RSN Canvaswork Day 2

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!



12 thoughts on “RSN Canvaswork Day 2

  1. I distinctly remember having all kinds of trouble with octagonal Rhodes stitch, if that is any consolation at all. I may choose to revisit it for my Crazy Canvaswork Cushion, just to see whether I can nail it this time around!

  2. Those darn rats! They are such pests! 🙂

    I have not had trouble necessarily a specific TYPE of embroidery, since I am fine with what I do, and don’t try the numerous types, but for years, I never did any french knots because they would always tangle up instead of forming at the end and I hated it. I did not realize until I sat down a bunch of years ago (like 15) and forced myself to figure it out, that the stitch encyclopedia diagrams I have do not indicate that I could kind of “hold” the thread at the bottom until most of the thread has passed through, and then tighten it when it got to the end. The diagrams in the books appear as if you can just wrap and knot and so I would wrap, and the knot would either tangle up the floss or the knot would be in the middle of the floss. I am the only embroiderer I know, so I couldn’t exactly just ask someone. It could be that I do them differently than other embroiderers, but I did eventually figure it out. 🙂

    I am glad to hear that you figured it out before you get too far along. Even the teachers were asking questions once, remember that, and they likely remember it also. 🙂

  3. Hi Kathy,
    Your posts on the Canvaswork portion of the Certificate are putting me “right in the scene” as they are giving all the little details that go into the experience. Am really enjoying this!

    As for your frustrating experience with learning new stitches, can well understand. I’m working on learning Hardanger and sometimes the (mis)counting drives me around the bend. In fact, I left off trying for about 3 months and then decided to ASK help of my CyberSttichers Hardanger group with a great response from members. They clearly explained how to read the chart and how to count. Result: I understand and am feeling more confident in my stitching.

    I should have asked my “experts” sooner, but had to overcome the feeling that I “should” be able to figure things out on my own.

    Cheers on your snow stitching – it looks great.

  4. Which size canvas Kate Barlow did use on her amazing piece?
    The stitches look so much smaller.
    I need to find a small canvas for my upcoming RSN course. I just don’t want to use the huge one they are using here in the USA.
    Let me know if you will find out and GOOD LUCK.

    Just … keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …keep stitching …

    • Hi Veronica,

      Kate uses the same canvas everyone is required to use – 18 count mono canvas in antique. Most use Zweigert canvas which is widely available in the USA> The only difference might be the name of the color – it’s a slightly tan color. I’m not sure what “huge” refers to in your comment. The holes are small and relatively close together on 18 count mono canvas and I assume the requirements will be the same all over the world for the course. If you’re referring to the measurement of the piece of canvas, I think it’s sold in different pre cut sizes by most shops so you won’t have to purchase more than you need.
      Good luck on your course and have fun!
      Liebe Grüße,

  5. Wow! You are really taking on a challenge! I have no idea what any Rhodes stitch is, much less an octagonal one. The practice area is a great idea, you can try out the stitches right there and rip them out if it gets crowded.

    I like the different stitches in the flapper piece, but I think that the cheeks need a bit of shading to make them less prominent. But then, what do I know? The texture is wonderful.

  6. Lots of nostalgia reading about you at Hampton Court, I was there for a one day course, 22 years ago ( gulp), when the Embroiderers Guild was based there. It looks very similar, do you know if it was in the same rooms ?
    Best of luck with the course, you’ll be fine.

    • Hi Judith,

      I don’t know if the rooms are the same ones you remember. It would be interesting to find out more about the Embroiderers Guild at Hampton Court though…I’m glad you’re enjoying reading all about the course!
      Liebe Grüße,

  7. I love the flapper too, she really encapsulated flapperdom, to me anyway (re Cynthia’s comment above). If it were a different kind of drawing I might agree but since this has the ‘flat’ look of a 1920’s illustration I think it is right as it is. Just my opinion .

    And yes, I have had to ask for help, and online too more to the point. You would think it would be almost impossible for someone to ‘teach’ a stitch via email without benefit of photographs or drawings, but that is what my friend Sharon Boggon did. She is a very clever lady. When I first started architecture school we had an ‘orientation’ lecture first up where we were given all sorts of information. One young guy put up his hand and asked if he might ‘ask a stupid question’ to which the lecturer replied that there are no stupid questions only stupid people who don’t ask when they need to. Not that I am implying you are stupid, far from it. I was a bit ticked off with him for that at the time, but I took the point that there is no harm in asking if you don’t know something and no shame in not knowing everything. So ask away, Kathy, ask.

    • Hi Christina,

      You’re right, of course! Some times I”m not very brave…You’re lucky to have such a good friend in Sharon!
      Liebe Grüße,

  8. Looks like your progressing well with canvas stitches. Looking forward to seing loads more pictures as you stitch.

    Great to meet up in London and it looks like you enjoyed your day out sightseeing with hubby.

    All techniques are difficult at first …. But your piece is coming together nicely and will be fantastic in the end.

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