In last year’s New Year’s Even post, I set out some goals for 2017. Now we’re at the other end of 2017, how much progress have I made on any of them?
Another day at the Royal School of Needlework for me, to do battle with the beast that is my Jacobean crewelwork.
At the end of the last class, I had rather a lot of homework that mostly involved meters of raised stem band. While I had managed to get some of it done, there was still rather a lot to go and, as tends to happen with these things, life somewhat got in the way.
When I started this blog, I honestly anticipated it would just be read by a handful of beleaguered relatives and friends and web crawlers. Much as I really wanted to be able to contribute something to inspire and help other people, just in the same way so many other people have helped me, I expected the blog to sit in some cold, dark corner of the Internet, being populated in obscurity.
It came as a great surprise one day when I received an email from a reader, asking a little more about my experience starting out studying with the Royal School of Needlework. That reader was the lovely Catherine over at Hillview Embroidery who is now zooming away with her Jacobean crewelwork, featuring the world’s most adorable oversized squirrel.
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It’s New Year’s Eve and traditionally the time for decrying all the disasters and misery of the past year and making promising about slinking into the next year with perfectly coiffured hair, two dress sizes smaller, speaking six new languages whilst simultaneously completing an MBA and running an ultramarathon.
I’m not entirely sure whether to write 2016 off as a year of disastrous underachievement. There are still five billion works in progress that haven’t really progressed as much as they should, there are still projects and designs that haven’t made it off the pages of sketchbooks and the stash monster looks like it may be making territorial gains.
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August was supposed to be the month of working on some of my big projects, like my two large embroideries, but it seems to be the case that life is very much what happens when you’re busy trying to make plans.
Day 3 of the Jacobean course came around a lot faster than I had expected. I was a little behind as framing up had taken slightly longer than it should have (tip: when sewing the webbing to the linen twill, it helps to put your stitches through both the linen and the twill.) Today though was all about the stitching.
I had dutifully laid all the ladders along the main trunk of the tree for homework which had taken a surprising amount of time. The main thing is to follow the line of the curve of the design and, in areas where things like the trunk splits in two, keep the design looking matched and continuous.
Today was all about learning as many stitches a possible so I would be able to independently complete various parts of the design. As you tend to stitch back to front, I was quite restricted on what areas I could stitch with the main trunk not being completed. However, we managed to find more than enough to keep us busy.
The main trunk is being worked in raised stem band, which is a really fun stitch to do. After laying the ladders, you then weave the needle over and under each subsequent ladder. It’s a bit easier with a blunt tapestry needle but the fat, fluffy nature of crewel wool means that it’s very easy to accidentally stitch through a ladder rather than around it. The key thing is keeping the tension even in the stitching, enough that the stitches don’t become huge loops but not so much that you distort the bars.
With my design finished after Day 1 and having done some colouring and planning for homework, it was time to start framing up my Jacobean crewelwork piece.
Framing up on an embroidery frame is often a very different beast to ‘just’ popping a piece in a ring frame. However, it is worth doing as ring frames can’t hold that much tension on the fabric and even if you get it ‘drum tight’ to start, after a few hours of stitching you end up yanking the material back through the ring, desperately trying to stop it being a saggy, sad mess.
With slate frames, there are no such issues. They will happily keep tension for years, ideal if the average duration of your embroidery projects is a decade, and you can get very even, tight tensions making it much easier to be precise with the stitching.
The whole process is quite involved, as you essentially need to add pieces of calico and webbing to your original fabric (linen twill in my case) to allow you to attach it to the frame. This means a lot of hand sewing to attach the additional pieces of fabric and some bloody fingers as well in my case.
The webbing is attached down the sides for lacing into and the calico is attached at the top so you can sew it to the scrap fabric attached to the roller bars on the frame. The roller bars stretch the work vertically and the lacing provides the horizontal stretch. The roller bars so what the name implies, once you’ve stitched the fabric on you roll them around to start applying the tension.
The oversized, vicious looking needle on the middle of the linen there is a bracing needle. There’s a short health and safety talk before you get to use one of these, about keeping the point safely embedded in some cork for storage and making sure to sew down through the fabric so you don’t come up through the fabric and your hand at the same time. They do glide through the heavy webbing though.