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 !