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).