Developing a new crewelwork project: Pineapple

There’s a new crewelwork project of my own design in the works here in Berlin, as part of a series of three called “Symbolic Fruits: Pineapple, Pomegranate and Pear”. It’s been too long since I did a project that was mine from start to finish. In fact, the last crewelwork piece I did that was really my own was for the RSN Certificate. I’ve learned a lot since then, embroidering pieces by other great designers and feel confident of my abilities to design and embroider something that begins in my imagination.

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The temptation is, after creating the outline pattern, to begin stitching with the stitches you think will work. I know, from past experience, that usually doesn’t work out the way you imagine in your head. I always make a colored drawing of the piece, mimicking as best I can the texture of the stitches. I also make a black and white copy of the colored drawing where I label the stitches I’m planning to use and the thread color numbers for each element of the design. I quite enjoy this process because I can quickly see how the finished piece will look. At the drawing stage I often make changes.

Pineapple crewelwork

With this particular piece, I’m also embroidering a test or sample version of the design. The sample version is the same size and uses the same threads and stitches, but I don’t always finish every element. Once I am sure it will work, I stop testing and embroider the successful element onto the real thing.

pineapple crewelwork

You can see, in the photo above, that I tested two ideas for the center vein in these leaves. Earlier I wrote about this briefly and have decided that I prefer the leaf on the right. The center stitch is the same as on the left but worked larger and with a different color thread and the border is completely different and worked with three colors of thread rather than one with contrasting holding stitches.

pineapple crewelwork

In the photo above you can see my experiments with shifting the deep rose color to a lighter shade at different points in the design. Can you guess which I prefer and am going to use?

pineapple crewelwork

In this photo, the top center leaf was my trial for a new filling for the leaf that I found in Tracy A. Franklin’s book Crewelwork* on a piece from the RSN Collection. I always look in books for stitch and stitch combination inspiration! ( * If you are interested in this book – one of my all time favorite crewelwork books! – you must contact Tracy A. Franklin directly. Information is on her web-site at the link above.)

Once I decided that I liked the filling and it would 1. look good and 2. not be too tedious to embroider, I stitched it onto the real thing (prototype) and added the other elements in the middle of the leaf.

pineapple crewelwork

Working this way allows me to experiment and play – always fun! – but also to finish with a prototype that’s embroidered beautifully. If I didn’t use a test piece to trial things, there would be all kind of holes in the fabric from pulling out unsuccessful stitches and combinations.

For this project I’m using linen twill fabric from Weddingen Weberei and wool from Heathway Wools. Both are finer than the usual materials traditionally used for crewelwork and I am really pleased with the clarity and lightness of the piece so far!

Do you trial things as you work on a piece? Please share your process with us – we all can learn from one another!

The sampler that makes me laugh!

Since I met Joy Jarrett and purchased my first three samplers, I’ve become hooked at looking at samplers online, perusing auction house catalogues and even bidding in a live, online auction (that was exciting!). The sampler below is the first one I purchased from an auction house in a live, online auction. If you’ve never had that experience, imagine watching the auction on a little screen on your computer – a bit like television – but you can only hear the auctioneers voice and see a photo of whatever is being auctioned. When the lot you want comes up for auction, you click a button on the screen to place your bid – having been pre-approved by the auction house first.

My heart was pounding and I was just as excited as if I’d been in the room. Although one of the samplers I wanted went for more than I had decided to pay (very important to set a limit and stick with it – remember there will always be another sampler another day) this one came in under my limit and I was so pleased!

It isn’t very old – 1901 – and it isn’t very fine, nor is it particularly well stitched but, oh, it makes me laugh every time I read it! Whomever M. Dewey was, she certainly didn’t like embroidery very much and she wasn’t too impressed with her own skills. She did, however, persevere and finish her sampler!

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It says (and this warms an old school teacher’s heart!) “Here a figure, there a letter, One done bad, another better”.

Well…yes. Life’s like that, isn’t it? Some things we do badly and others we do better.

The sampler arrived, having been packed quite well but not well enough to withstand the rough treatment of the shipping company, with the glass broken. Fortunately the sampler didn’t cost very much and it wasn’t damaged. I managed to get all the glass out, cutting my finger only once, before I thought to put on leather gloves. No blood dripped onto the sampler so the goddess of embroidery was watching over me that day!

Then my good luck became apparent – the sampler hadn’t been attached to anything. It had been laid over a piece of hardboard (bad choice!) and the hardboard had been held in the frame with only a few nails. So, although the edges of the sampler were slightly stained from the hardboard, it didn’t have any holes in it from nails or staples. It came right away from the board and was flat and fresh looking.

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I could see how fine the fabric was – in fact, I could see through the sampler to the places where our less than enthusiastic embroiderer had let her threads travel across the fabric without regard to them showing through or not!

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There is another little poem at the bottom and it looks as though spatial planning was also not high on the list of her priorities! It took my husband and me more than a few readings to figure out what the poem said, because the words are squished together and split in places.

“Forget me not, this simple flower betrays my heart and breathes for me the wish I wot, it bids my thoughts to language start and asks thee to forget me not”.

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She’s worked the alphabet in upper and lower case letters across the top with the p and the q facing one another on the left side in perfect symmetry. The little shapes of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades tell us she knew about card playing. Dogs, birds, flowers, a candle, a crown, a cross and a jar are all things that would have been part of her life. Her figures are done well, I think!

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Since the sampler came out of the frame, it gave me the chance to see the back side where the original colours are still as vibrant as the day she finished her work. I must admit I prefer the faded violet and soft rose colours to the strident purple and pink. Some of the colours were made of dyes that hadn’t faded and it’s rather nice that the combination still works in spite of the changes from sunlight and age.

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Because this sampler isn’t especially valuable or important (simply charming), I’ve decided to mount it myself onto an acid free board covered with cotton wadding and linen using a special restoration thread. It will be sewn flat onto the linen – not folded over the sides of the backing –  so the edges of the sampler may show once it’s been framed, depending on the width of the frame I choose. Remember how much I moaned about mounting the Water canvaswork piece? And how I said it was an important skill to have, even if I did find it awful? Well, I’ve just proved my own point! I wouldn’t take on anything older, more valuable or important; I’d leave that to a textile restorer. I’m thankful that I have enough skill to mount this piece.

 

 

 

Water Canvaswork finally mounted and framed

One of the things I like the least about being an embroiderer is mounting pieces for framing.

I know it’s important to do well. I know it makes a huge difference to the safety and longevity of the embroidery. I know it’s a skill I need to have and to use…but gosh, I really don’t like it. Really, really, really don’t like it!

It takes forever, it hurts my hands and it’s hard. Especially hard when you’re working with needlepoint canvas. The canvas is stiff and unforgiving. It’s difficult to stretch over the card and secure down. All that said, I do it myself because I trust myself to do it properly. After all the work I’ve put into creating a beautiful piece of embroidery, I do NOT want it ruined by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing when they mount it. And, so far, I haven’t found anyone I trust as much as I trust myself. And when it’s finished, it feels so good!

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The frame is a little box frame from IKEA – perfect for something this contemporary. When I finish the other three pieces in the series – Earth, Air and Fire – they will go in the same kind of frame and make a fabulous set.

In spite of all my moaning about how much I dislike mounting, I did discover something that helped me with the pain in my hands and the lack of strength as I get older: wear rubber gloves. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I recommended cutting the finger tips off of rubber gloves to help you grip the needle. Well, it occurred to me part way through the mounting that rubber gloves would also help me grip the canvas, allowing me to pull it more firmly and hold onto it better. It worked a treat!

Do you have any tips for mounting? Or tips for working with hands that are painful and losing their strength? Let us know by leaving a comment!