January is for Free Embroidery

I’ve actually been accomplishing and finishing projects and experiments and not writing about them, so there’s going to be some catching up. I know that it’s no longer January, we’ll just ignore the fact that I’m only talking about it (and indeed only finished it) in February. Close enough.

For those who haven’t been following along, this is part of my plan to go explore all of the embroidery categories from the East Kingdom’s embroidery guild. I got six (ish) categories done last year, and I hope to finish the other six this year (with at least one re-do from those first six.) Ostensibly I was going through it in alphabetical order, and while I did do a little jumping around, Free Embroidery was next on the list and so here we are.

In hunting up inspiration pictures, I was casually surfing the MET’s archives and not really being inspired. Sure there’s lots of great things there, and I started (and quit) a polychrome motif that just wasn’t doing it for me last year. And then .. I found it. The perfect bit of glorious psychotic derpery from 15th century Egypt.

Fragment of Scarf or Cover 15th Century Egypt

Psychotic medieval fever dream fowl of some sort with dripping beaks? (jaws? Fangs?) I’m in! I poked both the Ealdormere Embroidery FB group and the EK Athena’s Thimble embroidery group for their thoughts on what stitches were used in the original, and it looks like some sort of interlaced stitch in my opinion. That being said, I remembered that this was supposed to be a free embroidery sample, and so I used a whole selection of stitches.

Many of my hand dyed embroidery threads

All of the thread was hand dyed by me, and it’s a mix of size 60/2 weaving silk and size 30/2 weaving silk. The 60/2 was just so very thin, it looked fairly anemic, but the 30/2 is a lofty squishy thread, which looked too plush for quite what I was aiming at. I suspect that my interlaced back stitch is a pretty good approximation of the body stitch in the original, but the original was a firmer, probably 3 ply thread at a guess that didn’t have quite so much squish as mine. Ultimately I used back stitch, interlaced back stitch, chain stitch, stem stitch and eyelets.

Psycho duckie progress

After I finished up my psycho ducks, I was super looking forward to just quickly popping on that delicate little edging of the original. My first attempt.. well it looked like someone had done it with an etch a sketch. Okay, thinks I, no biggie, I’ll trace it from the original, no biggie. Well, dear reader, that’s when it all went horribly wrong. I use a micron pen to trace. I love it, it’s fine tipped and very very permanent. I wasn’t getting the curves quite right so I sketched it a couple more times. And then the realization hit. Very. Very. Permanent. Well now I had a big inky mess on my hands which was supposed to be a quick and easy little border.

Micron ink. Awesome and forever.

It sat for a few weeks until I got past (mostly) being really really mad at myself, and then I just chain stitched the snot outta that bottom edge. Take THAT stupid ink stains. Bah! And so, my psychotic ducks are done. Another sample into the bag. Next up? Metal threads!


Alcohol is alcohol, right?

At the end of my last dye class in Avacal last month, there was a small group of us who kept chattering about this and that and the other, as one does after class. One of the things we got chatting about, was extracting dye from woods using alcohol. By and large, most of us just use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) because it’s cheap and easy to get, but then there was a general musing on if ethanol (booze!) would give different results.

Well! I had a bottle of vodka I was willing to put to the cause, and some padauk wood shavings that I knew from experience required an alcohol soak to get dye out of.

I didn’t plan to do giant samples, so each jar only held 5 g of wood shavings, and then 135g of their respective alcohols. Vodka (45%) in one, and Isopropyl in the other (99%, yes that’s a higher concentration than normal rubbing alcohol, welcome to my house.) I left them both to sit for a couple of weeks, giving them a shake when I thought of it.

My silk was mordanted with alum at 15% wof (wof is weight of fibre.. so you take your dry fibre and weigh it, and then use 15% of that number.. alum is usually anywhere from 10- 25% wof). I had both silk cloth and skeins of silk thread in there, and everything got mordanted at once.

A paper towel dip gave a clue.

The isopropyl went first. I strained out the wood shavings, put the dye liquor into the crockpot, diluted with water and then in went a chunk of cloth, and a couple of skeins of silk. Holy pink, batman! They hung out there at a gentle warm for a couple of hours before being let cool in the dyebath and then out and rinsed. I then did exactly the same thing with the ethanol.

They are most decidedly different. There’s not any doubt at all that they extract dye differently, and dammit, I now can’t just use the cheap alcohol if I want to extract a dye I like better! A good experiment, a few more colours of silk into my stash. I wish I’d stirred more to get it more even on the cloth, but life does go on. I’m hoping to hide the worst of the splotches under embroidery.

So there we have it.. who knew that different chemicals would have different results. (spoilers.. everyone should have known, but now we have proof!)