A lot of things were supposed to happen this year, including finding a way to get back to my Royal School of Needlework certificate course, but of course, sometime the things that are supposed to happen just don’t work out. At least they don’t always work out as planned, sometimes they work out in mysterious ways that actually end up being maybe better than what you’d originally been aiming for.
A big feature of the last year has been the new job, the move that’s gone with it alongside all the assorted fun. It has been great fun in many ways, lots of new challenges and things to learn, but it has also come with learning on how to survive with nearly negative amounts of free time, an insurmountable workload and at least one good crisis situation a week. It’s good but there are definitely days where I could find a new definition for the word exhausted.
Combined with still travelling around a lot for work, all of this has meant that I just haven’t really tried to find a way to get back to the Certificate and it’s not really looking feasible that I will, especially as slate frames and planes aren’t the most compatible combination, and intensives wouldn’t really work out either.
At the end of the day though, the whole reason I started with the RSN was to learn more and challenge myself, but their courses are far from the only way of doing that. The lovely Catherine over at Hillview Embroidery has blogged very frankly about some of the negatives and positives about learning within the RSN framework, which, while parts of it do make a lot of sense, can feel constraining and restrictive on some techniques.
This is where I had a very good stroke of fortune, to find a more conveniently located teacher (ironically enough also RSN trained!) who is a specialist in more creative work. I don’t really consider myself a very creative person, and I have to admit I’m a bit envious of people, particular those who work with mixed media, who can see the beauty in any seemingly random combination of objects. If I try to do anything too ‘free’ I just always ends up looking like a mess!
This then seemed like the perfect combination, lots of high-level technical fun to get to grips with, and no constrains on what I could do and, thus, the goldwork monogram was designed, planned and transferred. If you’re going to be pedantic, it’ll technically be creative metalwork by the time it’s done but the key aims are that it will be shiny, bling and lots of fun, worked more as a sampler piece to learn lots of stitches and techniques than a coherent, sensible, aesthetically pleasing thing.
Framing up is such a pain but so worth it the second you start stitching on the slate frame. The tension is just wonderful to work with. The piece is the most captivating piece of silk dupion I have ever seen – it’s iridescent, switches between blues, greens and some purples depending on the light and viewing angle… It’s tempting to just hang this on the wall as an art piece in itself. Silk dupion is a nightmare to buy online as you never know what weight and quality you’re going to get, but based on this, a sample and the recommendations of some others, Route de le Soie and their Etsy shop is the place to go if you don’t want disappointment. For RSN students I believe there’s a requirement for smooth-ish dupion for goldwork, so this probably isn’t suitable, as it does have quite a few slubs so maybe try a sample first.
The design for this piece is completely my own but heavily inspired by the cadel work of A. Abraham. I am an enthusiastic, if rather amateurish, calligrapher, and it’s very hard not to fall in love with cadels, which are usually fancy, large letters made up of many different strokes with a generous smattering of flourishes. I think I’m a little better at ornate fancy things with a needle and thread than I am with a pen just yet, so this seemed like a good combination of hobbies.
I had a lot of fun with the design process – the rough outline came together quite quickly after a lot of staring at various cadels and illuminated letters and trying to identify what aspects I really liked about them. It was more tricky to refine the smooth outlines, particularly as I wanted to create a flowing shape with lots of empty areas to offset heavier areas with lots of couching. The other thing that was key for me was to create a design with a lot of texture, I had so much fun with the padding for my Goldwork Moth that I wanted to see if I could experiment with that extra dimension in this piece too.
The framing up, tacking down the silk (just as a note to myself I actually secured the silk before the final lacing and tensioning on the sides was done), all took a long time but I found myself enjoying the process on the way. The nice thing about this kind of prep work is that it doesn’t have to be immaculate to do the job it needs too, and having a low tolerance at the moment for anything finickity, meant this was a good way to be sewing without the stress. I need to find a better set-up though than sitting on the floor with my frame between a coffee table and sofa but, for now, I just can’t wait to get on with sampling for the real piece!