Monday, 25 January 2010

Up and down buttonhole with raised stem stitch to take a curve

I lost an aunt recently.  She was a really kind, warm person as well as being a wonderful cook.  She used to make amazing marmalade and had an orange tree in her Andalucian patio.  I wanted to embroider something that reminds me of her.  So I remembered that in this book (paperback):

4000 flower & plant motifs - a sourcebook

There’s a really good image of a peach with leaves.  I scanned it and decided to cut the pointed end off and make it into an orange. 

orange template

Then I made 2 separate paper templates because I want the leaf that sits on the orange to be 3-d and raised. 

Now the orange is actually much larger than what I usually work with, so I had to think hard about how to describe not only its slightly pitted texture, but also the fact that its a sphere.  So I was looking for a stitch that would take curves well, I found 2, those being raised stem stitch and up and down buttonhole.   

They each describe one aspect but neither can do both so I thought, what the heck, I’ll use both.

Now the raised stem stitch with this gold metallic thread works out really nice and smooth, and the direction of each line of stitching helps to create the all important illusion of the thing curving round and appearing spherical.

Like this:


Whereas the up and down buttonhole, at the bottom here -which may I say, takes ages to do but is well worth the effort for pure texture - seen here in Anchor Cotton Perle No. 8 (which I have an awful lot of – long story!!):


Here’s what I mean:

orange 3

As you can see this is a realistic looking orange; not a perfect circle by any means.  This is the orientation its set at in my hoop and you can see that I’m coming down while I do the up and down buttonhole, that is, after working upwards with the stem stitch. 

As I come down I tack the outer edge at each end to blend in with the side, then come down one stitch and start another row.  Its another back and forth stitch with no straight stitch return row, so you would think its really fast but actually, you are only ever coming down the width of the the thread each time, and that’s about 2mm here!  Mucho trabajo I can tell you, but I love it coz its bright and happy like my aunt was, especially when she was cooking.


Update: Seems I shall have to buy 40-count linen for the bag, after all.  The museum is very quiet at the moment (?) and so I’m using the time researching the degree of  twist that the silk I’m to buy will need in order to work all those dimensional stitches.  I have a handy magnifier with a little inbuilt daylight bulb for good DIY close-ups!  For sure I’m only going to use the silk thread after I’ve made each element in cotton first, as a Maquette-type thing.  Working from one to the other, incrementally is probably the way I’ll proceed.  There’s no way I’m going to practice with silk, cotton is for practice, silk is for real.  So both types of thread will need to be evenly matched.  I’ve also come to realise that I shall need to add another layer of fabric of some sort to the back of the work to give the stitches a firmer anchorage.  


Sunday, 17 January 2010

I’ve changed the name of my blog and I’m revising/updating/moving a lot of pages

Hope to get that finished soon.  I’ve kept most of the pages I’ve deleted so they will look the same, just be more thorough and have more piccies.  I’m sorry to inconvenience readers in this way but I knew it was a job that was ‘waiting for me’, as they say. 

I’m basically going to be doing an entire dissertation on Trellis stitch, as recent feedback would indicate, that non-visual learners would really appreciate that.  I’m a ‘pictures and diagrams’ person myself but I respect that we’re not all the same (TG) and I would like to help people.  I also plan to expand on the piece I did called ‘Considering Buttonhole’ as it brings together lots of bits of information I’ve gleaned and gets them down in one place, once and for all.  (Sorry to sound a bit soap-boxy here, but there is a lot of confusion out there.) 

This blog is changing I feel.  Its like it began one way and now its turning into something else.  I suppose I’m making it more structured as a linear narrative, of sorts, has emerged, in that my first tentative experiments have paid off and I have a system now that can probably help me to work out how they made the bag, or as it stands, perhaps 75% of it.  Of course that framework is growing all the time, in that I’m noticing more and more things in this particular example of elaborate dimensional embroidery, that I didn’t understand before. 

I would like to make it clear though, that the purpose of my of research into this period of history and indeed making the bag, is to endeavour to get inspiration from this rich visual style. 

So, it follows that when I get down to the nitty-gritty, l plan to have little digressions, you know, here and there en route, to make little things and experiment.  They’re always going to be ‘little’ mind, in fact, the bag itself only measures a miniscule 4 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches !

Of course, my life would be a lot easier if I just followed embroidery kits and relaxed more but I think the most exciting thing about embroidery, especially Elizabethan embroidery, is that its soooo inventive.  I mean its amazing what those people achieved just by varying  a limited number of stitches.  I read recently that its like ‘playing’ when you get into this stuff and I really do believe that.

Here’s one of the two finished hearts:

padded heart

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Making an embroidery pattern from a photograph

Here’s what I’m working on at the present time, now that the padded Detached Buttonhole heart’s finished (more about that later..).


As we all know, embroidery patterns are usually thickish bold lines that have clearly distinguish boundaries.

They are essentially black outlines. You can put a black outline round anything but when you are trying to do that with a photograph the results can confuse what the outline is trying to describe, especially with delicate subjects like birds or faces.

However, if you see a photograph not in terms of clear outlines but in terms of ‘tonal shapes’, you begin to retain the delicacy of the image.

Here’s what I mean:


Scan it into your computer and adjust the contrast like this:


Draw around the shape of the bird but not for outline but to CUT it out later with small scissors. Like here:


Now you have a paper template that you can pin to your fabric and draw round it, carefully with light strokes. The reason for this is that the SHAPE is what you want, not the outline. The shape is describing the volume and it does this with lots of tiny curves all joined up. Each curve suggests another part of the bird, e.g. shoulders, chin etc. This way you keep the representation realistic and not turned into a flat ‘diagram’ or ‘cartoon’.

Here is the result of striving to stay true to nature:


Then you can go back and refer to the photograph for colour reference and textural guidance.

With this I hope to make a card for a dear friend. The little robin didn’t take that long to stitch. I hope to lovingly spend much more time on his eyes and head.

As you can tell, I didn’t have enough tones of stranded cotton, so next I’m going to do a little trick they taught us in art school to integrate the 3-d modelling.

Long and Short Stitch variation

The long and short stitch I used for the bird’s feathers is the version described in a book called Beginners Guide to Crewel Embroidery by Jane Rainbow. In it she refers to it as the ‘Chinese method’ of Soft Shading, where you always come up through earlier stitches, often splitting them, and NOT GO DOWN into them. This way you don't have to try and find the ends of the short stitches. I find this way much faster to work than the usual instructions for Long and Short stitch. For the Robin I’ve adapted ‘soft shading’ even further to come down in columns rather than working the stitches in rows, as it’s even faster. The bird isn’t finished but I completed what you can see here in about an hour, or just over. Working this way means you use up more thread as you have to carry it up the back each time, but it really does save a lot of time!

Of course, he currently has no legs but don’t worry, he’s going to be placed firmly on his little frozen twig very soon.

  • Update: I’m going to revise certain posts on here and to do that I find I’m going to have to move pages ahead. I will leave skeleton notes on the original pages however, and links to their new locations.

Feedback most welcome!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Loose detached buttonhole padded heart - 3 colours red

Well, as I had all this red thread hanging around at this time of year, as you do, I couldn’t resist making a little heart ‘thing’ for my daughter.

It looks corny in its present state, I know, but I hope it wont be when its finished, as this is only one element of the final piece, which shouldn’t take too long to complete. I got the idea while I was sailing up the virtual Amazon browsing all the delicious titles along the riverbank…


Here’s a close-up of the side stitches. Notice how the shape curves. I achieved this my making a very loose straight stitch return while working Detached Buttonhole (DBH), I stress, really loose. If you can imagine it as a sort of loop more than a normal straight stitch.


Its my intention to ‘raise’ this embroidery eventually with stuffing. Creating a clear gap between the backing and your stitching in this way means way you don’t have to pad it first with felt or, most importantly, worry about decreasing or increasing, you just go back and forth as if it were perfectly flat. The intention wasn’t to save time however, it was more about what kind of ‘raised’ shape I want eventually, and in this case I want it to look convincingly convex with smooth sides.

This is what I’m going to use to stuff it as its so small. I don’t know what its called, only that its great for getting into tiny nooks and crannies.


more later…

Nutshell progress report on THE BAG: Happy to say I’ve finally managed to find ‘just the right’ backing fabric for the bag. It might not be the best quality because its not as firm as I would have liked but I always meant to buy linen that would drape as the bag does in the picture. Work on the bag will commence in earnest once the better image arrives from Scala, the UK agents for The Met Museum in New York...oh I’m biting my nails as I type…