Wonderwool, one of the UK’s biggest fibre shows, was last Sunday and it was an absolutely beautiful day for an adventure into Wales.
There were over two hundred exhibitors at the show, which was held at the Royal Welsh Showground. The advantage of the location was that, despite the crowds of fibre enthusiasts, there was plenty of space to walk around and you weren’t at risk of getting mown down if you stopped to look at anything.
Today marks the beginning of my Royal School of Needlework Certificate course with some Jacobean Crewelwork!
Jacobean crewelwork is a 17th century surface embroidery technique that typically depicts exotic flora and fauna and some very comic interpretations of what are allegedly animals. While you do see some squirrels, snails or native English wildlife, many of the beasts were stitched from second-hand descriptions or paintings so are what might be generously described as ‘stylised’.
One things I’ve noticed since I’ve started hunting for Jacobean design inspiration is quite how commonplace it is. Even my own curtains turned out to be Jacobean-inspired!
The beginning of the day involved sitting down and pawing through some of these wonderful books, making a note of any particular designs I liked or wanted to incorporate in my own work. A lot of these books come with their own templates which makes tracing and copying much easier, rather than trying to work out the outline of a shape from the photographs.
My handpainted silks are finally dry! As you can see from comparison to the photos from the other post, some of the colours, particularly ones I’ve mixed myself, aren’t as intense as they were when the silk was still wet. However, some sections, particularly the red and green/yellow silks have come out with exactly the kind of colour saturation and intensity I was looking for. Lots of dye and aggressive mashing of the fibres seems to be the trick with handpainting. Thinning down the top beforehand did help but made it more difficult to handle, so I’m not sure it was worth it on reflection.
In general, I didn’t lose too much dye in the rising process but the turquoise sections took significantly more rinsing than any other colour. It’s remained a nice, saturated colour but I’m not sure if there’s something about that particular dye that meant it didn’t fix as well or maybe needed more vinegar in those areas.
Like most people, I’ve dreamed of being able to have beautiful, well-fitting garments in whatever colours and fabrics I wanted without ever having to go near a clothes shop again. When I finally bought my own sewing machine, I thought it’d be a good time to try learning dressmaking as well as developing some level of competence with my rather grumpy machine as well.
Dressmaking has turned out to be a rather different beast from everything else I’ve done before. I’m used to very fine work, mostly done by hand. Learning to cut some approximation to a straight line for garments was a bit of a learning curve for me and it’s taken a few horrendously rolled seams for me to be confident machining on both straight lines and curves. Luckily my teacher has the patience of a plurality of saints, every bit of which she’s needed for the pyjamas I’ve been making for longer than either of us care to remember.
The pattern is Simplicity ‘2317’ and in many ways, this project was a terrible choice for a beginner. I bought the material (relatively lightweight polyester) and pattern from John Lewis, on the assurance from the staff that this was completely suitable for a numpty who could just about work out how to press a pedal on a sewing machine. I’m not sure if I had offended them or they’d never known the horror of trying to deal with a sleeve where the fabric wants to go anywhere but where you want it to go. It also frays when you as much as look at it for too long and is generally a nuisance to handle.
It’s always a good day when you come home to find you have three rather exciting parcels lying in wait.
After playing around with the dyes last week, I’d ordered a few more acid dyes from Kemtex to make it easier to experiment with different shades. When I spoke with them on the phone they recommended longer steaming times (40-45 minutes) and using citric acid, as opposed to white vinegar, for its slightly lower pH. Vinegar is also relatively volatile, hence why it has such a strong smell when you use it, so it can evaporate while you work meaning the pH isn’t acidic enough to fix the dye properly, which isn’t an issue with citric acid. I think I might miss the smell though!
This Christmas, I treated myself to a rather sizeable delivery from World of Wool, including over half a kilo of lovely, mulberry silk. Unfortunately, I’ve not had much time to do much other than admire the packet but this weekend I fancied doing something a little less regimented than needlework and thought I’d have a go at some yarn painting.
One issue I’ve had with some of the yarn painting I’ve done is that the colours don’t always look as saturated or intense when the yarn is dry as they do during the dyeing process. I dyed the silk below using mostly greens with some black and mid-blues mixed in as well. Apparently adding a few drops of black can help the colours look more intense.
Silk shading is a wonderful technique, often better known as ‘thread painting’ for the huge complexity of colours and shading it can involves, for creating very lifelike pictures. Typical subjects are the obligatory twee flowers and wildlife. Bonus points if they wouldn’t look out of place in an English country garden.
Although silk shading is one of the techniques covered in the RSN’s Certificate course, I had already signed up for this day course before I’d decided to do the Certificate and figured there’s no such thing as too much stitching!
We are very lucky in the UK to be home to the Royal School of Needlework (RSN), an organisation which describes itself as an ‘international centre of excellence for the art of hand embroidery.’ As well as being responsible for a huge amount of textile conservation, what this also means is they offer a mindboggling amount of courses on everything from how to sew tassels to study days on underwear. Very tasteful monogrammed underwear of course.
I suffer very much with ‘gotta try it all’ Crafter’s Syndrome. Spinning, sewing, silversmithing, anything that involves messing around with fibre or colour, I love doing. When I went on an RSN day course a few months ago, I was instantly hooked and very interested in having the opportunity to continue developing my stitching with such excellent teachers. One frustration I often find with picking up new crafts is that it can be hard to find regular tuition to keep pushing and challenging those skills.
Somehow, one thing led to another and I found myself enrolled on the RSN’s Certificate course, looking ahead to endless gruelling hours, trapped at a slate frame.
There’s a lot of fantastic craft work on the internet, more than enough to fill a lifetime’s worth of Pinterest boards but you don’t often see the other end of the process, where French knots bear more resemblance to crushed blowflies than flowers and knitted socks come with extraneous holes as a ‘design feature.’
Trying so many crafts means that I spend a lot of time being a beginner, in the frustrating realm of stitches that never sit quite right. I wanted a chance to document the learning process of my time at the trestles and share a bit of what I’ve learnt, and my misadventures in other crafting media, along the way. At least then there will be something on the internet you can point at and go ‘well at least mine doesn’t look like that!’