Tuesday, 16 April 2013

spring green

On Sunday afternoon, the garden was like this

one cat keeping watch at the top of the walk

the fattening hydrangea leaves, swollen with rain and freshly visible after their spring haircut
  the sun shone through daffodils and violets
Wol was happy in his world
  the hazel was in blossom - I'm not sure I've ever managed to notice the flowers before, they are so tiny, yet the catkin sheds its pollen to fertilize them with a caress of breeze

 another cat guards the pagoda
 while the old dears chat to each other in the sunshine 
and up in the rooftops (now there's another grid!)
the starling suns his iridescent chest 

the sun shone in his blue blue sky 
and it was very very warm and peaceful 

then in the evening I stitched, then stitched some more yesterday and a final few today
I deliberately played with the regular counterchange of the squares, by allowing the beads and French knots to expand away from the centre, floating out towards the edges and challenging all that serious stability.
Today I also had an exhausting trip to London for work. 
Still not feeling quite up to scratch

Saturday, 13 April 2013


I've been feeling really poorly this week - some kind of lurgy which has given me aches all over, a spinning headache and a very fluctuating temperature. This afternoon has been the first time I've felt almost human for a bit; most days I've been sleeping on and off as exhaustion took hold during the day. To add insult to injury, I also have the return of my tooth problems from last year, so am on Penicillin. This has the unpleasant side effect of making my morning cup of tea -  and most other things for that matter - taste like earwax! Yuk.

Today should have been my next City and Guilds at Barbara's, but I felt too poorly to go. However, I've brightened enough to try out the beginnings of a little counterchange with scraps of fabric. This moves on from my repeating patterns last week, to using fabric and appliqué for pattern making. Counterchange is where the same image or motif is repeated in the reverse colours - in this case a lime green furnishing fabric (a remnant bin find from somewhere or other) and a rather nice deep maroon shot silk (a recycled charity shop shirt). Neither colour comes quite true in the picture, but they're rather hard to capture. Here I'm using the most simple form of counterchange, a chequerboard pattern of alternating squares.

I've switched the orientation of the deep red silk in each row, so that there's a subtle change in the tone of these squares, along with the more obvious contrasts between the red and lime green. Again, the photograph doesn't quite capture this. I intend using subtle running stitch to stitch the silk down and hope that the red squares don't fray too much; I've tried to strip away the warp and weft threads on the edges with masking tape, before pinning them down, but I guess there will be more bits to clear off by the time the stitching is done.

Friday, 5 April 2013


Poor Barbara had caught a cold from her grandchild, so we've had no City and Guilds for March (yes I know it's April now, but keeping up was never my strong point)! So she sent us a sheet of design exercises to play with. They all relate to paring down images, or designing new images to use in repeating patterns. I started with some photos that had interesting shapes in them

I traced the shapes out on tracing paper, reducing the original images to simple outlines and shapes. Then I scanned the tracings into the PC and did some faffing about, tidying up and generally making the images clean, before filling some of the outlines to make a basic black an white image that I could manipulate by flipping, mirroring and otherwise playing around. There is a really good free programme that I use to do this called Paint.Net. Recommended to me by one of our techies at work, you can download it from here. It does all sorts of good things like layering, resizing, recolouring, transparency and has some interesting special effects.
Having done that I found I had some rather interesting images, a gathering of bottles
washing up looking a lot more interesting than it usually does
icicles transformed
vases starting to look rather architectural
flowing seedheads
and finally a pattern based on some tree bark I was looking at yesterday, not in black and white this time, as I wanted to play with colour and evoke the natural source of the image
I think this is my favourite at the moment, but I've started looking at more ways of repeating designs that aren't simple mirror images

Monday, 1 April 2013

stitchy update

I'm sorry, I have failed entirely to keep up with showing you what I've been doing for my City and Guilds. In part that's because I've been so busy doing something or other textiley, but also because I've not managed to take photos in natural light as it has been dark by the time I've got home from work and got what little brain I have in gear! So, time to make amends.

We've been concentrating on shape; doing design exercises where we take shapes and "explode" them by cutting them up and arranging the pieces to see how this distorts things. Playing with circles and squares, flipping, rotating, cutting in different patterns, or drawing patterns on the black paper with a silver pen, then cutting the paper and rearranging. I took one if the negative shapes left from cutting out a circle and pasted some uneven strips behind it. It reminds me of the moon seen through grass stems.

From shape, you get to shadow work; using sheer fabrics and strong coloured threads to outline a shape and have a softer colour in the center. You achieve this by stitching herringbone on the back of the design - the little back stitches that are created outline the shape, while the herringbone shows through to the front of the fabric because it is sheer. My first attempt was pretty shabby, so I shan't show you! I then thought I'd see what happened if I used a darker fabric with lighter threads to stitch with. Found a little design I did years ago based on Mackintosh's roses, and off I went.

I'm rather pleased with the result. I've backed it with gold cloth - you can see it shining through here, and will work two lines of close satin stitch with the machine, then cut back to the gold in between to create a frame. That will have to wait until the work has been assessed though, as we have to make the back available for inspection!

Then I did a bit more, this time combining shadow work, couching and Point Turc and Paris Stitch. Instructions for both of these can be found here. Both stitches leave fine holes in the fabric, where as you stitch, you pull the thread tight to draw the threads of the fabric together. You often see them on fine lacy handkerchiefs or baby clothes and they are used to either applique one fine fabric to another, or as a decorative hem. I've used them here to attach the strips of fabric in the top half, to stitch round the "sun" in the center and at the horizon line. On the lower half of the design I've worked the herringbone stitch on the surface of the fabric this time, to represent waves - along with some threads couched down  and some that are slotted between two rows of stitches so they lie between the layers of sheer muslin with the colour showing through. There are 9 waves; I had in mind the Irish legend of the Isles of the Blessed, which lie beyond the ninth wave. If you click on the photo to enlarge, you might be able to see the sprinkle of fairy dust just below the horizon!

Next we had a session on machine embroidery. If you're following, you'll have seen the work I did at Wendy Dolan's class. I'll be using this as one example, but I also did a little picture combining layering organza and machine embroidery. This came from my watching the fields go by on my recent trips up to London. There was a lovely haze in the air on both days, and the landscape layered away into the distance with trees silhouetted in the moist, chill air. You'll notice a similarity of colour between this and the Ninth Wave piece - I only have so many bits of blue organza to choose from. I used Mistyfuse to attach the organza to the base fabric to stop it fraying at the edges; it does make the fabric a bit stiff to handle, which is fine for machine embroidery, but which might be annoying if you were hand stitching. I'll have to experiment! I'm not sure the colours of the stitching work quite the way I intended, but it was an trial and I'm pleased with the way it turned out. You can't see the shimmer of the organza in this picture, but as the light catches it at different angles it shimmers.

I also did another piece of machine stitching, using the nine patch again as a the basis for the design. I like the way it is both regular and uneven, working with the number three, which is symbolic in many human cultures. It also allows one to work variations on a theme, this time using rows of straight stitching and vermicelli stitch for the outer squares and granite stitch in the center. I combined single and multi-coloured threads to see what the effect is of using each. Again, I'm pleased with the results, though they are still very amateur; I found the most important thing to remember was to breathe! You also find that as you tense up when trying to control your wayward hands, the patterns tend to stray and the machine gets faster and faster as your foot presses down on the foot pedal! I used a neutral variegated thread to outline the squares and give definition to the image.
I would like to combine this with organzas underneath, it might create some quite lovely effects - I'm thinking of something based on Moorish tilework, where the regularity of the pattern would allow the sheen and sparkle of the organza to shine.
Oh for more hours in the day!