One of the best things about being at Hampton Court was seeing all the different projects on which various students were working. I saw a multitude of beautiful embroidery throughout the week and was inspired by all of it.
Naturally I was very interested in canvaswork pieces. Kate Barlow, who is studying in the Future Tutors Program, had her completed canvaswork piece with her and kindly gave me permission to photograph it and publish it here.
Isn’t it lovely? Her choice of stitches is perfect and I really like that she’s used all smooth threads – cotton and silks – in this particular image. It really highlights the glamour of the design and the flapper. My favourite parts are the cheeks and lips!
In addition to seeing all the wonderful embroidery, I learned some tricks for making life a bit easier when working on complex projects, like a silk shading piece.
Silk shading uses many, many different colors and shades of thread. Keeping it all organised and handy for when you will need it can be problematic. Above is a solution that I think is brilliant. This is a long, narrow cushion with a flap of fabric hanging down over the edge of the slate frame. (You can just see it if you look carefully.) The skeins of thread have been attached to the cushion using diaper pins. Why diaper pins I asked? Because they’re designed not to poke the baby and are therefore smooth, so the thread doesn’t catch on the pins. The piece of fabric at the top is tucked underneath the slate frame so it’s held between the frame and the trestles. When it’s time to finish for the day, the fabric can be folded over the threads, keeping them dust free. If the whole project needs to be moved, the threads will flop over the cushion and the piece of fabric folds over the whole thing and can be tied gently so all the threads are transported safely. What a great idea!
So, after being inspired and saying hello to the new students in the classroom that day, it was time for me to get to work. I’d spent quite a bit of time stitching the trunk of the tree the days before and decided to go ahead and continue on that for the morning. I thought I was sailing along very nicely until later in the week when I found out that I was not doing the stitch correctly. Rats! More about that later.
After tea and lunch I moved on to the snow on the branches of the tree. It was suggested by one of the tutors, Heather Lewis, that I used a combination of stitches to create the texture and heaviness of the tree. She found a photo of a piece in her collection in the RSN Canvaswork Guide on page 55 that shows how a combination of stitches and sizes of stitches could work beautifully to create just the right texture of ice.
Using a combination of fan, circular eyelet, shell and Rhodes octagonal stitches the effect of snow on the needles of the pine tree would be created. My first task was to practice these stitches to learn how to do them and to see if they would work to create the texture I wanted. When I mounted my canvas on the frame I allowed extra canvas at the top to use as a practice space. This is a great suggestion by the RSN tutors and means it’s quite easy to try things out before committing to them in the final project. You can see my little test stitches at the top right corner in the photo below. (This photo was taken a few days later as you can see by the work that’s been done – successfully I might add.)
At this point I discovered just how difficult these stitches were for me to understand and get right. I took out more sample stitches than I left in. For two of the stitches – the Rhodes octagonal and circular eyelet – I had to draw them on graph paper (which I’d brought with me, thank goodness) so that I could understand how they were constructed. I’ve never been so frustrated in all my stitching life! It was on this afternoon that I wondered why I was in London at the RSN trying to do something that was clearly out of my reach.
Looking back I can see that I set myself quite a challenge as a beginner that day. I was having to learn 4 stitches as a complete beginner. I didn’t understand how to read the stitch diagrams and, on top of that, the diagrams in Mary Rhodes book Dictionary of Canvas Stitches aren’t numbered as to where you should begin and go from there. Lastly, I was trying to fit together 4 different stitches so I was sometimes having to compensate the stitches to fit together.
No wonder I was frustrated! Fortunately my friend Debs had popped up from working in the studio downstairs to see how we were all doing. She is based in Bristol and one of the RSN Future Tutor students. I can say without hesitation that she is going to be a fabulous teacher! She gives positive, encouraging support and gave me that nudge I needed to (FINALLY) ask for help from the tutors who were in the classroom that day. Once I’d asked I got lots of help and was able to relax, understand and carry on with my work, once again happily stitching away in this wonderful place.
You would think I would know, wouldn’t you? To ask? To say something when I needed help? But as a teacher, I am too easily able to see what the needs of all the students in the room are and, naturally, my inclination is to put students first – even when I’m one of them!
Next time I’ll show you what we did on Wednesday, my day “off”.
Do you ask? Have you even been flummoxed by one kind of embroidery? Have you had to draw the stitches to understand them? Share your experiences with us, please!