Tuesday, 15 February 2011

‘Valentine’ Birds - Book Bag

This post is not ‘on topic’ but has little bits and bobs connected with some ideas on those themes – and a day late I’m afraid.

Recently I caught a repeat showing of Treasures of the Anglo Saxons, which was wonderful and full of good close- ups.  The discussion spanned the early pagan period right through to the conversion to Christianity, looking at jewellery and manuscripts.  I was most interested in the pagan motifs of the early phase, especially their treatment of interlace, as compared to the Celts. 

Written and presented by Dr Janina Ramirez, an art historian  specialising in this period, who is presently writing a book on bird motifs in Anglo Saxon art.  Can’t wait till that’s published, as birds are my second favourite after flowers, of course.

I have secretly toyed with the idea of copying (or at least studying) another sweetbag that’s covered in bejewelled birds at the V&A.  You are permitted to download that image free from their website here.    Its *high definition but not as high as the one I have for The Bag.  But I know that vague idea  is a long way away, as this present sweetbag is so extremely intricate.

* I don’t have the accession number to hand.  You will need to sign up to this service first and acknowledge you have read their Rules & Regulations, as they don’t allow these images to be reproduced and distributed.  

Canvas Bags

Added to which, for a long time I have wanted to decorate one of those plain canvas bags that the charities send out.  I have quite a few now!  And, if I do this for someone else, I know I will finish it within a reasonable period.  If I make it for myself, however, it could take a lot longer.  I think perhaps there is ‘something’ in this realisation not dissimilar from a reluctance to put myself first??

One thing is for sure, lately I have realised something very important about myself: I have a lot more patience than I have time.  Because of this I admire work that masterfully comes up with ‘quick’ solutions, especially when the results don’t look quick and make use of clever modern materials. 

But my eye is always magnetically drawn to the things that I know took forever to make.  I read recently that in medieval times it took a group of 4 women a whopping  26 years to complete a set of embroidered vestments (15 approx) that were sent to Rome.

This led me to think about all the books I had been buying recently and I concluded that I think that when I buy a book, I am really buying a desire for more time…

Then I read that someone, who knows someone, has a collection of 3,000 quilting books, so I stopped brooding and felt a whole lot better – lol ! 

The seasons are really changing now and the sun is just beginning to warm the soil and the backs of the tiny birds in the tree tops. 

1930s Vintage Embroidery Pattern

So with birds everywhere, I decided to sew something ‘birdie’ that would decorate a canvas bag.   

Would you just look at this little cutie having his bath time…aah!  I tell you something happens to me when I see a little bird like this, I must have been a bird in a past life or something?…

Wet Bird   

So creative cogs turning, when I got the chance, I ran a quick search on Google images for ‘little birds’ and found the most wonderful interpretation of a vintage embroidery transfer, circa 1930.  I had to contact the needlewoman responsible for this terribly cute piece of embroidery at Modern Ma’am’s blog .  Modern Ma’am has very kindly granted me permission to show you on here what I got up to with that pattern. 

I decided early on I would appliqué the design. 

Still curious about Elizabethan Slips

At the back of my mind I was still really curious about exploring the Elizabethan ‘slips’ idea for myself.  Both from the working method perspective and the notion of making small detachable/re-usable appliquéd motifs.

If you recall, I think I said something like ‘how did they manage to create such wonderful curves with fabric that frays so much?  Because all the books tell us to avoid fabric of that type for appliqué.  

When I went to the V&A I looked really closely at the fine black cord they had attached to the edge of the slips, which in turn was couched down with tiny gold stitches.  I have since found out that Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book has a description of how to do thisThat explanation made a lot of sense to me as quite quickly into this method of working, I could see for myself why and how they would edge the slips like this…in short it was to accentuate the curves and protect the tiny appliqué stitches from wear and tear. 

For this purpose, I decided to edge the design with Stem Stitch and make it as a detachable panel, so that when the person tires of the bag, they will be able to remove it and attach it to say, a cushion?

From Inking to Sewing

So anyway, off I went with my inked up pattern and got to work…

  Transferred vintage embroidery pattern

Here’s the design on the light box with a thin piece of vintage cotton on top. 

I was using soft vintage fabric for the background and the birds themselves.  The cotton I used for the birds was incredibly soft and easy to manipulate.  I really enjoyed working with that fabric, so much so that I decided to appliqué the whole thing, flowers as well !

You probably think that was a very ‘strange’ idea because I was going to sew it all by hand – no ‘Heat-n-Bond’ !

Slip Stitch & Blind Stitch

I used lots of notches for outside and inside curves to enable smooth shaping and reduce bulk.  I cut the top of pointy parts straight across taking care not to cut too close to the mark..  I used two kinds of stitches, Slip stitch and Blind stitch.  Blind stitch for the longer smooth areas and slip stitch for the tight ones.  Blind stitch is my favourite and even though the books say both these stitches are ‘virtually invisible’, I find Blind stitch to be truer to that description.


I do blind stitch in two moves.  I find this makes for smoother curves.  Most importantly, at the end of the given section e.g. top of the hat, I gently tighten the thread to make all the tiny stitches almost disappear under the edge.  The picture above was taken just before I did that.  The design itself won’t be ironed afterwards, as moulded curves are my aim. 


The pattern is printed A4 size.  Here you can see I’m doing several things at once.  I’m working round the bird’s tail, cutting notches as I need to, tucking under, blind stitching and deciding how to tackle the next section.  The cotton was so fine it would fray like anything but I wasn’t put off because its so nice to work with.

I’m taking a blind stitch here but I’m approaching a tight-ish corner for which I will have to turn the work.  There is a lot of turning with this kind of thing and its all worked in the hand, no hoop, in the same direction.  I took great care not to over-stretch any single element.  


I go in behind and just underneath the edge of the motif to take up a couple of threads from the denim ground fabric.  I’m not pinning first, just finger-pressing the edges with a bit of needle-turning for the smaller areas.  Your hands have to be very clean and dry, and you have to have a lot of patience but I think the results are well worth it.  



Here it is, 2 radio plays later….lol


I kind of knew this design would work because as you see, the flowers join the leaves; to join more flowers.  So apart from the tiny legs, the design is not impossibly fiddly.  The pointed tips reveal loose threads but they will be neatly stuffed under the appliqué and enclosed by line stitches.


Not sure if this little fella’s wing is going to stay like this?  I’ll need to look at the whole thing in daylight to decide about that.  I’ll also need to make sure this metallic blue thread doesn’t snag on stockings, as even though its a shoulder tote bag, it will be carried from the hand at times.   

I want to keep the idea of a ‘line drawing’ apparent as the effect of the whole thing is quite floaty and subtle.  So I’m going to use a variety of small stitches instead of colours to mark out different textures.

Anyway here they are with their tiny hats, scarves and fragile little legs…


cya !


No comments:

Post a Comment