Monday, 8 May 2017

Woodgrain almost complete and the piano has a leg!


I was working in the glorious sunshine today.  Amazing what you can see when that particular lightbulb shines on your work.  Wish I could sew outside more, but such is life, work and responsibilities...

I decided the circular part of the piano leg needed to be different and chose Bokhara Couching.  Its so similar to Stem Stitch, it felt very natural getting it down.  I finished the circumference in Chain Stitch.  I think I chose Bokhara Couching because somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the stitch would pop the fabric outwards, to give it a naturally convex form.

My only concern about this piano's wood patina now is that, because the leg is distinct from the rest of the piano, it looks to me as if I've possibly tipped the scales somewhat, and the whole effect could be a tad more Regency than Victorian?  I decided I'm OK with that though, as this family looks like they have old money and they probably inherited the piano...

I just wanted to explain, as Stitchin Fingers is, alas no more, and all my recent stuff was on there, I started to really study the Bayeux Tapestry a few years ago and I was particularly struck by how much they did on that piece with Stem Stitch.  

Since then I've been obsessed with this stitch and realised through closer and closer observation that it follows on directly from working with Satin Stitch and Long & Short Stitch, in that they can all turn into each other, especially if you really want stitch direction to follow form.

By that I mean if you look at say old Chinese embroideries, you can see this association all the time.  However, the only English book that I've come across that acknowledges the close relationship between these three stitches is Erica Wilson's Embroidery Book, you know that huge thick one that's out in paperback. I find that book to be an indispensable item, if you ask me.

Here's what I mean:


I completed this last year.  Its a pattern available on the internet for free of French Vintage Monogramming.  It shows all the ways I found I could work Stem Stitch e.g. packing it either in parallel lines or in a single long line, or just to fill a section.  It just depends at what angle you hold the needle and where you go back to take the next stitch.  

Here's a close up:

So what I found was to fill a shape where you follow the contour of the shape, the stitches can pack down and form an incredibly thick and even texture.  If you ask me, it suits a lot of natural forms more than say Long & Short Stitch, because you don't have radial symmetry considerations.  More about that in a future post...

Instead what you do is make parallel lines and from what I can see from vintage pieces, it produces a less bulky finish.  It also opens up the different ways you can fill shapes and this makes the fall of lights on a piece particularly striking.  What I adore about this way of working, is that you can create a flourish, an accent or curlicue, with a lot more ease because one merges into the other...  The piece pictured above isn't perfect, I had the clock against me, but it was a lot of fun to sew, and it has gone down well with the recipient!

 Going back to the woodgrain.  This is the effect I was after.  Very dramatic walnut patina.  Scaling it down has been a challenge but I'm not finished yet...Not sure they've made pianos out of walnut ever? but that's not the point, kind of thing.  

It was nice to sew in the garden I created, today.  It took me 3 years to complete all told, and part of the fun was taking delivery of that sundial patio and damaging my back for an incredible 18 months. 

I don't care, it was all worth it.  The very exciting thing is its all organic and I follow Permaculture gardening techniques.  I make my own compost tea, I use dried blood, wood chips, volcanic ash, wood ash, human urine (you read that right!) and seaweed etc etc to fertilize everything.  

And would you look at it, we've hardly had any rain and yet my lawn looks really lush don't you think?  I used sulphate of iron and alfalfa meal on it this year.  What a difference!  Most people tend to treat their lawn as a kind of outdoor rug, stamp on it and mow it and that's it.  People completely forget the roots of each blade of grass needs oxygen too!   

But if you think of your lawn as a giant plant that loves acidic conditions e.g. iron and rainwater, then you are working with nature, instead of against it.  There is nothing more elemental and necessary to your spiritual being than to take your shoes and tights off and walk on soft green grass in Summer.  It connects you with nature and the seasons again, in a way that a book or a film never will.  Its something about the positive ions and electrical charges within nature that feed up into our metabolism e.g. mitochondria. Mitochondria are much older than our cell nuclei, mitochondria contain our very first genetic material, they are as ancient as the earth itself...! 

My raised beds are strictly Acid, Neutral, Chalk loving and Cretaceous Period.  I have 12 flower beds all told.  My hands look a lot more bashed up, but I honestly think organic gardening is like magic, lots of flowers, fruit and lush growth....real magic!

I also use oxygenated water - and you can see my two solar powered pumps in this picture - worm castings and nitrogen fixing plants to boost growth.  The plants are very happy and what's more, the birds are even happier.  

I have 2 families of black birds, lots of sparrows, a robin or two and I saw the goldfinch pair the other day.  I give my birds organic oats daily, chopped grapes during the breeding season and whole sunflower seeds etc.  

By leaving my compost heap uncovered, they feast on the most enormous worms.  Worms also love oats, but I buy them the cheaper type.  

Next time I'll post pictures of my Worm City, its very successful. Worm castings are like 10,000 times more fertile than packets of NPK fertiliser, which as you know, is derived from fossil fuel.  

Organic gardening is the best thing, especially as I can make really rich compost in days, not months!   Considering we are up a high hill, in an exposed area, I have managed to combat all that wind and produce plants that are very strong and happy.  To sum it up, I think growing organically means you have growth that is less woody and more lush...  

The organic garden idea was after visiting the ancient city of Pompeii, because on the way there I saw that the valley of Vesuvius is so incredibly lush, and its all due to Volcanic Ash.   

Our guide explained to us, the beauty and fertility in that region is so incredible that the residents in the path of the volcano have actually been given money to move to a safer place, but as its so incredibly green there, they choose to stay....

As soon as I got home, I went to our equivalent of Home Depot and bought a large bag of Volcanic Ash and have never looked back...   



Our last trips have been at sea.  Here's a quick sketch I did one day of a storm out there between the Caribbean Ocean and the Atlantic. It was very exciting. After seeing much of the world, I reckon the Caribbean has to be the best place to go.  I discovered it when my back was at its worst and had the extremely therapeutic experience of swimming in an ocean that was as warm as bathwater!  My aching back recovered greatly in the Caribbean ocean, mainly on the second trip there, where I stayed in the water for an hour at a time, just floating and treading water.  Somehow out there, through a series of aerobic moves, my back found its alignment again and then after that my pelvis did the same.  

For those of you that haven't been, believe it or not, a Caribbean holiday is not as expensive as you might think and its a whole lot cheaper still if, you don't drink alcohol...

Here are those buttercups again, but this time a much clearer image. This one was taken on my iphone and I think shows up well what I was aiming for e.g. to sew much more lifelike buttercups than the usual types you see.   This type of needlework has always been on my to do list, but what I found was Japanese embroidery books - of which there are many - particularly recreate the delicacy and ephemeral beauty of flora and fauna.  They are very clever books indeed.  Even if the entire book is in Japanese, the clear diagrams and key mean you can work out the rest.  Notice also in their embroidery vocabulary, they use Twisted Chain Stitch for stems of wildflowers etc.  Texture and delicacy are achieved with great skill in their interpretation of embroidery language.  

Oh well, I have to go now...

P.S.  I did say my posts would be shorter, sorry about the loquacity of this one, but its a round up and more than likely the last I can do for about 2 weeks, as I'm off to wild and rugged Celtic Cornwall...lots of piccies...lots of Celtic references next time people and if I can, hopefully I'm going to visit the Shaftesbury Museum, famous for its archeological exhibits...yum yum

Saturday, 6 May 2017

My Eyes are Better - Praise be !

Can you imagine my relief when yesterday afternoon I was finally free from all that stabbing, burning and blurriness, and all those eye drops later?...what a relief, you cannot imagine.  

And you know the worse thing of all was, that yesterday morning, I found out what had caused it.  I actually found the very receptacle that had inflicted all that agony on me.  

Yes, believe it or not, it was self-administered mayhem.  Because I had devised my own eye drops and unbeknown to me, lurking in the bottom of my home-brew-of-quasi-naturopathic-recipe was a thick brown biofilm of fungus!........Yes reader, I had inadvertently infected my own eyes with a fungal biofilm from an eye drops dispenser that wasn't properly cleaned? 

Furthermore, I had cleaned it copious times, boiled it over and over again, but little did I know that right at the bottom.....way deep down in there, was a clandestine layer of fugitive gunk!

And what made it worse was, every time I reach for my self-styled eye drops, its usually late at night AND the bottle is brown... !!

Having learnt my painful lesson (forever), I now scrub the dispenser out in a frenzied way each time I need to use it, day or night with a q-tip and mild citric acid.  Its such a relief to have no pain....such a relief...


So anyway, back to work: 
OK, so here are some images of interest.  Mental musings, clippings blah blah blah.

First one is the pattern for this current piece.  Couldn't find the original link.  If the original poster finds this link and shouts me down, I will have to pull it off, so get right-clicking now, because who knows when the twain shall meet.


Then there is a drawing of woodgrain that can be accomplished with stem stitch.  Very versatile stitch.  Modern stitchers do not realise the huge versatility of this stitch, I tell you!

(Oh it is such a joy not to have to blink 300 times a minute - Thank you God!)

Then there is this mind map of how I shall approach her hair

Then there is a leaflet from the Bath Museum of Fashion that I visited last year, or whenever it was.  I was looking forward to it immensely, but was a little disappointed.  Not enough on display, things too far away and the people standing nearby got on my nerves.  However, big however, there are re-created pieces hanging on a hook outside the main hall that you can TRY ON!  Yes reader, you too can flounce about in acres of fabric and dreeeeeeeeeaaaaam!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Victorian Couple Update

OK, so I think I will post these two pictures, showing the piece out of the frame, as I worked the woodgrain in the hand.  I still have a lot to do on the woodgrain because it needs to be pushed back even further, but with each stitch it hangs together better.  I like working that pattern, but it does take a long, long time!

I'm pleased at the progress I've made so far, I got down the main pattern ideas and will work from there.  There is one section of the woodgrain that will be pulled out, but I'm pulling out quite often as I go along with this project anyway, as its only 10cms x 13cms e.g. the young man's face is only 2cms!

Obviously working that small has given me eye strain problems again.  So I need to rest up a bit and sort some other things out too...  

But I will say, since my hiatus, I've discovered I can no longer work in artificial light, I have to have daylight to sew now.  Especially as I still don't use a magnifier.

Its so easy to become completely absorbed in a piece like this, because you are creating a story, or an important extract from a larger story.  



Must dash, already thinking about my next project, as this one has had all its major decisions worked out, including how to puff out this young lady's hair.  

I got the date wrong earlier btw, the fashion and hairstyles would suggest 1850s-60s because crucially her ears are covered by puffed out hair.  For the puffing, I know how I shall proceed and for her bun halfway down the back of her head, I'll make a hair 'rat' with felt.  Her hair will be silk and glossy, compared to his.  

I don't generally have a problem with fixing hair, as I used to have very long hair myself at one time, a staggering 36 inches of the stuff.  I think if you have thin long hair you can really enjoy it, but mine was thick and very hot, honestly it was like wearing a blanket across my shoulders the whole time.  I lot of people miss their long hair, pleased to say, I don't miss mine and wish I had the haircut I have now, years ago.  

The finer details of her dress will extend beyond the margins of the mount, which is a bit annoying, as I wanted quite a lot of detail in that area.  

...'We must proceed on the basis that we will get some things right and some things wrong, but just so long as you get slightly more right than wrong in the long run, you should continue anyway.'.. that's some of the Bauhaus indoctrination I used to get in art school. Those people drove us nuts, as they are famous for doing.  

But I will say, if I've learned anything about creative output, its that you cannot judge your own work at the end of a long day objectively anymore, you have to sleep on it and look at it afresh the next day, because being so close to the coal face, you really aren't able to fully judge merits until your eyes have rested fully.  

Here's an art school story that will make you say ahh.
Periodically I used to march over to my drawer that I had all my artwork stored in and I would pull it all out and make 2 piles, one was called 'abysmal' the other was called 'ok'.  Then I would gleefully tear over to the bin and throw all the abysmal stuff out, feeling hugely relieve after this cathartic act of vengeance on myself...  of all people?

One day I came back into the room unexpectedly and found one of my class mates actually salvaging pieces of my artwork to incorporate into his portfolio!  He looked at me with sad eyes and said "you might not like these drawings, but they're better than I can do, do you mind if I keep them?"....


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Embroidered Woodgrain - stage 1

OK, so the woodgrain is underway.  I had to increase the contrast of the various tones, because otherwise it would look just too indistinct for the naked eye.  The main colour will be a kind of gold, mid-way mark I think.  I might reduce the dark rings even more by packing in some more light colour.  But the main thing is that with Stem Stitch you can go under or over, inside or out, create peaks or curves, lines or satin stitching filling. Its the most versatile stitch out there I reckon, and its so addictive to work!

I lowered the ISO on this image this time instead of hitting 'enhance' in the edit studio.  

I decided the leg of the piano would be given a circular treatment.  I need to work on that at the same time as the rest of the woodwork, otherwise they might not sit well together e.g. they have to balance each other I think...The top of the piano will be given a much simpler treatment, to suggest the reflection of the light hitting it, but also because I don't want the young man's jacket to be drowned out.


Oh, and here's the view of the sky from my kitchen at dusk...what a vision!

When I see a sky like that, apart from feeling really floaty and awestruck, I really want to try and either paint it, sew it or draw it.  That's what I call gilt edged clouds...

Monday, 1 May 2017

Victorian Couple Update 01 May 2017

See how my posts are now much more pragmatic.  

I made some good progress yesterday, as soon as the blister on my index finger quietened down a bit.

As you can see from this image, the windows are in, the pelmet has been selected and the pattern for the drapes have been swatched up.  Feeling somewhat relieved that the stage is now being set for this afternoon tete a tete in circa 1840, I decided to wade into filling in the piano forte.  

The piano is actually one of the main reasons I selected this image in the first place.  To cut a long story short, I did some experiments with Stem Stitch filling as applied to various textures and the upshot was I realised it lends itself to woodgrain incredibly well.  More later, have to dash...


Sunday, 30 April 2017

More Progress on the Victorian Couple

As you can see, I had massive problems to contend with.  Namely tone, quality of line for the faces and those dear windows...



I think I re-did the young fella's face about 5 times.  In the end I chose Gutterman's fine sewing thread and used a combination of straight stitches and couching.  I was still not sure about his face last night, but when I examined it this morning, I was surprised at my own success, because faces are hard and faces this small are really hard - one wrong move and you create the wrong expression, the wrong age, the wrong peek into his soul...

Books about portraiture are very helpful when it comes to working out how to do faces, because at each stage of our lives our facial structure changes.  One tiny mistake can mean disaster and I find when that happens, I like to start again.  Also with this chappie, notice his mouth is open and this is a very important part of this image, he's speaking to her and she's looking up and paying him attention, not the piano for that moment...




The whole time I was doing the face, I kept remembering the first time I saw this young man's face, and the funny thing was, it was his younger face that came through the image as I sewed it.  How sweet...

So that's sorted, now onto other things...

Then the windows gave me the most incredible amount of trouble.  I realised I needed the windows because the faces were being left white and they looked so white, I wanted to balance them out.?

Well of course, these dear windows start to steal the show and then need the most almighty push back.

I thought the windows were really going to tip the balance of the whole thing at one panic-stricken point, so that's when I decided to leave them alone, while I pegged down the young lady's face.  That took 3 attempts.  More so because I forgot I was using Guttenberg for the faces and plunged into using embroidery floss which was far too dark..

Her face still looks very dark but not compared to his and certainly not after I give her hair a lot of attention.  Hair is such fun to do!


I'm pleased with her face, or rather that its so understated by comparison to the young man's.  This is the correct note I wanted to strike e.g. he's visiting her, he has something to say and she is serene in contrast.  (As they drummed into me in art school all those years ago 'less is more'...)

Here's the image with the flash turned on.

This is a worthwhile endeavour in that it highlights the tonal problems of the piece.  Her dress is far too close in tone to the sky because I spent a long time evaluating sky tonal values while her dress was covered up.  But more than that, I did want her dress to remind him of the sky and I want his hair to remind her of wood....you'll see why in the end.  Its all about linking themes...

I was aiming for that association originally, but now I need to separate those ideas somewhat.  I'm still thinking about that and hope that by the time I've finished with the curtains, wooden patina of the piano and the decorative elements of her dress, then the whole thing will be OK.

But that's a long way off and a lot of work to do before I can be sure?  To assist me, I've looked at the image with all the swatches attached and viewed it from several distances, and even upside down.  So now I forge ahead...

In so doing however, I realised the piece has gone beyond the margins of the mount that I've lined up for it?  So now I'm thinking about some kind of border to encapsulate the whole thing and most importantly to hold in the bits I'll need to chop off and bring in line with the new dimensions I have to sort out.  

I have to rest a bit today though, as I noticed my index finger has a small blister.  I was never one to get along with a thimble...

cya...

Saturday, 29 April 2017


Two Posts in One Week - Whatever next?


Well, updates dont come much shorter than this.  Here's what I'm up to.
I was so pleased I managed to get the windows in, but alas, I must have been really tired by the time I tackled the gloss painting of the mouldings...to be sure, that section has to be re-done.







Thursday, 27 April 2017

Hello Everyone - I'm Back!

Well, its certainly been a long time and yes, I’m back.  

Pleased to say I’m well again and feel quite energetic once more (TG and all the angels…oh, and my own brains!) 

Not that I ever forgot y’all, and I certainly never left off what I was studying in needlework.  The thread really did continue and my exploration was always ticking away, always...

So, what I’ve decided to do this time round is not write really looooooooooong posts that drain every ounce of strength from my pre-frontal cortex, but instead make the needlework drive the posts, rather than the other way round…? 

Without trying to sound  immodest, you understand, I like to think I’ve made considerable personal progress, albeit intellectually, as regards certain mechanical problems in my needlework that keep popping up and were driving me personally to utter distraction….

Because of that, I knew I had to ‘go back to the drawing board’, trouble was I went back further and further and ended up, of all places, in the middle of the Cretaceous period? – I kid you not!  

Strange connection you might say, not really, because at the same time I was also re-designing my garden!

Ye old doodle cloth has been my trusty companion throughout.  Sorry no pictures of that bedraggled comfort blanket...haha. 

But you know, its funny how you start on a very private hunch that seems awfully like fretting, that can take you through quite a few months and yet at the end of the journey, eventually, you find you actually discovered something for yourself…So all that time spent away was not in vain.

I plan to return to all my previous projects and sort them out and this Victorian image is the one I decided to start with.

‘Motivation has to depend on emotion, if there isn’t emotion driving motivation, then it ain’t gonna happen’.
I heard that said recently, and realised that was what I needed to do, recall the original emotion that prompted the needlework idea and get back with the program!

Obviously, this one is extremely sentimental and speaks for itself. 


I have several problems with this piece and they only popped up as I went along and kept popping….

For starters, the padding of the shapes has brought all the curved areas forward to the same frontal axis.  Which is fine for a drawing, but is too confusing for a work that’s in relief, such as this. 

So I decided what I’ll need to do is make the relationship between the sleeve and the loose pleats of the skirt distinct. 

The way I decided to do this is the same as if it were a painting e.g. pick out areas of darker tone to push back shapes that are further from the centre of the image.  It may work, or it might be disastrous.  I decided to try a test section on a separate cloth first.  All I know is, I will have to do something about the problem, because otherwise the arm and the pleats will all have the same appearance…

Decoration and contrasting textures will help, but I need to press on, while at the same time think about how I will sort this one out?

I’ve also been working on Stem Stitch Filing as probably the most effective way I’ve found to fill a shape, if you want the the stitch direction to explain the form, like this leaf in the bottom left of the image:

As you can see, last year was my year for buttercups…



I like to think what’s different about these specimens is that I was trying to make ‘botanical’, rather than stylised depictions of the ‘Little Frog’, which is the translation of Ranunculus. 

Well, I have to rush off now, until next time xxx

P.S.  I hope this blog post comes out reasonably OK, as I've lost Live Writer and my computer is too old for the new Open Source version.