February is for Goldwork

At the beginning of February I was excited to take a beginner goldwork class at an East Kingdom embroidery event. Not only did I have a handy stash of bits and bobs of goldwork supplies from various other classes I’d attempted to take and never quite managed to for a whole host of reasons, but it was another category in my sample collection! Win win all around.

Demonstration zoom classes are a challenge, there’s no two ways to put it. You are trying to have a good view of what the teacher is doing, and they are trying to have a good view of what you are doing, with only sketchy web cams to connect you (and often sketchier internet). The most effective demo classes I’ve attended have had a dedicated camera (often a phone camera on a tripod) aimed at the workspace and quite narrowly focused in, and then a completely separate camera aimed at the teacher (often their normal web cam, be that in their laptop, or an external one). Each camera is signed into the call separately and doesn’t move much during the class, so that you arent’ fussing with getting things to focus or making your students motion sick as you wriggle a camera around. If you can only have one, the close up camera is the important one, and a tripod (or other rigged up stable solution) means you do not have to rely on someone to hold it steady for upwards of an hour, which is a helluva long time to hold something steady. Showing the teacher where you’re having trouble is still a challenge and requires a lot of description, guesswork and holding things up to questionable web cams, but by and large the pack of us seem to manage. Mostly.

Because I’m me, I decided to use one of the silk fabric squares I experimented with dyeing with padauk. It isn’t the most even dye job, but it’s alright enough for a sample. Literally it’s a chunk of silk scrap left over from the banners that my husband makes, so it’s even waste fabric! Win! I got that basted down onto a square of linen, because the silk has no weight to it at all, and the metal threads would just win in that fight. You do not want the threads to win over the fabric, the fabric should be your stable backdrop. So the silk got some linen backup, and then popped into a hoop.

Silk in the dyepot

I picked what I hoped was about the centre of my square and started tacking down the felt to pad up the acorn top. Smallest piece first, then mid size and then the largest so that it’s smooth on top. The steps of felt would catch the metal laying on top, so you want the largest padding on top. At this point remember that a sensible person would have traced their pattern down before they put felt down, but I managed. (With a pencil, because the micron pen incident is still fresh.) Couch down gold thread onto that outline and realize that my ‘acquired goodness knows when or where’ gold passing thread does NOT want to make a nice point. Too much plastic, not enough metal I dare say. Get those suckers tucked into the back of the piece and then face the acorn top.

The little pieces of gold are actually tiny and delicate tubes, that need to be clipped to exactly the length to cover the felt and then you run your needle and thread through them like a bead basically to sew them down. I had a helluva time with that, my current glasses are not amazing and managing to see exactly where I was cutting was an adventure. A lot of glasses on, glasses off, peer, squint, cut, swear because it was too short, set aside to use later (always start with the long middle ones, when you miscut, you can use them later!) and then realization that I was running out of materials because I had quite a bit of damaged perl. If it gets stretched out of its spiral, it does not come back, and a fair bit of mine was looking pretty beat up. So it’s not quite as shiny as many others, but it is all mine, and all from stash! I’m pleased. I can see how to improve, but I’m still pleased.

All done!

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
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/450540

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!

Finished!

April is for Couching

You know, there are so many layers to that title, considering so many of us have spent April quite literally on our couches. (Not everyone, I know, and kudos to those keeping society running right now!) However, April was also all about couching and laid work in my year long sampling of the East Kingdom’s embroidery guild categories. There’s a classic extant couched piece, and it seemed a no brainer to just run with it. Enter the Bayeux Tapestry.

I went digging through, really giving a good look at the tapestry for the first time in a long time, possibly ever really, and noticed the little critters along the edges. And in particular the little gryphon who was perched there, sucking on a wingtip, looking as if really he just needed a blankie and a hug, and I found my critter for April.

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And then life happened, and brains are jerks and I hemmed and hawwed and procrastinated for 3 weeks. I peered at the tab now and then. I looked at my printout, carefully manipulated to the right size. I considered the wool I’d pulled from stash to use. I put it all into a basket to have it nicely together, I got little Buddy traced onto my fabric. (And then washed my fabric because somehow it got a spot on it while sitting quietly on the table.. seriously world? Fine. Bah.) I read every tutorial online about Bayeux stitch I could find. I reconsidered my thread choices. I realized that it was too small for a hoop (I didn’t want to have hoop on the design, I really do hate hoops), so added extra fabric to the edges for the hoop to sit on. I even started plotting May’s project, telling myself that it’s okay if you skip this one and come back to it. Life really does go on. Get the easy win on May, and then come back and do bits and pieces on April’s, it’ll be fine, the embroidery world won’t hate you forever.

Then, me and myself sat down one morning over coffee for a little chat. A ‘hello brain, what’s the actual issue here’ and a significant period of navel gazing later, there was yarn in the needle and a ‘just go on, just do a couple stitches, then go get your evenweave for May’s project’. And somehow, by the time the coffee was done, there was a wing filled in. And it didn’t look awful. And apparently I still /did/ know how to choose thread and embroider, weird how I didn’t forget all that when the world got wonky.

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It was possibly the most pathetic of messages to a couple of friends that I knew would sugar coat any critique to the point of frosted flakes (but still give the critique) with that first bit. I knew full well that I was not in a brain space for anything but sugar coated frosted bombs, but there was plenty of ‘good job!’ and ‘keep going!’ and so with reassurances in brain.. the rest of the piece came together literally in a few days.

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I can see quite distinctly where I started getting the hang of things and I wouldn’t call it my best work. I really really wanted to use the red (more of my dye work although the other colours are not), even though it was half the size, but it worked up fine doubled. What it isn’t, is particularly good contrast, so it all looks very ‘the same’ in photos, and honestly is pretty subtle in real life too. Which is.. fine? It’s fine enough. It’s not spectacular, but it’s fine. I’ll take fine right now. Onwards and upwards!

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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!