Featured on the Craftsy blog

Just a quick post to say that a couple of my RSN pieces have been featured by the wonderful Leigh Bowser on the Craftsy blog.

Here's a wonderful introduction to blackwork by Leigh, featuring a section of my Celia Johnson blackwork portrait in progress...


...and here is the low-down on crewelwork, accompanied by a photograph of my completed Jacobean crewelwork embroidery, along with some stunning examples by other stitchers that put me to shame... tut tut, what fluffy twill.



Dog Rose

After the Royal School of Needlework graduation yesterday, Pip and I spent some time wandering around the rose garden looking for the prettiest blooms.



I think the dog rose is still my very favourite. Which brings me to my final RSN embroidery. I had to re-do my silk shading module to get my Certificate, and I chose the humble yet beautiful dog rose.

It grew quite rapidly, and I now feel a lot more confident in creating silk shaded flowers that are smoothly blended and shiny.

Here is the rose blooming petal by petal:


















Weeping Gold


Tonight I am putting the finishing touches to my goldwork weeping eye (mounting it so it's ready for assessment). I envision this as part of a duo; its sister goldwork will be a kid leather trophy which proclaims "You didn't cry", an idea I've employed once or twice before!


For the most part I'm happy with it, and I've really taken to goldwork; I suppose I wouldn't be planning the next one otherwise! I must be a magpie...



Golden Tears



I apologise if I've just got this naff-ly catchy little number stuck in your head; it's been in mine all day. That's because I've made a start on my goldwork module at the Royal School of Needlework. I've chosen quite a striking image for my design; an art-nouveau inspired eye with a single tear drop. One of my tutors today also thought it had quite a Sixties vibe.





I've started couching down some Japanese thread on to the upper eyelid in a brick pattern; it's very satisfying getting a smooth curve with no gaps. Hopefully I'll have that all finished by the end of the day tomorrow.

I'm really happy with the colour of silk I've used for the background fabric; in fact, it seems a very happy colour, despite the mournful subject matter! That must be why I'm enjoying the stitching so much.

Cottoning On




As my training at the Royal School of Needlework progresses, I'm finding that some embroidery techniques take a little longer to get the hang of than others. Right from the offset of my blackwork, I felt completely at ease and enraptured by the medium. Silk shading has been a little more counter-intuitive, and it took 'til at least halfway through the project for me to get to grips with the smooth shading required. So the final result isn't perfect, but I am still pretty happy with it, and I'm raring to do another! I think I'd like to do a silk shaded milk thistle for artist's book #3...

Satan's Mushroom in progress

My Boletus Satanas silk shaded mushroom is a few days away from finished. I'm not quite as enamoured with silk shading as I was with my blackwork; I don't feel I've "got" the technique yet, but I suppose it's very difficult to in such a short space of time. I do love the subject and colours though, I just wish they were a bit, well, silkier! All silk shaded RSN Certificate pieces must include a turnover in a flower petal or leaf, so I've included a vivid green oak leaf at the base of the mushroom, and that certainly has quite a sheen so far.












After my silk shading is complete, I'll be doing a six week module in the RSN studio. During that time, I'll be sampling beadwork techniques, which I will share here. Then it's on to gold work, the design for which is forming in my mind, and involves, er, crying... as so much of my previous work has done!

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.


Coral garden in bloom

Over the weeks, working on my Canvas Stitches piece has transformed from a love hate relationship to a real labour of love. It's not perfect, but all things considered I'm very proud of it.

Today I put the finishing touches to the tapestry, with a few beads and sequins (or, to use the RSN term, spangles) and a little weaving of sparkly thread to cover up tiny areas where a few threads of the canvas below the stitching peeked through (a not inconsiderable amount of embroidery is subterfuge...)


Perhaps it's all the sparkly thread and shiny beads that have made this piece so enjoyable to stitch; I've always been a magpie, and when I started to add the first sparkly thread in the classroom, I did a little dance in my seat.

I particularly enjoyed adding the little flower-shaped spangles to my pink sea anemones in a random pattern; perhaps they're open ready to catch passing fish? They add a nice bit of dimension and variety to this area.




I've spent many hours blending threads in the needle to create what is hopefully a subtle gradation throughout the piece.



Try as I might to stretch the canvas as taught as possible, when I added the underwater jewels-toned border it didn't turn out quite straight; I suppose I will see if my tutors have any suggestions on Monday... 


I'm going to spend tomorrow sampling a few different blackwork stitches ready for my next RSN project; I will share my design and beginnings of blackwork here soon. Now that I've had a good day's stitching, however, I'm going to try turning my hand to a different craft; lino printing on to denim. Wish me luck!

Come up and see my stitchings

Sometimes I feel like my creative streak is one of those joke "can of worms" where a bouncy snake pops out. Only in this case the snake is constantly methodically working at the lid and cackling deviously to itself. I like to think that's where the figurative meaning of "unhinged" originates, but perhaps I should digress.

In any case, what I'm erratically trying to say is, I think artists are a little more unhinged than your Average Joe. Our brains are more porous, and this porosity works both ways, or at least it does in my case; art goes in, art comes out (or perhaps more accurately, everything goes in, everything comes out; not always a good thing).

It makes me think of my favourite French word: entrouvert/e, meaning "ajar" or "half open".

It has vert in it, too, green; the colour of new life, new hope.


Now I am training to be a tutor at the Royal School of Needlework (unimaginably far-off though the intended end result may currently seem), I'm having to keep a lid on my creative can of worms for a little while. It's a wise person who said that one has to learn the rules to break them, and that's what I am slowly, falteringly doing; learning stitches at a staggering rate, learning history and composition and my way around the Palace, and just about keeping my head above water (though my legs are working frantically beneath).


And my days working from home are spent up in the loft wedged between computers and their entrails, plonked in front of The West Wing, stitching until the light gives out. 

I like that dependence on the light; I like that it roots me within nature's rhythms, and connects me to needlewomen of the past, who stitched by the guttering of candles until their eyes were ruined.


And I like that endurance and dedication too, that almost obsessional dedication. That refusal to settle for "almost good enough", that tiny, painstaking delicacy.

"Passitivity and obedience, moreover, are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework. What's required are physical and mental skills, fine aesthetic judgement in colour, texture and composition; patience during long training; and assertive individuality of design (and consequent disobedience of aesthetic convention). Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability." - Kate Walker (feminist embroidery artist)

I am all too aware of how vulnerable I am now, at the start of my journey; I'm like Bambi in the snow, wide-eyed and open mouthed wonderment at drawers filled with thread every colour of the sun, archival boxes of ancient textiles, the living history of Hampton Court and above all the inestimable knowledge that pours from those around me.


But I intend to soak it all up, like a sponge, like a door flung not half, but fully open. And I've begun my own efforts, paltry though they may be... slowly, slowly... stitch by stitch...







Sketching For Stitching

Remember Nicola Jarvis's incredible exhibition at the William Morris Gallery? Well, last week, the other Future Tutors students at the RSN and myself were lucky enough to have her teach us the principles of embroidery design over two days.

Now, I haven't drawn in over three years, beyond very basic line sketches (mostly traced from photographs, I am ashamed to say!) for my embroideries. But two days of drawing with Nikki, and I was in love with the medium all over again!

I'm enjoying following my instincts about colour, and just choosing tones which seem to fit together. I'm really attracted to jewel-like tones of magenta, purple, lime, coral and sapphire at the moment, partially due to a 1920s flapper dress from the Royal School's collection which put me in mind of a coral reef; inspired by this, my design for Canvas Work (a technique I'll be embarking on learning in a month), is an underwater scene.



From looking at and handling the collection and listening to the experiences and advice of my peers and tutors, I'm beginning to learn more about which stitches and techniques are appropriate for different designs. I can't wait to try out Turkey rug, feather stitch, stumpwork and trellis stitch... so much texture!

My design for Jacobean Crewel Work is in rich purples and blues, chosen from three crewel wools I snatched almost as soon as they were put on the table; they're simply sumptuous! Jacobean Crewel Work traditionally depicts a tree of life laden with fantastical, oversized flora and fauna. I've chosen an oak leaf, acorn, thistle, a sprig of berries, and a snail crawling up the Tree of Life's trunk. To balance the right hand side of the Tree, I've drawn a spiralling branch on the left which echoes the snail's shell. The three hillocks are also a traditional feature of Jacobean Crewel Work.




 I've definitely caught the drawing bug, but I can't wait to get back to my real love; tomorrow is my first day of stitching! I'll share the results here very soon.

Back To School

Originally I was going to title this post "Back To (The Royal) School", but over the past two days I've begun to realise that I have so much to learn in the field of needlework that it really is like being a teary four year old in the infants' playground all over again (well, with less crying).

The view from the classroom window earlier today

Other first impressions are that the entire School runs on tea and biscuits and is full of bright, bubbly, formidably skilled and talented young (and, er, not quite as young) women... I'm yet to discover many men!

The tea and biscuit-positive culture is a particular draw for me...

After class (which consisted of lots of colour and shading work to get us thinking about how we'll use tone in our Jacobean Crewel Work), I had a wander 'round the grounds.

And that's when it really began to sink in. I will (fingers double crossed) be spending the next three years (at least) in the most beautiful setting...








I can't even begin to describe how overwhelming and wonderful and inspiring and humbling and exciting and terrifying this experience is. I have a funny feeling it will be like that the whole way through...