The Peacock

I’ve been teasing this project out on the book of faces and on instagram all through the progression of it, enough that I get surprised when I mention it as just ‘the peacock’ and someone is ‘uhh.. wtf are you /on/ about’. Social media, not always very social. But anyhow.


So it begins.

This project is over 20 yrs in the making. Allow me, if you will, to ramble a bit about the Good Ole Days ™ on the internet, aka the late-90s. It was a time when finding anything was /hard/. Google wasn’t yet a thing, but putting up a webpage, if you were at all technical, was pretty easy. Running a mailing list was very much a thing, most of us were some form of academics (students, staff, faculty) and the world didn’t much care what the weirdos did with the university computers as long as it didn’t break anything. Usenet was a thing, and most of us knitters found ourselves, at one point or another on The Knit List. It was THE list. A listsrv that required just having faith in arcane directions to join. It was where all the knitters of the internet hung out, and there was everything from ‘how do I start?’ to ‘I am knitting guru, and here’s some of my latest design work’. I fell into that first camp on the knit list, just so we’re clear.


Disaster dodged. (Spilled candle wax is bad for lace.)

Regular posters to the knit list became early internet superstars (very much like the ‘fame’ of costumers who are on YouTube these days. #Costube etc.) and I hung upon their every word and project. They were amazing, and one in particular was crazy. My sort of crazy. She knit tiny before knitting tiny was a thing, and I wanted to do that SO BAD. Not only did she knit tiny socks, and a tiny bag. She had knit doilies. A peacock doily. She noted that she’d used piano wire to make her needles and sewing thread for her yarn. I went out and found 0.3 mm piano wire (dutifully following her comments to the letter) and picked up a spool of navy blue thread from the stash to make a sample.


Hey look, peacock!

This was, in a word, a nightmare. That blue thread? Faintly fuzzy polyester of the ‘3 spools for a dollar!’ variety. Navy blue. About as easy to see as finding a black cat on a new moon night in a mud puddle. I never did get nice points on those damn wires, and it caught with every other stitch. I am notorious, legendary even, for having bulletproof tension. I was no different then, and even for sewing thread, I probably should have been up in the 0.75 mm or 1mm needles.

I knit a wee thing about 2 inches by 2 inches, determined that it was 36 stitches to the inch, and when we were packing to move almost 10 yrs later? Threw it in the trash. (I have regrets now, but at the time? It felt cathartic.)


But that peacock doily? I kept the pattern. Not only did I have the original pattern (found at a junk store back in those knit list days), but I had the reprint in one of my lace knitting books. And I was determined. The swatch may have been a hot mess of awful, but the doily.. that should be fine, right?

Reader, it was not fine. Terrible thread (at least I’d moved to a light colour!) and worse needles did not make a complex lace pattern easier than a swatch. I didn’t make it past half a dozen rows, ripped it all out and shoved the pattern back on the shelf.


The original

Fast forward, and I join the SCA. And I discovered more people who are quite reasonable about tiny knitting. And by now, I have acquired more than 20 years worth of knitting experience, and knowledge about thread, and some rather lovely tiny needles, and find myself in need of a distraction project. Thus, the peacock got another crack. An ode, perhaps, to how far I’ve come since the days of that hideous thread and those poor little wire needles.


Early in my bobbin lace learning, I bought myself a rather nice spool of cotton. (Brok 32/2 for those keeping track at home), and it’s been waiting for just the right project. This seemed like the time to break it out. I tried it with 0.75 mm needles (I know what tension is now!) and it was too tight, so 1.0 mm needles (5-0 for the Americans) and that was just about right. I am not going to say that this was the easiest pattern I’ve ever worked. There was language at a few spots and there’s a whole section that is just a mess of picked up tiny stitches and knit 3 togethers that is a nightmare at this size. I took off my glasses to get closer to see what was going on, and poked myself in the face with needles sort of miserable sections. The Interweave reprint has errata no longer easily available on the internet (thank you wayback machine) and even IT is wrong. Thank goodness for having the original available to refer to.



Most who, back in the day, knit the peacock in tiny (it was a /thing/ amongst a few crazy folks), stopped after the peacock section, and called it good enough, but I rather liked the extra border to make it a square, so I decided to do the whole thing. I have no regrets. It’s just about exactly 8″ square, and ultimately it will be tacked down to fabric, framed and hung on the wall. I’m not wholly delighted with my blocking, I might yet block it again, but for the moment, it is done.

Blue Dragon thoughts

Good morning sunshines! I am a terrible blogger and totally spaced on taking pictures at the event that I’m about to discuss, so there may be some imagination work. It’s good for us, a little bit of theatre of the mind, a la old fashioned radio.


Picture yoinked from Emelote. Picturesque when you don’t need to go anywhere!

Blue Dragon was a lovely event. An A&S sleep away weekend, hosted at a scout camp. Meals included and enjoyed communally, dorms, classes, good space for social. It was, for those who grok the reference, FF&F (or a multidiscipline St Claire’s) but in my own backyard. Almost literally my own backyard, we live 20 minutes from site. (And to illustrate how close we live to the edge of our barony.. site is not in our barony.) It’s the first year it has run, and the baby event hiccoughs were few enough. (Mostly in the form of not quite enough communication before hand, or on Friday night, but that’s a really minor complaint. Also, while I’m musing.. I know FB is evil incarnate, but I really do miss FB events for events. There’s been a few events of late without FB events to match, and I do appreciate being able to chatter with other folks going and have one location to go look for things, rather than fight with FB showing me posts on the kingdom feed. Websites are all fine and good, and I like them in addition, but you can’t hype each other up on a website, they aren’t interactive. Anyhow, that’s a personal side muse, and likely just me.)

We did get a healthy dump of snow while we were there (a good 30 cm or so), and there is something terribly lovely about sitting and sewing in a cozy lodge, watching snow blow outside, chatting with good friends and know you have no where to be except dinner.  Winter garb was relevant! I was comfortable in all my wool, and it was lovely to have it be useful. Even my usually far too warm first pent stockings got to be appreciated! The storm was done by the time we were heading home, and while digging cars out was an adventure, the drive home was sunny and lovely. (all 23 mins of it! Our drive home was 10% longer due to weather.. our neighbourhood is never terribly well plowed.)

I heard that all of the classes went well, the ones that happened in the room we were hanging out in certainly sounded pretty good. In this Year of Doing Less, I didn’t teach any (and having now seen what my holidays looked like in terms of illness, I am grateful. Prep time would have been nonexistant.). I also didn’t take any classes, and that usually gives people a certain moment of pause. I mean, when you attend an A&S weekend full of excellent classes, why wouldn’t you take any of them!? It has nothing to do with the quality of the teachers, or the classes being offered. Some were darn tempting, I have to admit. I am just not looking for something new right now. I am comfortable with the breadth of my interests (sometimes a little overwhelmed with the breadth of my interests!), and wanting to spend time exploring the depth of my skills and insight. To put it another way, I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head, and I’m firmly in that journeyman stage of putting in my 10 000 hours, or throwing my 50 lbs of clay pots, or whatever your preferred metaphor for the reality of doing more stuff is the only way you get better.

{Picture here a large room full of tables and chairs, with the scriptorium set up in one corner, and a big dragon across from it, guarding raffle prizes that are all going to Sciath anyhow, and various small groups settled in at tables up the length of the room to chat and work on projects. Our table is covered with a red tablecloth and about 9 projects collectively over 3 people.}

A few of us, who are all sitting in that journeyman range of skills, got to talking about this, about the value of working socially and how that value is immensely underrated in today’s world. (Not just SCA world, but that’s the world we’re looking at primarily here.) We were, by and large, doing our own things. Knitting, embroidery, spinning, planning. (Sometimes all of the above, because I have the attention span of a chipmunk on speed), but all together, and knots (literal and figurative) or musing or puzzles got mentioned, and brainstormed absently. Sometimes it was nothing more than sympathetic agreement that you are cutting that bit out, sometimes with reassurances that it’s fine. Sometimes an offer to hold things that simply will not clamp onto those plastic tables. (Swift and ballwinder should make winding a skein into a centre pull ball into a mindless single person activity. Instead, 3 people, all holding different bits, and even in THAT, there was absent minded commentary about flax, and the fibre and choices made.) Just being with others doing The Thing (even if that thing is only sort of related to your thing), provides insight, inspiration and fresh perspective. It’s a side of A&S learning that was very organic in a world that lived more communally, both with extended family, and with others in the village and that we have to actively aim to achieve. I watch the scribes get that with the scriptorium, a place to be with other scribes and absorb the ambient scribal mojo going on, and it was lovely to have another tiny taste of it in the fibre world.


Confident threads

Alright, I am wholly a media child of the 80s, because typing that word makes me hum a deodorant jingle.. but I digress.  It has been a long time, a very long time really, since I enveloped myself in the modern needlework world. Easily more than a decade since I was part of a mundane needlework guild (who are sadly closing this year! Hard to believe! But I digress again), and I’ve spent the last five or so years pretty solidly amongst historical embroiderers. (Amongst many other bits of handwork, but this example is embroidery atm).

I am going to also preface this by acknowledging that in any group, the folks who are happily going along, doing their thing are not the ones posting the most. They get their pattern, they stitch it up, they admire the progress, they move on with their life. There are thousands (literally!) of stitchers doing exactly that in this stitch along.

The amount of hand wringing, stress and uncertainty is heart wrenching. For context, this is a modern designer (Shout out to Peppermint Purple, who was utterly not expecting this to go viral) doing a blackwork sampler, with a small square of counted blackwork fill released every week for the year. 52 weeks, 52 fills. I will say that they are very accessible for beginner stitchers, literally you look at the chart, and you make your thread lines on the even weave fabric look like that. This is 52 weeks of backstitch. The designer gives suggested colours for each block (different one every week!), but many people are personalizing the piece by selecting their own colours. (so much rainbow variegated. So. Much.) Based on the posts, choosing those colours, and the colour of one’s base fabric, is an act of life and death. Choosing what brand of embroidery thread, or other kinds of thread, how many threads, what count of cloth.. all are decisions that cannot be made without much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Phew. It’s exhausting just watching people fret.

For the record here’s my thoughts on thread. Your work does not care what the label said. Crochet thread, tatting thread, embroidery thread, sewing thread, knitting thread.. the piece does not care if you embroider with tatting thread. (Or knit with sewing thread, or sew with crochet thread.. you get the picture.) The handwork police are not going to bang on your door and take away your birthday.


Crochet cotton, sewing thread, knitting yarn

Your work cares very deeply for the properties of that thread, and often (but not always), the name on the label gives clues about those properties. Tatting thread is, usually, very smooth and tightly twisted and quite thin, often quite similar to sewing and quilting thread. (really, all of those are same style, the names are mostly about the size, because goodness forbid this not all be hideously confusing.) Embroidery thread, at least the gloriously common DMC 6 strand embroidery floss, those strands are more loosely spun than tatting cotton, and squish a bit more, so they take up more space and cover better, and are often ever so faintly fuzzier. Perl cotton? Thicker, squishier, more loosely spun again, great coverage. Knitting yarns take that to an extreme. They are comparatively very loosely spun, and super squishy, because that makes a glorious cozy sweater. Can you embroider with them? Sure can! Just know that they are not going to hold up well to getting pulled through fabric over and over again, and you are going to have to be gentle with the twist. It will LOOK different if you embroider with knitting yarn, or weaving yarn, or DMC floss, or tatting cotton. None of them are BAD, but they are all DIFFERENT. Pick what look you want, and run with it. It’s your piece. You need to be happy with it, not the internet.


2 squares of floss, 1 square of sewing thread.

Historical embroiderers have, largely, figured that out. We have no convenient package from the designer saying ‘use this count of evenweave cotton, and these colours of DMC floss, and here’s the pattern’. We generally have a moderately terrible photograph, sometimes a really amazing photograph and some guesses, and a lot of ‘well, I tried this, and hey look, it was a miserable failure compared to the picture, but next time…’ We stress about ‘how did they DO that!?’ rather than what colours to choose. (I have no illusions that we don’t stress, just different things.) I hope for the modern stitchers, those who are so worried about a few stitches find their zen. It’s a cute little sampler so far, and now you’ve been properly spoilered up to week 3.

P.S. Dear Modern Stitchers.. a few points. 1) messy backs are have a long and glorious historical tradition, stop telling people that the Elizabethans started the neat back obsession, we can stick that blame on the Victorians where it solidly belongs. 2) Blackwork was not ‘historically done always on sheer cloth’, and it was not ‘historically done in black because that was the most colourfast’. (Warn the natural dye folks before you say such things so we don’t have a mouthful of coffee at the time. Cause yeah.. no. Just no.) and was not ‘always reversible’. You can think it all you want, but the archaeological record disagrees. 3) When you take a strand of thread and you fold it in half and then use those TWO strands to make a stitch with, you are using 2 strands of thread. When you complain that it looks so messy, and we say ‘your thread looks thick, are you using two strands?’ You answer ‘yes’. The words ‘no, just one strand but doubled’ translates to ‘yes, I am using two strands’. Thank you.

January is for Appliqué

And you thought it was for complaining about winter, and grumpily putting away shiny decorations.. p’shaw. (okay, I can multitask, I can do those WHILE I’m embroidering!) As I mentioned last week, we decided that the fact that the East Kingdom Embroidery guild category list has one for each month of 2020 was just too much to look past. Ergo, January is for appliqué.

When I decided on this project, I knew exactly what appliqué was going to be. A friend (and I wish I could remember who, so I could beg them for class notes.. if it was you, ping me!), took a class in inlaid embroidery at Pennsic a few years back, and I thought it was seriously cool. I never did manage to take the class, but I also never forgot it, just lurking around in the back of my head, seed planted.

So like a good little SCAdian A&S junkie, I went off and did some cursory research and found some period examples and more information. Mostly, I’m not gonna lie here, I found Mistress Katheryn Hebenstreitz‘s fabulous bit of documentation and was confident that I was in the right realm of history, even if I still wasn’t wholly sure how to /do/ it. Minor technical detail.  (Historical Textiles has a glorious write up as well. Go read it, I wish I’d found it earlier in my searching. I’ll wait. Heck, I’ll go read it again. They’re awesome, I can only aspire to be that cool someday.)

In short, inlay embroidery (also called intarsia embroidery, mosaic embroidery, inlaid appliqué.. so many search terms), involves taking wool fabric, cutting out the same motif in two colours and swapping them. Red design goes in design hole in blue fabric, blue design that came out goes in the hole waiting in the red fabric. Sew it in, add some embellishments (including gilded leather to hide the stitches, la de dah!) Sew all those squares together into awesome.

I knew I had some wool cloth left over from my viking coat, but it’s just a single colour. Using two different wools seemed like a poor idea, so clearly I should just dye the wool. Easy peasy, right?


I did not win this round.

Apparently this wool cloth is covered in teflon or something, but it rejected my madder and the paduak dye bath in a horrific sort of way. Plan B was a blast of food dye. Take THAT, you stubborn wool. I win.


Wiltons icing dye to the rescue

I did a rough outline of the derpy critter I liked the best, and then made a template and transferred it onto the wool. Easier said than done, for certain. A sharpie worked not too badly on the lighter colour, but that glorious dark colour I was so pleased to have gotten? Yeah. It was a bear to draw on. I ultimately used chalk to paint my template on like a stencil and cut as best I could around that. It wasn’t terrible, but needed some finicky trimming to get to fit in perfectly.


Finally I’m at the stage of sewing it in, and realizing that I have not got any gilded leather to outline it with, and not wholly certain I WANT gilded leather to outline it. Bears more thinking on. It is the period fashion (although I vaguely recall finding a source that claimed that some were outlined in cord, but of course I can’t find THAT source again.), and it would hide my messy stitches. (Working at about 60% scale to the original is fiddly, in case you needed confirmation of that obvious point.)


Not the easiest whip stitch I’ve ever attempted. (certainly not the neatest)

So that’s where I sit on this month’s Athena’s Thimble project. Progress is being made!

Ongoing 2020 projects

The drive home to and from Halifax last month provided plenty of opportunity to discuss projects and plans and thoughts and the state of A&S in big terms and little terms, and generally illustrated that stuck in a vehicle for 2 days solid, Emelote and I can talk for 2 days solid. Those who know either of us in person are nodding in a complete lack of surprise at the moment.


No handy wifi here.

On the way home, I was explaining all about the East Kingdom embroidery guild, Keepers of Athena’s Thimble. If you are ever at an East Kingdom event where they are having a panel and you are in any way interested in embroidery, you should go. It’s such a good time, spent with amazing needleworkers and even if you’ve nothing to panel (aka show and tell with some expert critique on offer), it’s worth gawking at the awesome and meeting great resources in embroidery. The guild has divved up embroidery into 12 broad categories, and they have rankings for skill level in each. In a car, going 120 kph down the highway with spotty cell service, I struggled to remember all twelve, but we got there in the end (or perhaps with the assistance of convenient rest stop wifi, I don’t recall). Ultimately, we commented that twelve categories fit really very nicely into twelve months of the year, and gosh wouldn’t examples of all these different ones be nice.

And so the year of embroidery was begun. Small projects, pincushion sized, one a month for all twelve categories. I did mention I’ve rather missed embroidering, right? Just wait, I am going to get plenty this year. For lack of any reason why not, I’m approaching them alphabetically, which places January as appliqué. I have long wanted to play with intarsia appliqué (inlay, mosaic, patchwork.. all the same thing), so I’m delighted. More on that project next week.


It all starts with a dyepot

That’s the first year long project, and honestly was aimed to be the only year long project, such that I had time for everything else I do. (Looking at you peacock, and the dressed looms, and and and.. oh dear.) Then I was surfing around the internet, as one does, and stumbled upon a year long blackwork stitch along from Peppermint Purple.

Stitch alongs, for those unfamiliar with the concept, are basically a mystery project where the designer doles out the pattern in small chunks, and you only know the bare bones to start, so it’s a surprise every week (or however often they release clues). I’ve done more than my share of knitting ones, but I haven’t done an embroidery one in forever, and I rather adore blackwork. It’s wholly modern, each week is a little fill in a wee box, and I failed my will save to resist. This is clue one, sorry for the spoilers. (22 count hardanger fabric, random unlabelled cotton floss)


Tiny! Barely a project!

So now I’ve got an embroidery project every week, and one every month. I am not going to lack for embroidery in 2020, that’s for certain! The stupid knitting continues apace with a doily that’s been haunting me for 20 years, but that’s a story for another time. I dare say I won’t lack for things to keep me busy this year. 

Look back and look ahead

Phew. We made it to a new calendar! Go us! I’ve also been sick for the entirety of the holiday break around here, so that carefully collected list of things I wanted to do while I was off work? Yeah, not so much. Video games and naps punctuated by social obligations, which required more naps. (Civ VI is my video game crack of choice, thanks for asking. Thank you Steam Winter Sale for providing the most recent expansion at 40% off.)



2019 was a year of expanding horizons. Unwillingly at first, as I had to find something I could do with a rampaging and frustrating bout of tendonitis. (Mostly gone, not wholly gone. I overdo it regularly and then have to wait to heal again.) That’s how beer and soap came into my world, and I do enjoy both. I have had successes at both, and failures at both, but I admit that neither are my One True Love ™. Enjoyable past times, but not my one and only. I do both because I like having soap and beer, so they’ll turn up again. I have wood ash to make my own lye again, but that’s a task better suited to outdoors, so look for that once the weather warms up.


Pumpkin ale in progress

There was a lot of spinning in 2019, although that was also the year that I learned that I can no longer treadle a spinning wheel. The damage in my legs and the motion of treadling do not play nice, not even a little. Fortunately, I started as a spindle spinner, and it’s always been my preferred spinning love, it’s just not terribly quick. I added in a wee tiny electric spinner, but honestly? I am just as fast on my spindles, so my little nano doesn’t see a whole lot of use. Practice would probably fix that, but I adore the portability of spindles. Look for a whole lot more spinning out of 2020, because it is zen and <3.


Nano electric spinner

I honestly thought I’d done more weaving than I have, perhaps just the looming of the looms makes it feel eternal. I got some black wool woven up on the floor loom for an exchange gift, and then a single electric blue warp off the warp weighted loom. There’s another warp on the loom currently, but I kinda hate it and am uncertain what I want to do with it, or where to go next, so it sits while I muse on that. I have so many things I want to weave, and I admit, I’m being held back by ‘what if they go wrong!?’, which is frankly ridiculous. What if they go right? (Well and the 4 shaft floor  loom is currently utterly buried behind the 3D printer, that’s a whole different challenge.)


Loom weights just hanging out

There was some hand sewn garb, and some machine sewn mundane wear, and honestly, I really do want to make more of both. I need to figure out how to arrange a sewing space, as I don’t find it particularly portable and I don’t have a space at the house that doesn’t need to be put away at least once a week, which I am finding utterly tedious. More solutions to be had in 2020, but I don’t yet know what they look like. I find making clothing terribly intimidating (yes, even still) and there’s exactly one way to solve that issue. Make more terrible clothes, and each will, ideally, be less terrible than the last. A solution easier typed out than implemented, but we’ll try.


Assembling the cursed underdress

2019 saw other bits and pieces tucked into it. I tried painting on silk (hated every second), and painting on a wooden box (that was rather fun!). I did do some knitting, stupid and otherwise. (Okay, a lot of stupid knitting), and the year ended with enough stupid knitting to have a sore arm, so there’s a pause on the knitting for a few days. Some yarn and fleece got dyed, and no doubt more will get dyed in 2020. That’s an enjoyable afternoon making colours, and I don’t foresee that ending anytime soon.


What the 3/99 cents thread deserved and got.

What 2019 didn’t have in it was much in the way of lace (other than knitted), or embroidery, and I missed both terribly. Stay tuned for glorious plans about that coming up in 2020. I’ll tell you all about it on Monday.