Thursday, 1 December 2011

Detached Buttonhole Leaf on the bias and Kindle versus i-Pad

The book was returned by the publisher for signing off and consequently threw my progress with St Katherine out of sync.  Then, for some strange reason I noticed I now have a mountain of mending, including altering 2 sets of curtains!  However, in all of that I managed to return to a particular conundrum and apply some clearer thinking

Detached Buttonhole Leaf stitched on the bias

In August I was studying leaf formation, especial sharp points and serrated edges on period pieces.

I said then that I wasn’t happy with the version below but have since changed my mind and accept and stand by what I said in the Summer about stitching DBH directly and outlining the shapes afterwards:


Especially as someone – who has to remain anonymous – sent me a super large image of a period flower motif that you can clearly see has been stitched directly and neatly, without outlining beforehand.  It certainly fits in very much with certain configurations of thread that I can see on the images I have access to.   

That brings me back to a particular (blue) leaf that I keep returning to but have been unable to figure out.  It seems that now finally, I have made some progress.

I took a fresh look at it and realised it could not have been stitched in the normal way.  By that I mean it must have been stitched on the bias, or diagonally.

The reason I think they did that was because you find very quickly when attempting more complex shapes that if you start at a narrow pointed end, like the base of a leaf say, you end up having to stretch the tiny piece of fabric that you create too much.  Comparing period pieces, you can see their work was not stretched in this way, but rather fuller and more compact.  So I’ve found that its better to begin with a greater number of stitches.  In so doing, this makes creating points and later decreasing them, much easier.  Funny how when you begin to notice  shapes worked that way, you suddenly end up seeing a lot of more them.

So these next pictures are pretty self-explanatory.

DBH leaf stitched on the bias

Below you can see how I started the leaf on the bottom left hand side with a cording row onto which I placed roughly 14 stitches.

The shape is not outlined beforehand but when I completed it, I stem stitched some outer edges as discussed before.

What was different with this figure was, as I stitched I held the work in this position.  This made the whole thing a lot easier and much faster.

DBH leaf stitched on the bias 2

When I came to work the points, I extended the tips even more by finishing them off with a detached chain stitch, as I can see they have done on the original.

Old Books and Kindle Downloads

When it comes to choosing an e-reader, the choice is mainly between a Kindle or an i-Pad. 

I chose Kindle because as an e-reader, it has zero glare. 

I planned to download lots of really old, out of print, black & white books, like A History of Secular Embroidery by M Jourdain:


‘The Internet Archive’ website (sorry no links at this time, but you can Google it) is marvellous for offering Kindle format versions that you can download as a Mobi file, then send to yourself via your Kindle email account – the whole process is lightening quick.  The illustrations come out really well but as I said, I bought it mainly for text.

If I had bought an i-Pad, as its a device that displays colours, I could start say, buying craft books as e-books and save a lot of space but the i-Pad is a lot more than an e-reader and is basically another computer screen.  So, simply to read large amounts of text, I came back to my Kindle. 

I find, especially when my eyes are tired, the last thing I can cope with is any kind of glare.  Furthermore, you can increase the font size as a default setting for all your books.  Added to which, its one-armed reading in bed! 

Recently I extended that idea and bought a leather cover by Tuff-Luv which includes a hands-free stand in guess what colour….cherry yoghurt pink!


While I still had the original 1910 book out of the library I was able to compare the downloaded file to it for possible discrepancies and formatting compromises.  I was pleased to note that there was very little ‘lost in translation’, as it were.

The only thing to remember when selecting which version of a book to download, is that early Kindle conversion files tend to be not as smooth, so you should select copies that indicate how popular they are by the number of times they have been downloaded.  

Gotta go ppl!


Saturday, 19 November 2011

Halo update – between the spikes

Short, just got shorter !!!

Between the Crown’s Spikes

St Katherines gold halo

I decided I really had to face my fears and throw myself into the myriad of tiny decisions involved with filling the halo, between the spikes.

This time, only three rows needed to be pulled out and re-done.  In contrast to what I decided last time, for these ‘in-betweeners’, I did need to turn the work with each new row, in order to maintain control.  

While laying down the two fine strands of Lurex each time, (although from the pictures it looks like only one strand) I came to realise that to avoid them becoming twisted, the length of gold should never be too long. 

St Katherine's gold halp - 2Some interesting things happened along the way.  First of all, the direction of the couching is sometimes very wavy.  However, when the rows of metallic thread join their neighbouring sections, all these smaller curves join up and flatten out.  This means that some gaps are unavoidable.

The other observation is the appearance of interesting shadows that form between elements.  This results in the figure appearing to be brought forward.  I might  exaggerate that later on by adding some more brown outlining? 

Some off-topic stuff

On a completely different subject, when I do finally put together all the bits and pieces to make up these pdf patterns that I keep mentioning, I plan to add this one to the list.

miniature cupcake pincushion

Its a miniature cupcake pin cushion that incorporates a Viking Knit cake case.


I’ll let everyone know when these things are available – hopefully New Year…

gotta go ppl !


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Laid Work Halo – first stage

You know, short(er) posts really keep me working!
This post is one third on topic, the rest is given over to general sewing!
As you can see from this picture..
Or Nue Halo
the halo is coming along.
Well, its certainly a relief to have worked out a good use for the piles of Lurex I seem to have accumulated. 
Or Nue 2
As you can no doubt spot on the picture above, I’ve run into a little difficulty at the outermost edge of her hair.  There is a most annoying gap declaring itself.  I plan to fill it, hopefully, but failing that surreptitious act, I would need to extend her hair a little further.
I used a fine ‘antique gold’ coloured silk thread to couch the strands of Lurex. 
I was aiming to couch a neat Brick pattern but things went a little haywire, as there were too many things to consider simultaneously, such as:
  • Turning the gold at the end of the row and preventing it from twisting
  • Making sure there were no gaps
  • curving the eventual shape
  • Then joining the two curved areas into a larger arc.
So with all of that, the Brick pattern kind of disappeared.
I can see on the original, that the direction the gold strands take are not that smooth to begin with, but end up as a smooth overall shape.  I will have to adopt those methods when I come to fill the (dreaded) internal spaces between the crown’s spikes. 
What have a learnt so far about Laid Work?
1.  Work towards you when couching, by coming out at the top edge of the gold and coming down into the gap between two rows, to finish the couch stitch. 
2.  Couch using Stab method, because the distance between the stitches is too small. 
3.  Don’t worry too much about the appearance of gaps as you work, because its only when you complete the couching stitch - towards you - that the gold ingeniously nestles into its correct position, directly above the previous row.

Off Topic – Cath Kidston Knitting Needle Case
Laid Work is quite tiring for the eyes, so to rest them a bit I decided to get on with a  much-needed Knitting Needle Case, using some fabulous Rosie printed cotton duck fabric by Cath Kidston.
I’m a big CK fan and happened to notice just this weekend that she’s published 2 new, mouth-watering books, this time on the subjects of knitting and crochet!   
The pattern for this Knitting Needle case, incidentally, is from her book called Sew.
Cath Kidston Lined Knitting Needle Case 1
The case if fully lined but I must admit, I did alter the pattern slightly for that section.
Cath Kidston Lined Knitting Needle Case
We’re directed to sew the whole thing together inside out, as one, then bind all the seams. 
I decided at that point to divide the task into two.  Then, by missing out one of the side seams of the outer case, I could pull all the layers through the right way.
This meant I needed to Blind stitch the final seam closed, taking care not to make the hand stitches too tight as that would cause it to pucker.
Sew is a neat little book and tucked inside its front cover is a huge sheet of actual size patterns to trace over.
Oh dear, between Country Bumpkin, Search Press and now, Cath Kidston, I may eventually have to move into the shed and transplant the bulging book collection into the house…lol!

Gotta go ppl !
P.S.  I really must get on with all these Pdf patterns I keep mentioning.  I would like to complete them in one job-lot.  With a little luck, that will be before the holidays…

P.P.S.  I amended this post 2 days later as I made a mistake with naming the Goldwork technique.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

St Katherine’s crown is complete

I think short posts suit my constitution…

Split Stitching with Silk
Well its certainly infinitely easier to Split Stitch with silk than cotton thread, any day!
As you can see, even though the variety I’m using is a bit too thin for my purposes, its great the way it ‘splits’ by itself, each time you go to take a new stitch.
easy Split Stitching with silk
With this technical advantage, I filled the crown quite quickly.
This is the essential design of the crown:
Crown pattern
It incorporates 4 main medieval Fleur de Lys on spikes.  Each of those spikes further multiplies the design into a quatrefoil.  Between the main spikes are smaller spikes, with a single Fleur de Lys.  There are  2 sizes of pearl bead used.  3 large pronged gems (funny, I thought prongs arrived much later?).  The motif is filled with gold coloured silk and outlined in gold passing.
One would think all of that was quite straightforward.  Then of course you come to make it, and you realise the fun is only just beginning!
Decisions, decisions…  I can see that the area I am studying on the original artefact, is in fact a ‘slip’.  It is encircled in Laid Work and finished off with a row of tiny pearls and after that you can see the tiny couching stitches holding a fine cord edging in place. 
However, the crown also appears on one side to be a slip, within the slip.  On the other side, strangely, it does not (?).  So with that ambiguity, I decided to make this repro crown as a little slip.
I didn’t want to change the design more than I absolutely had to but by this stage I realised I needed to save a bit of time.  Hence each spike is dealt with as a large filled area that will later be outlined in gold. 
Close up, this idea is not exactly to my liking, but as you will see further down this post, at a certain distance, it kind of works.   
I started this piece because I was drawn to the problem of the facial features.  I had read recently that the main difference between Opus Anglicanum and its European counterpart, was that the English used a circular formation for split stitching facial features. 
On reading that I immediately thought of Lucien Freud’s way of painting facial planes and married that up with what I had read in Jourdain’s book recently:
“the same crafts people that illuminated their books, also did embroidery”.
Once I thought of it like that, I decided I wanted to ‘draw’ Katherine’s face with thread.  I can see now that I may have used too many colours with her face but something unexpected happened.  That was that, the glossy golden silk of the crown was contrasting well, with the cotton split stitched face.  This was serendipitous indeed but its important to remember that the original would have been made entirely of silk. 
Beaded crown
Well, here is the finished crown.
Crown complete
Now onto the Laid Work halo!
I found the link to the black & white image of St Katherine that I’m working from, posted by Lady Christian de Holacombe at  The SCA, here.  Its about halfway down the page.
Furthermore, if you would like to see a huge close-up of an Opus Anglicanum male figure, published by the Metropolitan Museum (pdf download file), click here.  He appears on the second page of the documentNotice the intricate detail lavished on his nose.
DeVere Silk Suppliers
I’ll talk more about the silk I’ve been using next time.  As I’m expecting another shipment.

gotta go ppl !

Thursday, 3 November 2011

St Katherine’s Hair is Complete

I think I could grow to like short posts after all…


Religious Embroidery Influencing Standards of  Domestic Embroidery

I forgot to mention last time that the reason I am taking a ‘little’ wander into the concerns of Opus Anglicamum work is that during the dissolution of the monasteries, most religious embroideries were in fact cut up and distributed amongst the nobility of the land. 

This meant that as girls thereafter, were no longer sent to convents to learn, mainly needlework – most wealthy households had access to extremely elaborate examples of fine needlework that they could examine and learn from.  These chopped up items were often made into cushions. 

The pieces that were not distributed in this way were hidden by the nuns, often for centuries, until they felt it safe to bring them out again.  


Hollie Point Hair Complete

I finished her Hollie Point hair and smoothed out her face a bit more.  The chin still needs some work but I shall leave that for now as I could go too far in trying to reintroduce that essential shape.

The face and neck are one inch in length and less than that in width.

Hollie Stitch hair complete

Hollie Stitch is extremely similar to Trellis Stitch when worked over a cord row.  Maybe this is how Trellis Stitch progressed into the vocabulary?


This is how you do Hollie Stitch


Left Handers would work it from Right to Left and visa versa for Right Handers. 

The thread is wound round the thumb and the needle is taken in a  downwards direction, first through the previous row of silk, then under the gold cord row, then finally into the loop that is round the thumb.

In this way it is like DBH but with an extra twist.

Descriptions of the stitch make it seem really fiddly but once you get your head round the orientation of all the interconnecting bits, it is actually a very smooth stitch to work. 

Working this small meant I had to use a Crewel Needle and of course the hazard with that is that when you go under the final, thumb loop of working thread, you can end up splitting it.  This seemed to happen once every 10 stitches or so.  The only solution for that is to carefully pull it out.  Also, you end up scratching your nail unless you slow right down for the last part.

Things like that don’t bother me, as long as the end result is what I am after and scale wise, I think I was right to use this stitch.

Hollie Stitch hair close up

I tried to use standard Detached Buttonhole for the hair, but the stitches became too compact, and in so doing the visibility of the gold was lost. 

I’m now ready to start the crown, so naturally I am a bit nervous.

I will practice it first, not for too long though, as then I will be in danger of growing bored about making the final version. 

Stylistic References

Because the picture I am working from is quite blurred, I’m looking at images of Celtic jewellery in this book to help me.

The Celts by Frank Delaney

The origins of the Saxon Hiberno style begin with the influence of the master Celtic Goldworkers and the absorption of this aesthetic in to the Germanic style.  All of this is quite strange really when you think that the Celts were originally a Germanic people as well.  But the really important thing to remember about ancient Celts is that we are discovering more and more now about how closely linked they were to the ancient Greeks, who of course were  supremo master goldworkers and in fact did regular trade with the Celts before they settled in Britain.

Neil Oliver made the point recently in A History of Ancient Britain that the standard of work that was achieved by Celtic goldworkers in England at the time the Snettisham Hoard was made, exceeded anything else that was being produced anywhere in the world. 

The emphasis of Frank Delaney’s book however, is primarily Irish and the pages dedicated to the Book of Kells particularly, are the reason I bought the book.  He does not spend any time on the Snettisham Hoard.

My main fascination with Celtic jewellery is obviously The Snettisham Hoard, which was only discovered in around 1946, not far from where I live. 

I also learned only recently that the really unique thing the Celts did with their Goldworking was that they altered the chemical structure of their artefacts. 

This sounds so strange when you first hear it and kind of mind-boggling really, but what that simply means is that they melted their gold together with silver and copper, then beat the living daylights out of it, until all the silver and copper particles ended up in the core of the structure and the gold rose to the surface.  Hence they could make whopping great torcs that were not solid gold or gilded, but consequently immensely strong and remained forever bright gold. 

Yum yum !


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Opus Anglicanum Stitch Study of St Katherine’s Head

This is a truly short post !!

“To Copy, is to Understand”

Opus Anglicanum Stitch Study of St Katherines head

As you can see, I just started another project.  This time its a 1 inch stitch study of St Katherine’s head.  The original artefact is c.14th Century, I think.

I’m working from a very small and not very clear, black & white image, and now I’m up to the really fun stuff: her hair.

In the picture above you can see I decided to make the hair out of Hollie Stitch over a gold passing No.5 thread.  The lovely rich brown, Silk Mill, single thread that I’m using, is truly luscious.  The image is not clear enough for me to be certain how they made the hair, but I can see features like ‘bumps’ in the pattern, so my interpretation is Hollie Stitch.   


I used 2 strands to Split Stitch most of the face and neck.  I only found out afterwards that I should have used only one strand for the skin and two for the clothes, but this was something I had to find out the hard way on the long and windy road of learning.

I couched the eyebrows, eyes, chin, outline etc, as I can see they did in those days.

Needless to say, its incredibly close work, with no shortcuts.

Since completing the face I have found a really good close- up of an Opus Anglicanum face that I will link to next time.  I was pleased to note that it confirms a lot that I had worked out for myself, but peeved that I had made some pretty big mistakes, like the treatment of skin.

She will be wearing a delectable old English crown very soon though, with lots of cute beads.  

As I said a while back, all my stitch studies from now on are going to be of complete motifs, not just miles and miles of doodle-cloth work!

I have learnt an awful lot from stitching this tiny face.  Mostly importantly, rather like applying stage paint in miniature, you need to depict an image that takes into consideration that it will be viewed from a certain distance…



The Bag

I am extremely pleased to be able to link to the image of the actual  sweetbag that is on public display on one of  the Metropolitan museum website pages. 

Believe it or not, this is the image I paid for that I have been telling everyone about for such a long time. 

Its High Definition, which means you can magnify it a whole 11 times by pulsing your computer mouse.

From it you will see the oodles of metal thread that went into its construction, and hopefully you will also understand why it is so difficult to re-create and has taken me such a long time to get even this far.

The link is here.

In the bottom right of the first image you see, it will say ‘Full Screen’.  Click on that and wait for the image to have a very wide black border. 

Then on the left hand side you will see a Plus and a Minus sign, representing magnification buttons.  Click the Plus sign 13 times for a Windows Interface and 11 times for a Macintosh.

Then just drool !!


Gotta go ppl !


Friday, 28 October 2011

Long & Short Stitching

As you can tell,  I’m still trying to make my posts shorter…

Recently I received Flowers for Elizabeth (FFE) by Susan O’Connor, published by Country Bumpkin.

Flowers for Elizabeth by Susan O'Connor

To say the book is wonderful is an understatement!

I bought it for the patterns and to help me with colours.

And so, that book led to these two flowers.  They are not patterns from the book, exactly, but inspired by it.

Long & Short Stitch Sampler

FFE includes lots of wonderful little tutorials of stitches and techniques, but alas it does not cover Long & Short (L&S) Stitch in any great detail.

As we all know, L&S is pretty difficult to master and there is a lot of, sometimes, contradictory information out there about how to tackle it. 

Personally, I always had an inkling that I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t know precisely what it was until recently. 

We’re told there are basically 2 distinct ways to work the stitch.  Either you come up into the space between 2 previous stitches or you split the stitch on a previous row to re-emerge.

After watching several exemplary videos and reading as much as I could online, I was still  no closer to producing what I wanted to see.

That’s when I decided take a closer look at how the Elizabethans tackled L&S.   I looked again at all the sources I have and concluded that they worked L&S two ways too:

  • When their thread was (thicker and) twisted, they used a ‘brick stitch’’ technique, and came up between two earlier stitches.  Although when they worked this ‘brick’ method, their stitches were much more compact than modern references.  The resulting texture comprises of lots of little bumps that are pointed at the top and bottom.
  • In contrast, when they used a flat filament silk, they would split the stitch of the preceding row and end up with a comparatively smooth  texture and gradual colour blending. 

As I was working with cotton perlee this time, which has a firm twist, I opted for the former method but still wasn’t happy with my efforts.

To cut a long (& short) story short (lol), I began to realise I was doing something wrong.

In fact, it turns out I was doing 2 things wrong but I had to solve the mystery in a particular order…

Then I came across a quotation that helped me a lot and provided a starting point for much-needed further investigation:

“Long & Short Stitch is very similar to Satin Stitch”.

I found that observation very illuminating.

That’s when I decided to pull out my handmade vintage, Chinese silk  dressing gown that had been given to me, because I remembered it displays good examples of (unpadded) Satin Stitch:.


Here is a close up of the leaves,


This is the back of them.


Two things struck me while looking at this textile again.

1.  How you can see that L&S really is an ‘extension’ of Satin Stitch.

2.  How loose the work is, on both sides. 

This got me thinking…

I realised that the first thing I was doing totally wrong, was that I was pulling the thread too tightly after each Satin Stitch.  Hence I would ‘shrink’ the effect and inevitably cause more problems for myself by then needing to pack in more (and more) stitches to create a ‘fullness’, that I had inadvertently lost by pulling too hard in the first place.

Then I started to make the Borage pictured here, but this time much more loosely than I was used to doing.

 Long & Short Stitch - Sampler - Blue Flower with silver highlights

This approach paid off and its not a complete failure but it was still ‘woolly’, figuratively speaking. 

When I came to do the leaves something happened

I find working Satin Stitch very time-consuming, I think everyone says that, but I’ve always felt it was because I wasn’t doing it right. 

Anyway, while I was thinking, I instinctively turned the work 90 degrees to achieve a better slant, as I was working the inner section of the leaf at the time. 

When I finished that row I checked back over what I had done and could immediately see the stitches were smoother, more regular and more importantly, I had managed to work faster!

Long & Short Stitch Leaf

To jump forward a little, because I didn’t manage to take shots of the leaf being worked, this is the centre of the Peony being worked, later on.

The thing to note about this picture is that this is the direction in which I used to work the stitch. 

close-up of padded Satin Stitch

Then I changed to this method.

Padded Satin Stitch

As you can see, I now work in the most comfortable position, which is to go with the natural direction of my thumb and sew horizontally, rather than vertically.

There are various reasons why this way works better for me, quite apart from it simply feeling more natural. 

As things had picked-up, I continued with the Peony.

Stage 1

Long & Short Stitch Red Flower WIP

So working similarly, because Satin Stitch and L&S are virtually one and the same, I applied exactly the same principles to my L&S areas and quickly completed several red petals. 

Then I moved on to making a tiny, Cretan stitch sepal.  This was pulled out eventually because it proved to be too cramped and ‘busy’ in texture. 

I decided then to split the plies once more and make the 2 smaller leaves with Fishbone Stitch and the larger ones with L&S.

Cretan stitch sepal


Long & Short Stitch leaves

The stalk incidentally, is made with Wheat Stitch.  This is described in FFE and is a very neat way to produce what looks like a very orderly chain stitch band but is compiled of 2 separate lines of stitching. 

Peony 1


Gotta go ppl !

P.S.  I have great news about The Bag – I have finally found a silk supplier that has filament silk that really ‘glows’, is a reasonable price, and is processed less than 10 miles away!


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Historical Embroidered Faces

Back to business here!  I shall be making a new video soon, this time on a Celtic Knots.  Immediately after, that I’m going to finish off the ‘3-d Corded Detached Buttonhole PDF file’ I mentioned a couple of posts ago.

For now though:  I noticed some draft posts I had lined -up that were in danger of being overlooked due to the (dear) book.  This is one of them. 


Last time I visited the Ashmolean Museum I saw among other things, 2 wonderful embroidered faces, one was from the elaborate Casket pictured below, and the other was from a giant needlepoint ‘tapestry’ piece, that I discuss briefly at the end of this post. 

Added to which, after my goose-bumpy visit to Witney Antiques, I was considering stitching a little face myself.  I haven’t had the chance yet to try it, but this post includes a picture of a ‘stitching pattern’ of one of these faces, for when I do manage to ‘clear my decks’.

Casket Faces

As we all know, these magnificent embroidered Caskets were sold in kit form, (probably door-to-door) by salesmen who could also supply the materials needed to complete them. 

This particular Casket, on display at the Ashmolean, has an emotive note regarding its provenance accompanying it.  The note was found in the box by the original owners and is more than a little sad as it explains some important historical background behind the scarcity of these boxes.


The transcript of the note says:

‘The Cabinet was made by my Mother’s Grandmother who was educated at Hackney School after the plague in London all the young ladies works were –burnt- destroyed that they were about at that time.  She left school soon after, therefore this was made before 1665.’

(The word ‘burnt’ is struck through on the Museum note.)

Conjecture on Possible Construction Methods of Faces


Seen lit from above in this way, we can really tell just how dimensional the lady’s little padded face is. 

Her forehead protrudes further out than the cheek bones and is realistically dome-shaped, even though she has unusually wide eyebrows. 

Notice how well formed her  cute nose is.  It too protrudes, even though its highest point is actually a little off-centre. 

See how taut her ‘fabric’ complexion is.  To my mind, their method of working meant that the stitches used to define the facial features are not only descriptive but functional too, as they are used to ‘mould’ the shape.

The really interesting parallel I was able to make recently, was just how much this female figure resembles a period doll.  In fact, an Elizabethan doll described as being in “remarkable condition” popped up  in an episode of  the ‘Antiques Road show’ that I saw last year.   Apart from the similar treatment of the facial features and their proportions, I noticed also, that the little wooden hands were finished on the toy dolls exactly as they are in miniature form, on these Stumpwork Casket figures.

Pattern and Stitch Plan

Below you can see I have made a careful drawing from an image in the catalogue (sold worldwide) from Witneys exhibition.  This Queen’s face appears on a embroidered mirror.  

As a drawing, it looks a little strange and that is because its actually a drawing of the stitching used on this particular textile face.

I think the ‘pattern’ is clear enough to translate back into stitching, as I have counted the stitches as precisely as I can with the aid of my magnifier. 

I suppose you could say its a kind of ‘dot-to-dot’ of stitching, if you will, in that all the small vertical lines are where your couching and/or quilting stitches should go. 

The interesting thing about this sketch is that you can clearly see, she was stitched away from the main fabric and added as a kind of ‘slip’, subsequently. 

Notice how the edge of the figure has a finely couched white cord running round it, that is secured with very small perpendicular couching stitches. 

As I noted from peering at slips on display at The V&A, the cord has a dual purpose in this instance.  Firstly it would conceal any frayed threads that could poke out plus it would provide a much-needed firm base with which to stretch the piece into place, as you stitch.  

It goes without saying that this idea, in all likelihood would work far better than simply grabbing a tiny hem and pulling it about.  After all, they wanted their stitching to last.   In fact, I have since learnt that the idea of reinforcing hems in this way, was a working method that was possibly carried down from Saxon times (?), when they would finish off all their hems with fine braids, to reinforce them against wear.    

stumpwork stitch diagram

Of course, stitched faces are utterly dependent on the convincing treatment given to eyes, so all eyes have to be especially large. 

stumpwork face close up

If we take an even closer look at the eye socket area from another piece of historical embroidery (found in another Witney catalogue) that I made a drawing of, you can see the path they would have taken with their tiny quilting stitches. 

Eye quilting stitches

The Curious Case of Ink Lines Left Unworked

Going back to the royal face, in the picture below, you’ll  see, I’ve deliberately used black marker to identify the ink lines that remain visible on the embroidered mirror.  In my personal view, you can perhaps tell from this, that they deliberately left key ink lines ‘unfinished’. 

Those areas are:

  • the side of her nose
  • her eyebrows
  • her lower lip and
  • the finer, framing curls of hair

It may just be conjecture but, I now think this was, in all probability a deliberate decision (?).

It could be that black silk was known to disintegrate and was very expensive or ‘troublesome’ in some other way?

Also, it could be that the whole thing just looks better with certain areas defined in black ink?

My personal view is that they were deliberately left as unworked inked areas for emphasis, rather like under-drawing in a painting, to help define key features, especially when viewed from a distance e.g. hung on a wall. 

under drawing


Needlepoint Faces

In contrast, here is a close up of another lady’s face that appears in the centre of a large needlepoint ‘tapestry’ from Spain c.1625, titled ‘A Musical Party’, that also hangs in the Ashmolean. 

I have included it here because interestingly it incorporates stem stitch for its outlining.  (See earlier post where historical outlining is discussed.)


On the subject of stitched hair, would you just look at this!


Needlepoint hair is a total feast for the eyes and this example from the same artefact is breathtaking. 

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to talk exclusively about faces, so let’s give a little time to the Continental treatment of the flowers on this piece.  Again, see how they stem stitched the outline on those as well.   


This ‘workshop piece’ is positively huge and hangs wall-to-wall, alongside 2 other tapestries ‘proper’ from Holland. 

My notebook for that day says:

Outlining in brown stem stitch, sometimes split stitch, sometimes whipped running stitch.


Comments welcome !


Must dash ppl !


Monday, 17 October 2011

A Knitted Bluetit

The book bounced back  for its final edits and they took me a lot longer than anticipated.  Consequently, everything is severely behind, so this post is a filler.


News from the (Book) Shed

Back in the summer I mentioned I would be buying Jacquie Carey’s book on braids, especially as its now available as a handy paperback and what a little feast it is! 

Haven’t had the chance yet to really pour over it, but on a quick flick, I certainly admire the way its been set out.  Lots and lots, of very yummy techniques to try out… 

200 Braids to Loop Knot Weave & Twist 

A Tiny Intarsia Knitted Bird

Back in the Spring I caught a case of ‘Bird Fever’.  Not the kind reported in the press you understand, but a textile version! 

Now that I come to think of it, it started because the owner of my LYS introduced a nice new line of wooden, American, Double Pointed Knitting needles.  They are so fine they could even, possibly, seem a little like toothpicks.  Realising the potential of such fine tools, I became really curious as to what kind of bird I could make with them? 

So this post is about making a small knitted Bluetit from this wonderful book by Lesley Stanfield:

75 Birds Butterflies and beautiful beasties to knit & crochet

The following  sequential pictures detail how I made one of these little chaps.  I adapted the pattern every so slightly and used some DK yarn.  As I had all the right colours, whereas the pattern suggests 4-ply.  So in that sense, you could say its a ‘stash-buster’.

As the pattern is quite detailed in certain parts, I carefully wrote out the repeating sections and crossed them off as I completed them.  That way I feel I can keep better control of the directions and not dread possible interruptions.  So with notebook, tiny needles, burning curiosity and some peace and quiet (at last), I set to work.   


First you knit the top of his head with 3 needles using a fourth needle to work the rows.  I included an all-important ‘life-line’ at this stage.  That is, a length of contrasting coloured yarn that’s fed through the stitches, just in case you need to unpick a mistake later on.

As you can see, the inside of the work faces you for the purl rows and then you turn it upside-down, to have the outside face you for all the knit rows. 

knit top of head

Then you knit his neck..

knit neck

Then you knit his shoulders and back..


Above you can see I introduced another surreptitious  ‘life-line’ of grey yarn at the bottom of his neck.  Pleased to say I didn’t need any of them, but I really liked knowing they were there…

Then I made the tail with simple ribbing.

Knit tail

Then you knit his body, growing (incredibly) outwards from where his beak will eventually be placed (!), to make his chest and tummy. 

This section involves several ‘Short Rows with Wraps’, to achieve the correct dome-shape. 

I must interrupt at this point to say, I’m a little bit fussy about my Short Rows, as I don’t think there should be any visible holes afterwards and  certainly that was the way I was taught.  But you know, its funny how not all books give you the same advice on this aspect and some even make it a kind of ‘virtue’ to have holes!!!

In fact, I find myself using a book’s treatment of ‘Shorts Rows’ to gauge what calibre of knitting book it really is.

So I would like to add, that the (dreaded) hole you can see further on down here, in the close-up of his tummy, is not a result of bad technique, but rather of fiddling too much with the original location of his leg, so please forgive!! 

Knit tummy

This picture is a little out of sequence, but proves the no-holes maxim!

Lots of short rows with wraps for tummy

Then you carefully pick-up a precise number of stitches on each side to make the ribbed wings…

Pick up and knit wing

Picking-up stitches for a left handed person is a bit weird, especially as I knit right-handed, but its not difficult really, you just have to make doubly-sure your stitches are pointing the right way afterwards and as you can see, I use a crochet hook to help me with this part.

Pick up and knit stitches for second wing

Before you can think if stuffing him, you’ll need to weave in all those yarn ends…

Purl wing

Ta da ! 

Woven in ends

Then you sew him together and get him well and truly stuffed!

Stuffed bird

At this stage I thought he looked, perhaps a little rotund? so I fixed that by moulding him into shape a bit (aka squeeze bird between 2 sweaty palms).

Next, onto his wiry little legs…

Make wire feet and bind

The legs are pretty straightforward once you can successfully locate your (prized) jewellery-making round nosed pliers and a ruler.  I used silver plated wire and as you know, once you bend that, you are stuck with it, otherwise the silver cracks off.  This was my second attempt at forming the cute toes.  (o-oh, but I just know everyone will be transfixed at that horrendous hole that I explained earlier!)

Then you fiddle about with his feet a bit, until he can stand-up straight and you can then finish off his legs with binding, ending just short of his shiny toes…

Leave toes unbound

Then you find him a convenient perch…

Fine feathered mini friend complete

and try and decide which side you prefer..

Fine feathered friend - right side

N.B.  I found only one, tiny error, in the pattern and that was a simple ‘typo’ concerning yarn colours.  It was obvious to spot and so didn’t hinder me. 

I stuffed him with all the lighter-coloured snipped yarn ends.  I should also mention, that I changed his beak slightly after I knitted it, by sewing neatly into it with fine sewing thread, to bring it together, kind of thing, and refine the shape at bit more.  In this way, his beak has ended up a little ‘longer’ methinks, than in the book, but it suits him as he’s a larger, DK yarn version.

Jewellery Repairs

As my jewellery pliers were (finally) located and in use,  I decided then to repair and alter some costume jewellery that was hanging around..

Next is an elasticated bracelet that I needed to re-string.  I really like the design, it looks ‘Moorish’ don’t you think?  Whenever I wear it, people are always enchanted, in fact I wore it to the V&A last year and believe it or not, the guard even opened the door for me! *flutters eyelashes demurely*     

Transparent jewellery elastic is quite expensive and securing it at the end can be tricky.  For that part I joined the ends to some cotton thread by forming a Weavers Knot, then sewed into the knot with the remaining cotton yarn end, taking care to smooth out the bulk of the resulting bobble shape.  

I felt satisfied that the completed repair would hold and in fact it did.  Eventually tho’, the bracelet snapped another elastic (there are 3), this time while I was walking around the 2-hour tour of ancient Pompeii in the summer, would you believe, so its back in the workshop. 

Although it’s not real gold, when I bought it, rather like dye lots for paint/wallpaper/yarn etc, it was in a display tray with countless others where the gold differed in hue on each one, some were too pink, the rest too green.  I chose this one because its somewhere in the middle and really looks quite like antique gold.  I wear it on its own, with perhaps a simple tiny pendant so as not to steal its thunder.  No need for me to mention where I bought it….(it begins with ‘B’) 


The next item up for repair

I was so pleased this summer to see the the shops were full of designs inspired by pre-history.   Like this simple necklace…

Gold necklace 01

A piece like this can be very flattering if worn high up the neck, where the light can be reflected up into your face and eyes.  

When I tried it on, it was much too long, but that’s not a problem if the jump rings are of good enough quality to withstand adjustment.

So I shortened each side with my wire cutters and reattached the clasp.

This is the back of this very simple construction which is exactly how they used to make necklaces in bygone days..

Gold Necklace 02

Interior design has also been taken over by this ‘ancient look’, combining gold, silver and bronze.

Gold interiors

Notice the (imitation) punched-gold technique employed on the mirror.  Its the same method that was used on the Bronze-Age ‘Mold Gold Cape’ that I mentioned a while ago.  That amazing, pure gold ceremonial garment, had been beaten from a solitary slab of gold, if you recall. 

It was discovered at a burial site near the very significant huge Welsh copper mine, called The Great Orne, that was the largest copper mine in North-West Europe, 4000 years ago.  It was a major trading centre for pre-historic communities.