The stereotypical, historical image of the embroiderer is a refined young lady, sat at her frame, serenely rearranging threads to make beautiful artwork. The work is delicate, yet meticulously done, with no lapses in patience or temperament, all whilst wearing her Sunday best.
The reality of the crafter is distinctly less dignified. Dye up the kitchen walls, fridge and floor, needles in fingers and blood pooling on your whitework. Swearing. Frayed threads, wonky cutting and holes in places they were supposed to go. More swearing. Half-done projects abandoned to the back of cupboard, claims of never making a stitch again and of course, lots more swearing.
I think the myth of making things always being fun and relaxing is actually one of the things beginners can find off-putting. Unless you know how many hours of practice and learning it really takes to produce a fantastic piece, it can be really disheartening to have spent hours struggling with seams only to find you haven’t caught the raw edges properly or inconsistencies in your tension when knitting have resulted in a scarf that best resembles jelly.
For the most part, I really do love creating new projects. Daydreaming about colours, calculating up seam allowances, finally getting stuck in with the stitching. However, there are some projects that just seem to go wrong at every corner and the only joys in finishing the thing so you don’t have to look at it again.
I’ve been doing a lot of embroidery lately, trying to get several temaris finished for exam submissions and starting out on the Certificate course with the Royal School of Needlework, so as I didn’t have any imminent sewing deadlines to deal with, I wanted to get back to dyeing. Preferably doing something relaxed and fun, just having a play with different colours.
I should have known this was all going to go badly from the ominous way the silk puffed up when I was soaking it, making the silk top look even more like a dish of intestines than it usually does. Mistake number one happened when trying to wring out the silk to get rid of the excess water. This turned it into a mushed ball which looked more like a self-assembling shibori project and was a pain to disentangle.
My kitchen is so small that it is only really suitable for someone who’s culinary aspirations extend to cooking a Pot Noodle. As a result, I’ve become a master of how to cook anything in one pot. Unfortunately, another consequence of this is that it’s very difficult to make room for sets of dye solutions, syringes, cling film and the fibre itself. Dyeing 50 g of fibre at once isn’t too problematic but 100 g poses a challenge as you can’t really space out the fibre enough to get good separation between sections.
I had originally intended to work with reds, coppers and browns but as I started putting the colours down, none of it looked very appealing. None of the mixing seemed to be going particularly well for getting any kind of continuity between colours. Even using random spacings, it looked like random splodges and the dark sections just looked blocky.
Getting somewhat frustrated at what I had hoped was going to be a nice, easy project, I decided to start throwing down some more random colours, like working in oranges and yellows. At this point I figured I had very little to lose and sometimes with yarn painting, the unexpected results can be the most interesting.
While it was drying, I wasn’t particularly impressed with what had come out looking like a mess of off-red. The fibre had also gone incredibly tight as well during the steaming, something I’ve not had happen before and it took a lot of abuse to get the fibres to loosen up again. I did quite enjoy getting to whack this silk about. It’s one of the things I love about silk, you don’t really have to worry so much about temperatures or agitating it. In fact, whacking it helps restore some of the lustre and silk like appearance.
There’s a few places in this where the dye hasn’t penetrated completely through the fibre, I suspect because I was rushing a bit to get it done in the end so simply hadn’t put enough dye on and squashed it through thoroughly enough.
I did try to organise the top but as the silk had spent the entire evening trying to knot itself up, I thought I’d just leave it to what it wanted to be.
Still unsure as to whether this was one to hit the ‘failure’ pile, I thought I’d just try spinning up a section. I had a few false starts with a few slubs but suddenly, it was like the silk was spinning itself into a fine laceweight. The photograph doesn’t quite capture the lovely shine and all the interesting, subtle variations in it. I think this was its way of apologising after putting me through the grumpiness of wondering if it would ever be useable.
Sometimes it’s a bit of work to stick at your projects but sometimes, if you do, they might just surprise you.