Thursday, March 31, 2016

Embroidery March: Bonus Wrap-up Post!

March has an extra Thursday in it, so I thought I'd look back on this month and see how some of my attitudes and perceptions have changed about embroidery in general and to show you some progress I've made on the various projects for the month.

Freestyle will be my first love as far as embroidery goes. I'm getting better at satin stitch, which I previously hadn't made much use of, and at doing more with fewer colors and stitches, such as with the snowdrops hanky from earlier this month.

I love the freedom of it and the ability to have all the tools of embroidery at my disposal. A++, would go again.

Blackwork is limiting, not only because it's entirely black, but also because it's a counted-stitch method. It's the opposite of my preferred freestyle embroidery, but limiting my toolbox, as it were, allows me to focus on how the weight of the thread and the density of the pattern affects the look of the design. Where freestyle is more like painting, this is pen and ink.

As an extra added bonus, I get to play with repeating geometric designs, for which I have an unnatural fondness.

A++, would go again.

Previously, I thought cross-stitch to be one of the, er... lower forms of embroidery. I sort of have a bias against the creepy large-eyed children and schmoopy sayings that tend to be done up in cross-stitch. Those and the Thomas Kinkade style pictures have never really been the sort of thing I like to do.

My own design based on illustrations from old books? That I can do. I will admit to liking the design process better than the actual stitching, but I like the stitching much more when it's a design that doesn't make me want to barf.
B+, won't ever be my favorite, but I'm enjoying what I'm doing.

Whitework is seriously hard to photograph, but looks pretty bitchin' in person. There's just something about white-on-white that gives me heart palpitations. Because, like blackwork, my embroidery toolbox is much more limited, I can focus on a different element of the whole embroidery picture. In this case, it's the way texture is affected by the structure of the stitch. I suppose this would be more like relief sculpture than anything else because whitework makes use of light and shadow playing off of the three-dimensional stitches. I've opted to go for something more like Mountmellick embroidery first because cutwork makes me feel woozy. When I can manage it without fainting, I'll be able to make use of negative space, too. I'm not there yet, though.
A++, would go again.

I like seed stitch. You could do a whole piece in seeding and it would be like some kind of embroidery version of pointillism.

This piece is giving me fits, though. These shapes between the flower petals and the petals themselves are very uneven. I still haven't decided if I'm just going to roll with it or take it out in a fit of pique. It's having a cool-off period for now.

And so we have come to the end of the first quarter. I'm going to keep working on these (except for the blue thing, which is in time out), but we're going to look at some new stuff in the second quarter as I continue to try to get the da Vinci Disorder under control.

April will be for Quilt Piecing  and I wish it were more alliterative and clever, but hey, whaddya gonna do? We're going to make some quilt blocks is what. I have quilt-based aspirations that need a good swift kick in the pants.

After that, we'll be participating in Me-Made-May, sort of. Not officially. You can do that here. Mostly, I want to do a retrospective to see what I'm actually using of the things I make. It's also an excellent excuse to get caught up on some of the projects I've started in the first quarter. May also tends to be a little wackadoo for us, so I'll need a breather for sure.

Following Me-Made-May in June is the Outfit-a-long, hosted over here by Ms Lladybird. Again, I won't be officially alonging, but I'm going to sew something to wear that I'm actually going to wear, then I'm going to knit something to go with the something I sewed.

See you at Stitches!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

FO: A bit of this, a bit of that

To be honest, I'm not sure what all went into this skein. There are bits of cashmere, a fair bit of unknown wool, some llama, a bit of merino, and probably a smidge of silk up in there. Beyond that, there could be unicorn fuzz for all I know. These batts had a bit of everything.

I've been reading up on the mechanics of spinning (of which there are many) and trying some different things with my wheel, so I wanted to use some fiber that wouldn't make me cry too much if I messed it up. Turns out I prefer double drive to Scotch tension, but my bobbins were backwards. I think I've got it sorted now.

So here's 3.6 ounces of about sport weight: A bit of this, a bit of that. I'm not sure of the yardage yet, but it's probably somewhere on the order of 250ish yards. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Embroidery March: Whitework

This is all of the whitework I have ever done in the world, so this is going to be a short post.

Using the very most basic definition, whitework is any embroidery where only white thread is used and usually on a white ground fabric. Generally, though not always, it's a surface embroidery rather than a counted thread technique. As it turns out, whitework could mean any number of techniques, many of which involve cutwork, which is just fancy-pants holes you put there on purpose. I'm not quite ready for cutwork, so I'm working this next hanky in what might be called Mountmellick embroidery, which generally doesn't have holes, but might have a knit edging. That I can do.

Since it's white-on-white, the key thing that I'm going to have to remember is texture. As a fine artist, I'm a painter and not a sculptor, so it's easier for me to think in terms of the relationships between colors than in the ways three dimensional shapes  or textures come together. I can do it, but it's not my strength. One of the reasons I've likely waited until now to try whitework is because it's monochromatic. My favorite color is all of them, so working with subtlety will be a little bit of a challenge.

But I have life goals and those life goals include a whitework tablecloth.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

FO: Snowdrops Hanky

I do still need to wash and iron this hanky before I call it done and send it out into the world, but the embroidery is done, so I'm calling it good for the purposes of blogging.

This one is done on one of Husband's old work shirts, poly/cotton blend, with cotton embroidery floss in satin stitch, stem stitch, double running stitch, and a smidge of long-armed cross stitch and chain stitch.
This image, snerched from the British Library's Flickr. was the inspiration for this piece and is in the public domain.

Embroidery March: Cross Stitch

Image copyright Victoria and Albert Museum
Once again, my blog schedule is wonky. I'm hoping this cold will pass soon and that I can have my brains back. So, without further ado: Cross Stitch.

I've tried cross stitch before, but haven't ever been able to stick with it. Generally, I get bored and wander off and I'm not sure why. As a result of Embroidery March, I've been poking it with a stick to see what it's made of and why I didn't have the attention for it before. Now, it's perfectly alright not to like every single craft in existence, but after a little bit of effort, I've discovered what's fun about cross stitch. While I feel like the slowest dot matrix printer in existence (probably the source of my previous boredom), once the design begins to show, I get that giddy feeling that you get when you're working with a self-striping yarn and you come to a color change.

As a stitch, the cross stitch has been around since approximately forever, but designs done entirely or almost entirely in cross stitch are slightly more recent, about five hundred years or so. It's hard to say exactly when it happened, but it's probable that cross stitch designs were influenced by the rising popularity of blackwork, according to the Cross Stitch Guild's article Threads of History.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has the earliest example of a cross stitch sampler, produced by a Miss Jane Bostocke in 1598. That place has everything. I haven't found a reproduction of it yet, but I'd certainly love to see one.

I also found out that the most fun part for me was to create new designs, which is easy-peasy with Stitch Fiddle. The following image is from the British Library's Flickr account, which has been an endless source of amusement for me. I love me some public domain images.

I thought this would make a fine design for one of those kitchen towels with the band of cross stitch across the bottom, so I colored it:

And then imported this image into Stitch Fiddle. I'm working the design now, making edits here and there as I go. When I'm done, I'll have a workable chart and a fancy towel. I can't think of anything better than that.
I love it when a plan comes together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Embroidery March: Blackwork (reprise)

I've alternately been under the weather and distracted by nice weather. Last Thursday's blog post just escaped me entirely. I had meant to do a reprise of the blackwork post from back in January, so here it is, albeit a few days late.

Back in January, I talked about blackwork as a means of repairing weak fabric, but not really as a decorative art and that's what I want to talk about today. There are some really great pieces at the Victoria and Albert Museum, such as this woman's waistcoat that show the decorative potential of blackwork.

Image copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 
If I had a higher resolution image, I'd be copying the heck outta that. I have been working on a small sampler and trying out  some different techniques.

The top left and bottom right designs came from my Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and the top right and bottom left designs are from my own brain. I'm pleased with how it turned out and I kind of want to do some more samplers just to see if I can't figure out some designs that are both in the Spanish style (reversible designs in Holbein stitch) and in the English style (non-reversible, organic designs like the waistcoat above).

I'm about as pleased with the back of it as I am with the front. The hexagon design did very well on the reverse, as did the picot on the top and bottom. I'm still working on starting and finishing threads more neatly, but I'm pleased overall.

My next challenge is going to be to figuring out how to use the density of the pattern to produce values of dark and light over a larger design. I'll let you know how it goes and if it all goes well, I'm considering writing up the little bird as a pattern.

I'm loving the simplicity of blackwork, though it's just about the opposite of my usual free style stuff. I'm used to working without counted stitches and in all the colors, but using only black reminds me a lot of pen-and-ink drawing. In the 17th century, they used woodcuts for inspiration.

The only thing that changed is that I grabbed this image from four thousand miles away and never had to leave my living room. This coming Thursday, I'll talk about cross stitch, which I have yet to successfully do. It'll be an adventure!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Embroidery March: Freestyle

Happy March, everyone! February is over, but I'm still plugging away at the quilt and I have a spinning FO that I haven't done a post for yet, but will when I get a couple pictures. I wanted to start March off with my go-to embroidery. Freestyle is pretty much how it sounds. There are no rules really, except you might want to have a needle, some thread, and some fabric. Embroidery is about as old as civilization and the oldest examples are done in the same stitches that I use. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has a collection that includes silk fragments from China that may be as old as the 3rd century C.E. to a pink machine-embroidered tracksuit from 2004.

Most of my work is done by hand and I use lots of different kinds of stitches, depending on what strikes my fancy at the time. I could probably spend a whole month on freestyle, explaining my process and the different kinds of stitches I use, but I'd rather show you some of what I've done. The one on the right is mainly in chain stitch. which is quick and easy and can cover a large area in a short amount of time.

The one above uses satin stitch. I was going for a Hungarian sort of design, which makes use of satin stitch quite a bit. The hardest part is making the edges of satin stitch look nice and if you do some sort of outline, that neatens things up pretty well. 

This sashiko-inspired design is nothing more than running stitch with a few little French knots. The stitching itself is as easy as it gets, though the design can get pretty complicated.
This one uses a combination of several different kinds of stitches, including a double herringbone that was done so small that I realized that I either needed to either make bigger stitches or get some reading glasses. It makes my eyes hurt just thinking about it. To get the feathered effect, I mainly did feather stitches and cross stitches

There are lots more, but those are enough to get you started. My go-to reference has always been The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and if you don't have one, I highly recommend this one as essential to your needlework library.

Using a marking pen or pencil that washes out, you can free-draw whatever design pleases you and it doesn't have to be super complicated. Sometimes a simple design is all you need. Barring that, there are patterns that can be traced or ironed-on. Lately, I've taken to perusing the British Library's Flickr account. Those images are in the public domain and there are lots of interesting things that can be found there.

I found this one while looking for floral designs. My newest freestyle design will be based on this illustration, done in silver on blue silk (the same as the blue hanky above).

I've done a little in chain stitch and running stitch so far.

I could go on, but we'd be here forever. This is probably my favorite of the needle arts and one that's pretty easy to do if you start with a simple design and one or two basic stitches.