Celia Johnson (and her backside) were featured on the Mr X Stitch website on Saturday! And what's more, Leigh of LeighLaLovesYou who curates the Stitchgasm feature described Celia as "flawless"! Now, I know that isn't true, but I'll take a stitchy compliment when I get it! Thanks so much, Leigh!

Celia Johnson by Posie Grenadine

Celia Johnson by Posie Grenadine

Celia Johnson

You might have noticed I'd disappeared from these parts for a wee while. Well, that's because I've been busy tackling blackwork... oh, and celebrating my twenty third birthday with a cocktail or two.

Celia Johnson just needs the final RSN seal of approval and then, fingers crossed, she'll be mounted on Thursday, ready to be assessed and then framed.

And I must say I'm rather chuffed with her! She's been a pleasure to stitch from start to finish, with only a few hair-raising moments.

Here is the screenshot I based my blackwork on:

 Here is the final result:

And here are all the stages in between (I got a bit snap happy as time went on!):

Onwards and upwards to silk shading come Monday; I'll be stitching a Boletus satanas, or "Devil's mushroom"... alongside an innocent little oak leaf.

In black and white

One of my first embroideries was based on Brief Encounter. I believe it will always be one of my favourite films (to be watched with a box of tissues close to hand!) It crops up as a reference again and again in my writing as well, and so for my latest RSN piece I decided to embroider its star, Celia Johnson, in her role as Laura Jesson.

A favourite band from my adolescence, Patti Plinko and Her Boy, cemented my love of Brief Encounter in their song Brief Call (which sadly I now can't find anywhere on the internet). In the song, a woman with a cut-glass English accent implores to a telephone operator that she wants to talk to Celia Johnson (one of their later songs is entitled Tapestry Stitches; clearly Patti Plinko and I are destined to be!) The crackly, seductive-yet-sinister voice of Patti Plinko seared the character Celia Johnson into my brain; in my spoken word piece Kiss the Book, I later wrote that "You and I might be the last remaining sufferers of Celia Johnson Syndrome, forsaking feelings for public decency, drinking to loosen stiff upper lips, awakening to find starched white surgical ruffs buttoned back up beyond the collar."

The black and white, austerity Britain, "keep calm and carry on" vibe of the film (apt as it was made during the war) translates well to blackwork, the technique I'm currently learning at the Royal School of Needlework. 

I wouldn't have expected it as I'm pants at maths, but I've really taken to counted thread techniques; perhaps there's something slightly obsessive about my personality?! Making those tiny little geometric stitches in counts of two threads a time certainly is satisfying; I find the octagonal square pattern I'm using to shade Celia's face with particularly hypnotic.

Teeny tiny waffle pattern making up Celia's hair

Blackwork is very crisp, and perhaps the closest embroidery technique to hand drawing. My favourite pieces to stitch prior to starting at the RSN were black and white illustrations from early-twentieth century children's books, so I was particularly looking forward to starting this technique:

In fact, my initial design for blackwork more closely resembled these illustrations; it was based on a character from my stories and stitchings, Polly Kettle:

However, my tutors decided that this design would be too flat, as blackwork, as opposed to just black on white stitching, is all about shading and dimensionality, and the use of negative space. So we plumped for this screenshot of Celia instead (only severely cropped!):

I will be sharing blow-by-blow progress over on Instagram, so do head on over if you want to see my stitchy (and other!) goings-on.

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter typifies a very particular type of Britishness that no longer exists. This is a Britain of stiff upper lip and quiet reserve. Perhaps it was the fact that this 1945 film was made during the Second World War that lent it this "Keep Calm and Carry On" feel.

The film was based on the Noel Coward play Still Life, in which two married people embark on a secret love affair. This is no tawdry affair, however; it's a brief, beautiful and bittersweet escape from the stifling mundanity of their lives. Laura (played by Celia Johnson) is Brief Encounter's narrator; she is married to Fred Jesson, and the couple have two small children. The highlight of Laura's week is her trip to the fictional Milford to do her weekly shopping and see a matinée film. One day, whilst waiting for a train at Milford Junction Station, a "smut" gets into Laura's eye. She goes into the refreshment room to seek help, and here Alec (Trevor Howard), the other protagonist, is introduced. He offers assistance, the two start chatting, and therein the love story unfolds.

Eventually the couple realise that they cannot betray their spouses and continue with the affair any longer. Their final meeting is marred by the interruption of an acquaintance of Laura's, who babbles incessantly while the two struggle to contain their feelings. Alec's train arrives and he leaves without being able to say a proper goodbye. As the train pulls away, Laura dashes out onto the platform, and for a moment it seems she will end her life. However, she dutifully returns to her husband and family. The film ends with its most famous and melodramatic speech (one which was re-enacted in The History Boys); Laura has been lost in her thoughts of Alec and what might have been. Her husband, Fred, realising that something has been amiss, says "You've been a long way away. (...) Thank you for coming back to me."

The film has been adapted for the stage by Kneehigh Theatre, a company I originally wanted to complete my CEP with.

This introduction by the director of the production, Emma Rice, is well worth a read.

I have chosen to embroider pieces based on Brief Encounter as much of my own writing deals with the idea of stiff upper lip and what it is to be British, together with thwarted love. In addition to the embroidery of the train on the handkerchief in the previous post, you can expect a sewn portrait of Celia Johnson and possibly one of Trevor Howard, accompanied by original writing on the theme of Brief Encounter.

"I Have A Smut In My Eye"

As promised, one of the Brief Encounter-inspired pieces. For this embroidery I departed from my usual translating-poetry-into-a-snippet-of-text set-up and instead illustrated a quotation from the film itself.

The text reads: "I didn't think such violent things could happen to ordinary people". This quotation is taken from a voice-over/monologue spoken by Brief Encounter's protagonist, Laura. The full quotation is "I've fallen in love. I'm an ordinary woman. I didn't think such violent things could happen to ordinary people". I illustrated the quotation with embroidery of a steam train disappearing into a tunnel, as Laura's illicit affair with Alec begins at a train station, and this setting provides the visual drama of the film.

Tomorrow I will post on Brief Encounter in more depth, but right now it's past my bedtime and I must sleep!