explaining how to read the ‘entrance’, ‘exit’ and ‘orientation’ of the working thread for each stitch. 

Her approach has been as one who is new to the world of embroidery, and in turn her perspective remains open-minded and thus, unencumbered at all times.  Her aim has been to work out ‘what goes where and why’ and to illustrate firm evidence of what their construction methods must have been.     

Cylindrical Ceylon Stitch

Alas, from the book, I also discover that I was not the first to work out Cylindrical Ceylon Stitch in this context, the author refers to it as ‘Tubular Ceylon”.

The corroboration of ideas is consolation indeed.  I am certainly very pleased that its being brought to wide public notice that this was one of the ways worm and butterfly bodies on Sweet Bags were constructed.

Purely English Version of Trellis Stitch

The other major (heart-pounding) moment for me while I flicked through the book for the first time, was the incredible realisation that this lady has seen, worked out and tried and tested an ‘Elizabethan’ working of Trellis stitch and concluded it was NOT knotted !

I have placed a notice on my YouTube videos about this discovery and I look forward very much to ‘having a go’ at this new or rather very old English way of working the stitch. 

This of course got me thinking….if it was not actually a ‘knotted’ stitch, then that means it CAN be made out of metal and in fact when I read this, I immediately pulled out all my books and notes and rummaged (very calmly you understand..) until I found the best illustration I have of Queen Elizabeth I embroidered book binding that she stitched herself for her step-mother, Katherine Parr, and was reminded that SHE had in fact stitched ‘English’ Trellis, IN METAL on the cover of that book! 

In another source I found reference to (English) Trellis (that’s how I shall refer to it from hereon in) ‘resembling Hollie Stitch’, and somewhere else I have noted that ‘Hollie Stitch is said to be a purely English needlelace stitch’, in other words, not imported from Italy!  All of this raises so many questions…

…..more about that later.

Plaited Braid Stitch (PBS)

However, the very first chapter that grabbed my attention was the one concerning Plaited Braid Stitch. 

It contains 4 extremely clear diagrams of how to work the stitch and interestingly shows us how to stitch it vertically, but working from the bottom up. 

On top of that this lady has discovered that there are 2 further ‘variations’ of the stitch, 0f which she has photographic evidence.  This means that their structure has more interlaced ‘overs & unders’ than standard PBS, in the sense of ‘interlacing’ technicalities or put it another way; the appearance of more threads.     

For newbies - This means we now have 3 ways of working PBS:

  • Grace Christie’s version 1920 – very difficult to work, not suited to metal and constructed vertically but from the top down.  Looks different to historical pieces.  Incorrect number of ‘unders & overs’ compared to historical items.   
  • Leon Conrad’s version c.2003 – worked sideways, does look like historical examples and suited to metal.  Correct number of ‘overs & unders’ compared to historical items.  Danger of little legs poking out. 
  • Jacqui Carey’s version 2009 – worked vertically, from the bottom up, suited to metal and looks exactly the same as historical examples.  (In my view, no fiddly bits).  Correct number of ‘overs & unders’ compared to historical items.  No danger of little legs poking out. 

Because of the clarity of her diagrams and her careful explanation that ‘modern’ Plaited Braid (Mrs Christie’s version) is unlike Elizabethan PBS, for the simple reason that the modern version does not have the requisite number of ‘overs & unders’. 

She goes on to prove that the Elizabethans must have worked the stitch in the opposite direction.  She includes stunningly clear high definition digital photography of historic examples and you can see instantly that they are exactly the same as the stitching she reproduces to make her own sweetbag through the book.  The book however, is not primarily about her sweetbag but about the historic bags she has studied.  In fact there is only one close-up of her own sweetbag!  The book is really about deciphering historical stitches!

PBS re-cap

Well, with that I went over to my stash and set to work, because her findings had really got me thinking

Now, I don’t know about you, but it has always bothered me how long it takes to stitch PBS.  I seem to sit there, all tense, shoulders hunched, thinking: ‘oh dear, here we go, its PBS time’.  Perhaps, more than anything else, because there was one bit of it that always seemed rather ‘fiddly’ (and awkward) to me. 

So, the instant I realised that Ms Carey’s diagrams blew away any personal residual cobwebs I harboured about how to do the stitch, off I went to try it, noticing immediately that my stitching felt smoother. 

I think it helps me a lot to stitch it vertically, as I can really see what I need to do next and by watching the thread being pulled through, the right way up, I can tell more readily when to stop pulling or put it another way, one part ‘fits round’ the preceding section more readily.  There is also no danger oftiny legs’ appearing when worked this way.

This is my first attempt...


Above you can see the blue PBS I made last year which is ostensibly quite square-looking. 

Then, next to it, is the little patch of gold I made after following Ms Carey’s diagrams.  This section took me 10 minutes to stitch and I had not stitched PBS for about a year.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Here’s a another patch of PBS that took me less than 3 minutes to complete whilst also chatting...


Same example below but upside down2

And here sideways


In these two horizontal views I think you can see that the overall effect is very balanced e.g. you could draw a line down the middle and both sides would, methinks, look the same. 

Personally, I think this is a very important aim when we talk about striving for ‘neat’ PBS.  Previously my PBS was not balanced and the left hand side always looked more ‘squashed’ or rather the stitches lay at a slightly different angle than the other side.  I have since investigated why this used happen and I’ll talk about that next time.


My conclusion is that the Elizabethan stitcher had to have worked PBS at quite a fast pace and probably chatted while she did so because it was usual for them to stitch in groups. 

Embroidered Ring – stage 2

So, as I explained, these amazing diagrams have helped me to relax with the stitch, so much so that I decided to include PBS it in the design of the Embroidered Ring that I spoke about a few weeks ago.

First I thought the ring would be silver and light blue but no matter what I did with it, it just didn’t really ever get off the ground.  Then I discussed it further with the intended recipient and we agreed she would prefer emerald green and silver…now I’m excited !!

This ring is a little difficult to work out because unusually I know what I want the ‘last part’ to look like, as opposed to just embellishing to my heart’s content.

Here is a picture of the non-starter:


I know where I went wrong with this thing, when I was at the Ashmolean recently, the last thing I looked at was the display case of very gorgeous, but utterly sentimental, Victorian rings.  Bad idea, as you can see, this proto-type has too many petals and is basically not what I am aiming for at all.  I’m aiming for something Celtic-looking.   

The only thing that really worked was that I managed to keep it very small, as I have been flatly told NOT to make a ‘tarantula’ of a finger-ring !!!

The Bag

Because the ‘Sweet Bags’  book puts forward overwhelming results of virtually scientific scrutiny, that the Elizabethans had their own, uniquely ‘English’ way of working their stitches, irrespective of the mountain of received opinion we have from modern books about how to produce those stitches, I have started to test out some of these ideas for myself. 

This means that the background of the repro bag will not be slanted encroaching Gobelin Stitch afterall, but what Ms Carey calls ‘Elizabethan Ground Stitch’.  I am very happy so far with my experiments on this subject and here is a wee taster worked in Smooth Passing number 4, non-tarnish.  A nice thread to work with!


Big News

I’ll talk more about this incredible book and the aesthetics of PBS next time, but for now I wanted to give you a bit of advance notice about something I am leading up to.

Because of a particular idea put forward in this book and because of the need to complete the embroidered ring very soon, I have been catapulted into making  a truly serendipitous discovery regarding PBS…(in short, if you’ll permit me to say: get your goose-bumps ready, because you are going to need them!!!)

cya !

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Announcing my new video on YouTube

I’ve just put 2 new videos on there.

I’ve embedded them below.

This is a very tired Beth Lea bidding you Goodnight!…………………..ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz


This one is for stitchers…


This one is for Jewellery Makers…..



…………….yeah, I know they look the same…but one is shorter with different MUSIC and different emphasis…

Sunday, 14 November 2010

My visit to ‘Wrought with a Needle’ - I

This post is in 2 parts…

Witney Antiques

With DH at the wheel and D.Dog in the back, we set off on a blustery Sunday afternoon for Witneys.

The exhibition was excellent, so much so, that I really hope to mark it as an annual fixture in my diary.

What I saw

(For the first 30 minutes I was the only one there, which to me was blissful!) 

Although Witney is a large antique shop, they run exhibitions of museum quality.  I mentioned before that it was my intention to take copious notes and make sketches.  Well, I was admitted by the owner, who then came around with me for a while and we chatted about who I was and what my interests were, as I took in the first room of exhibits. 

He showed me their wonderful catalogue and from that I could see there was no point in my writing anything down as the catalogue had great high definition photographs (9), some of which are A4 size.  Lots of historical background and lots of smaller pictures.  (A must-have at only £12.00)     

Even though he could probably tell by then that I was not going to purchase any antiques, he explained that they are very committed to furthering the education of stitchers and respect stitchers the world over.  In fact their catalogue mentions the huge success and interest ‘Twixt Art & Nature’ exhibition has stirred in the vintage textile world. 

Indeed, if  you were an investor in antique needlework, you would probably have seen a lot of pieces there that you might want to consider.  I’m no expert but, I saw for instance, some very nicely worked small colourful samplers, framed, for around £8,000… 

I don’t quite know how one would set about storing an item like that, in order to preserve its wonderful colours and fibres from the ravages of time.  Perhaps Witneys, like upper end wine merchants, offer storage solutions that uphold the specification of museum experts?  You would have to make those enquiries yourself.   

It’s also worth pointing out what a delight it was viewing these wonderful artefacts in lighter surroundings than say, at the V&A, which can be quite dark at times (understandably).  Witneys, being the professionals they are however, naturally ensure ultra-violet proof windows and furthermore, as I understand it, in addition to being dealers, they also undertake restoration of textiles. 

The V&A is wonderful, but you do tend to get a lot of cast shadows from the tall display cases, invariably when you are trying to peer at things that are often set quite far back.  At Witneys you can get really  close to the exhibit and this is so important when you are trying to work out how on earth they did something…..     

So just from glimpsing the exhibits at a distance, I could tell the vibrant colours were one of the main things this exhibition was about, I mean how could they have:

“survived four centuries looking so bright”.

The Oxford Times said of the exhibition:

“Elizabethan needlework in fine condition is extremely rare”.

Mary Baker Her Basket 1670

The first thing I saw was a magnificent wire beaded ‘Layette’ basket worked in a wide spectrum of colours including the then, very expensive orange and red beads.  I later found out that that was not the only rare thing about this particular basket.  In case you didn’t know, these baskets could be ready-purchased, just like the wooden workbox caskets.  Some believe they were decorated to commemorate a marriage or engagement.  The scene depicted on this one is of The Garden of Eden.  I saw a similar one at the V&A recently that has mainly blue, green and brown beads.  I must preferred Witneys because its such a joyful piece. 

As I was speaking to the owner, my mind was racing as to the rarity and expense of those red beads.  

I later read that the basket is:

“of exceptional rarity as it is the only known named and dated example to survive”. 

Reading from the wonderful catalogue, (which I decided to buy after I saw the most amazing pair of goldwork gloves), it quotes a young Hannah Woolley, then aged 14, to illustrate how accomplished girls were in those days: ‘taught beading in the same way as other forms of needlework and embroidery’: 

“I can work well all manner of works which is to be wrought with a needle, also transparent works.  Shell-work, Mos-Work, also cutting of prints….all kinds of beugle (bead)-works, upon wyres and otherwise…”

Gentleman’s Cap circa 1600

Then in the distance I could see a magnificent Gentleman’s Cap (of which there is also a wonderful A4 sized photograph of a portion of its detail):

“and the beau would feign sickness to show his nightcap fine.”

Close by was a fabulous ladies Coif, not mentioned in the catalogue.  Both these head coverings were embroidered to a very high standard by the domestic embroideress.  But what amazed me more than anything, and this is why I travelled to see this show, was the very small scale to which the embroidered elements were worked. 

Personally, I’m a little worried about the danger of relying too much on the study of huge close-up photographs of motifs.  Scale is certainly a big consideration if one desires to be as ‘authentic’ as possible.  I have to keep reminding myself how very tiny their versions were and these were the days before spectacles! 

They used  an eye-glass for sure.  In fact at the V&A I was struck by how relatively easy it is to tell which pieces were made with an eye glass and which were worked later on with the balancing quality of spectacles, there’s a kind of ‘bigger picture’ mentality that creeps in. 

The wow factor in historic times was certainly not merely limited to the quality of stitching, but possibly, just as important was the fascination of minute scale.  I saw tiny acorns on Stump work mirrors that were no bigger than half the size of the nail on your little finger! 

For example, the cornflowers on both these head coverings were perfectly stitched to a width not much larger than a large thumbnail!

The Plaited Braid scrolling stem on these items was also much, much finer than we ever think possible.  I’m always struck when I see these things how fine in fact their metal thread was and how supremely pliable.  They gilded onto silver, we gild onto copper, can the difference in flexibility be that great between the two base metals??      

Back Panel of a Ladies Jacket or Bodice.  Late 16th/Early 17th century.

Then I saw the “fabulous jacket panel” that ‘Needleprint’ blog reported was sold at Christies some years ago.  This piece again, is very bright and extremely similar to the  Margaret Layton (Laton) jacket in the V&A.  It includes all the familiar motifs: strawberries, roses, rosehips, foxgloves, folded pansies, heartsease, cornflowers, cowslips and aquilegia and scrolling stems. 

At an event like this, you really begin to notice how the same motifs pop up and again and again.  Not so much the same fashion, as the exact same shape and view of a motif.  It  really makes you think about the pattern books they had back then and how well thumbed they must have been. 

I’ve managed to do a little further research on that subject and I read on the V&A website that there were actually only 4 pattern books in circulation at that time.

(As a result of that piece of research, I have made a very exciting discovery that I will share with you next time but for now -  What if I told you I have been speaking to someone whose husband was thumbing through some brick-a-brack in 1940 at a flea market in Shropshire and found ONE of those very pattern books in a box on the floor….more later)


Elizabethan Book or Folio Cover.  Circa 1600

Then I saw the framed Folio Cover which completely blew me away!  If you haven’t already done so, I would urge you to order a copy of the catalogue just for the close-up of this Folio Cover. 

Apart from a huge variety of stitches and techniques, indeed when read about early references to needlework, its often described as ‘cunning’, I think that word really would describe this piece.  It’s a feast for the eyes!  Gorgeous colours, very fresh and so many darling little squirrels, rabbits and birds as well as the usual charming flowers. 

But unusually, instead of Plaited Braid being employed for coiling stems, this time it represents a repeated single stem bowing graciously under the pendulous weight of its flora.  What a wonderful combination of silk and metal thread. 

I tell you, this would make a wonderful piece to reproduce, not too big, but enough work for a year or two of close study….I think I’m going to copy a couple of those cute motifs (she says…).  Another thing to note about this one is the direction of the stitching being used to describe form.  I’m very interested in that idea because its directly related to brush strokes in painting…

Another thing that I thought was unusual about this piece, was the way they had used Detached Buttonhole, which is after all a couching stitch, to work some lighter threads over darker rows with the effect of increasing the tonality of the paler silks.  The result is ‘shimmering’, nice touch!

Well, you know me by now, I couldn’t resist, here are a few sketches of the Foxglove motif on the Folio Cover:

folio cover

Imagine this only 2 feet away from you, sparkling as it picks up the light… (the tip of this gel pen is a little bit chunky, but I hope you get the idea)

 folio cover 01

 folio cover 02

 folio cover 03

  folio cover 04

This piece must have been professionally made, its so wonderfully self-assured.  Worth noting that an embroidered book cover of this kind would also have been protected by an embroidered bag.  I don’t think this piece was ever mounted over a book, perhaps they  thought it really ought to be displayed?? 

The Pair of Gauntlets Circa 1600 – 1640

Those elegant gloves made my eyes water.  There’s a fantastic close-up of them in the catalogue (reason I had to buy it) and again, its high definition and so you could, in theory, work from that image.  I’ve seen later, French needlework that is similar to this, using bobbin lace for the fringe.  This fringe however, is described as being made entirely out of needle lace.  Can you imagine using gold plate as if it were just thick thread?  Well they have here.

A lot of this kind of work would have been picked out in later times, in order to re-use the gold.  Here’s a link to an article by Margaret Jourdain called ‘Gold and Silver Lace Part 1’ for The Connoisseur

"The earliest pieces have the appearance of braid, with a simple lozenge pattern, but geometric patterns in plaited and twisted gold and silver thread were made about the end of the sixteenth century…"

to be continued……


g2g !

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The quest for ‘everlasting’ gardening trousers continues

(I pulled this post because its not ‘on topic’ but I’ve decided to reinstate it because I love these trousers and I love gardening)


Well before I take a day off and stick the car in cruise control and head up the M40 to take copious notes and make little sketches of exhibits at ‘Wrought With a Needle’ exhibition that I informed you about last week (can’t wait).  I decided I was just too embarrassed at the current state of my ‘ventilated’ gardening trousers and I really should take matters in hand. 

I decided to do more that just patch them this time.  As we all know, continually reaching for the (dear) kneeling pad during an arduous stint of being on all fours down among the weeds can get a bit boring.  So I decided to sew the kneeling pad to the knees, as it were !!!  

So off I went and bought these very sturdy strap-on kneeling pads with velcro fastenings.  They’re good and strong BUT, the straps cut into the back of my legs and they ride down, so I thought I would make them more integral, if you know what I mean.

I bought a strong (revolting) skirt from the thrift shop, that happens to have a slightly fluffy texture and used it to cut out 4 patches for the outside and inside of the knees, as I find its much nicer to kneel on soft fabric than hardwearing denim and that way I don’t have to cut any trouser fabric away OR darn them. 

I used the knee pad as a template, leaving a little border all the way round. 

CIMG4058 CIMG4059

As you can see, I’ve patched these dear things a whole heap of times.  They’re just plain old favourites and I love them so.  PLUS they have the added value that when I put them on I instantly feel like gardening.  Believe me when I say, they are imbued with the positive energy that comes from being in contact the sun, soil and slugs…


‘Heat & Bond’ is really great for so many things.  I love it because its so ‘clean’ and even if you do get a bit on your iron, its not a problem…

As its basically double-sided fabric adhesive you place it on the back on the material first, iron for 2 seconds - for light fabric.  Let it cool and flip your fabric over and do the other side, according to where you want to stick it….(remember to protect your ironing board cover and I also use a piece of muslin to protect my iron’s plate). 


Here’s the first patch – nice and flat – no bubbles!


This is what it looks like as you pull the backing paper away, as you can see, it comes off really cleanly. 


And here are all 4 patches ready for the next stage. 


I would add that when I came to iron them on the fabric side, I did need to do it for a lot longer than they specify on the instructions, as it was very thick material. 

In fact, I probably used the wrong grade of product for the job as it was really only meant for ‘light weight’ jobs.  Pleased to say though that I managed to ‘save the day’ by just persevering until the thing did finally stick down as it should.  They feel ultra starched now but that will disappear when they are washed.   

It was too late to finish the job on this occasion.  Next I need to run the borders off on my machine. 

When I come to do that part, I shall first have to fit the pads around bent knees to gauge how much ‘give’ to factor in.  This part is crucial and I’ll probably do it a couple of times to get it right. 

Meanwhile, I’ll give a little thought to the best way of fastening the pads to the knees? 

  • If I machine round the edge that will make them very durable but they will be too tight when I kneel – I’m aiming for a textile outer knee-cap idea….-
  • either I go for small lengths Velcro or I stitch elastic to the four corners and machine them to the trousers??? 
  • Also, if the basting is permanent, then I need to be sure they are machine washable.  I think they are? there’s no label but they look pretty well INDESTRUCTIBLE (*prays they are*)..

Looking a lot better now wouldn’t you say :)


cya !

Wrought with the Needle – exhibition

(I’m reinstating this post as I had a great time seeing this show and I hope to blog about it very soon – however, I’m presently working on my next video and pouring over my recent spending spree of very delicious BOOKS!)

For lovers of historical context notes, I should point out that I’ve changed the heading on this blog, if you see up there.  Reasons will be made clearer in the coming weeks…



Thought I would mention this forthcoming exhibition of “Art treasures of English Domestic Embroidery from Elizabeth I to George II” which opens next Monday at Witney Antiques, Oxfordshire, admission free, catalogue £12.00 in UK (they also ship internationally). 


Open daily 10.00am to 5.00pm from 18th – 31st October 2010. 

Their address is:

96-100 Corn Street


OX28 6BU

Tel: 01993 703902



Looks like its going to be a really good one and as I can no longer obtain my own copy of ‘Twixt Art & Nature’, I plan to pop along.


In case I meet any fellow ‘Betty Addicts’ there, as no one knows what I look like, maybe someone will recognise me from my battered gardening knees….. hahaha!  Can you believe I’m running a needlework blog and yet actually walk around in these things?  Oh dear, now that my neighbour has, erm, raised his eyebrows at this eccentric spectacle, I’ve decided to move everything over and set about making some improvement to my favourite gardening trousers that will be REALLY durable this time. 



Mystical Cornwall is still whispering in my ears…

The 15th Century church in St Ives called St Ia has a magnificent font, among other things.  I would have loved a photograph of that.  In case you didn’t know, when the Celts became Christian, their Baptism water was brought up from their ancient pagan holy wells…because the water was considered lucky…

So, I thought I’d show you a postcard of one of St Ia’s wonderful Bench ends instead.  These were restored in 1940 and are typical of 15th Century Cornish carving with its “deep cutting”.

bench end

cya !

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

How I made the Gold Acorn

From tiny acorns, mighty oaks (+long posts) grow…!!!

(Continuing on from last time…)

Well, I’ll start by saying that I’m (dare I say) proud at having worked out exactly how they made these acorn structures on the historic swetebag. 

As you’re aware, I didn’t have any books to assist me, and I’ve explained before, modern Stump Work books don’t cover these earlier, much more complex ‘trade secrets’, from what I can tell. 

It wasn’t easy, at first and I thought for a long time I would never fathom it out, but I regard The Bag as a kind of  tough Sudoku puzzle (which I love) and as you can tell from the pictures below, I got there by trial and error and not by making the theory fit the experiment. 

This proved to be a very satisfying endeavour as I also found out along the way, that the process the Elizabethans used to make the acorns is very old and in fact a Viking technique for metalwork chains!

Now you might not be very excited at that revelation but, for now, I just want to say that I can’t help but notice that the Acorns, the Turks Head Knots and Plaited Braid Stitch, all start exactly the same way….with a ‘pretzel’ formation of loops…(more about that later). 

OK, so before I launch into my storyboard-how-to I just wanted to say that I’m no longer going to call this stitch ‘Ceylon stitch’ because I think that in this context its a misnomer, as it definitely had a different name in Elizabethan times.  (We don’t know what it was called back then, but there’s plenty of room for more research...)

The other thing we have to remind ourselves of is that London is a 2000-year-old city and that its goldsmiths – who later formed Guilds and the Guilds have a long history of the cross-pollination of ideas - have operated from exactly the same location since Saxon times.  Their furnaces, underground vaults and mysterious traditions were passed down from generation to generation, without a break.   

So for the purposes of this blog I’m going to give this stitch its correct Viking name which is: Osenstitch (otherwise referred to as a looped mesh and not to be confused with Naalbinding or Mammen stitch). 

Osenstitch is also referred to as ‘Viking Knit’ and ‘Trichinopoly chainwork’ and is very similar in construction  to Vandyke stitch.  (I hope to post my research links next time.)   

Ok, so here goes:

If you recall I said I needed to work out how to:

  1. make ‘Ceylon stitch’ keep its shape to produce unstuffed cylindrical shapes
  2. that are closed at the top and
  3. widen out once, near the bottom and
  4. work up very small and neatly.

This is my first (rather squashed) attempt.  From it you can see its all wrong and its cotton and I was panicking (but undeterred all the same!). 

First attempt

You might think I should have used metal thread from the outset but if I can explain, I can see about 10 different views of these cylindrical structures on The Bag and each of them tells me something different.  From this I made a composite picture in my mind of what you could, and couldn’t do with this formation.

Looking at this section of the Museum image for the first time, I was struck by how regular the stitches were.  They are indeed very tiny and consistently perfect added to which, each acorn is exactly the same as the next. 

From this I inferred that they were probably self-supporting stitches in themselves, or dimensional, and that the acorns, in all probability, were not stuffed.  I was also obsessed with replicating the neatness and scale.  I convinced myself that working that small was going to give me eye-strain.  But I’m pleased to say, the result was nothing of the sort and I reiterate: they are easy to make! 

Foundation Stitches

The base line stitches used this time is a simple backstitch.

All the acorns are started in the same way and I could see that the tiny backstitches had been pulled somewhat out of shape and stretched in the process of constructing the acorn, as you will see later.


Open first row of Osenstitches

For the first row of Osenstitches I’ve kept the stitches fanned outwards.  I found I had to do this otherwise the shape goes in on itself.  It also helped for the 2 into 1 increases I had to do next.

This was the only row of increases I had to make, as the rest is worked straight up.

Below you can see I’m using my index finger as a support.  This method was working well for a while and I was reasonably pleased at this stage, however, my finger became cramped and my stitches started to become irregular.  I concluded they did not use this method as the results were inconsistent.


Below I'm pulling it to one side to compare the look of the thing, to the image.  I was pleased at the way things were progressing but I was still unhappy about bending my hand round to work the circular rows around a finger that was aching and had become just too awkward. 


Below you can see, I continued working a few more rows and the shape suddenly started to behave itself and form into a tiny (very neat) cup.  I knew then that the shape I was aiming for was not deliberately shaped by complex increases or decreases but merely grows upwards.  Also that the thick, inner rows of the reverse side of the stitching help greatly to maintain its shape.  


After that I decided to do the same in gold thread.  you can see it works OK but, believe me when I tell you at that stage it was still very untidy compared to the historic bag. 

However, I was content with the look, of the now elongated foundation stitches.  You can see below that the base line of backstitches have indeed stretched quite a lot, just like on the real thing.  However, this feature doesn’t detract from the overall impression of an organic cup kind of bursting out of the background fabric.


Below I’m taking the next stitch and notice how this method of working means ‘Ceylon stitch’ is actually upside down and by so doing you can pull it up in a very smooth way to tighten the stitches and thereby achieve neat very compact neat columns of stitching.  I also found out you can get a really good grip on your work if its upside down like this, unlike the directions in modern diagrams.  


By this time I decided my finger had had enough and I would simply have to find something else to work against as the work was narrowing and becoming too tight to continue with. 

However, when I took my finger out I was very encouraged by how the little stitches were looking and I could see that I was probably going along the right path, together with the fact that I could tell very clearly where to insert my needle each time and thereby picked up more speed.


So then I decided to have a little rummage in my workbox and found something much better suited to supporting the work than a (red index) finger, which was the *plastic handle of my seam ripper…

Below I’m making one complete stitch in 3 stages and you can see how easy it is to tell where to put your needle next time, as the firm support beneath pushes the proud crossed arms of each stitch out to make each column much more prominent.   





I think I mentioned before, because there are 10 examples of this structure on The Bag, I kind of worked out that they had to be made at a reasonable pace and could not have been too fiddly to execute.  More importantly, that the method of construction could be relied upon to produce consistent results.

See how tiny you can make Osenstitch in this way.  

Historical Context

Let me interrupt at this stage by including some historical background.  The Vikings made silverwork cords with this stitch by using just the end of the wire, no needle. 

They had many uses for these silver or gold cords and examples have been found where it is used as embellishments on  seams of clothes and jewellery. 

To support the work they would use a metal rod in exactly the same way as I used above.  The jewellery made from this type of chainwork was taken one stage further.  Once they decided how long they wanted the chain to be, they would then fasten it off and  pull the entire length of cord through a small hole in a wooden frame.  The holes in the wood were of varying sizes.  In this way they could produce very fine and yet strong silver wire.  They would also cut lengths of chain into sections to trade for goods, as a form of currency. 

Apart from its practical uses, the fact that the Vikings brought to England their solutions for lifting hitherto 2-d concepts of interlaced design into 3-d form is very significant…(more later).  

I’ve since researched a little further and found out that the concept of (metal) cylinders made in this way are probably an idea the Vikings picked up from their trade with the Byzantine world.  In fact the Byzantines often worked their form of  ‘Osenstitch’ more openly, whereby they could produce tiny ‘cages’ or hollow pendants into which they would ‘secrete’ precious items and display them on necklaces and earings.


Closing the cylinder

To close the top is also really easy.  For this you simply whip into all the stitches that make up the last row and pull the top closed as you would a miniature drawstring. 


One more observation

Below you can see that when its finished and pulled to one side, you get a bright crescent shaped highlight at the tip.  This is just as it appears on the historic Bag.  I spent a long time wondering if that highlight was in fact a spangle attached to the fabric but I’ve proved to myself, it is in fact the light catching the top of the whipped stitch closure. 


Finishing off ready to start the next acorn

To finish it off, you just take the thread back down through the centre of the acorn to bury it in the fabric and emerge where you want the next one to spring up. 


See how tiny you can make Osenstitch (Ceylon stitch) this way (fingernail size)... Its my guess there are possibly hundreds of (wickedly cute) things you can make with this idea….(o-oh, there I go again…)

*  I’ve decided I won’t use my plastic seam-ripper next time as its now covered in tiny scratches.  Instead, I plan to dig out some kind of small metal rod alternative from my DIY toolbox


Well, we returned from Florence a while ago but went away again, this time to wonderfully wild Celtic Cornwall.  With all its truly amazing ancient, early Christian wheel-head  crosses, holly wells, stone circles and hill forts.  Naturally we took the A303 to pass the awesome Stonehenge – can you believe that they actually considered knocking it down during the war for reasons of national safety…

Florence was great but they confiscated my scissors before the flight and I (had to) sit next to a (very nice) chatterbox… And yes, I was frog-marched through the Uffizi Gallery (of all places) and consequently missed the iconic Botticelli (!).  However – I did manage to see some amazing Renaissance vestments off the main building of the Duomo, (up lots of stairs), in Sienna and some beautiful medieval wedding celebration embroidery at the Jewish Museum…(more next time).