…for ‘Blackadder The Third’!

The last time I directed for Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club (SLTC) was in October 2018, when we presented ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. I was fortunate enough to have a very talented and dedicated cast who made my job as director a delight, and the show we took to stage was extremely well received. LTC put on ‘Blackadder the Second’ over a decade ago, and since the first Blackadder series didn’t quite get into the stride of the later ones, we only had ‘Blackadder the Third’ left to do. I thoroughly enjoyed directing the last one, so it was always on my list of things to return to and when the Autumn 2023 slot became available, I pitched the show and it was accepted.

Last week was casting week, which meant three nights out, two for full readings of the script and the third for the actual audition. I’m very pleased with my cast, seven of whom were actually in the cast for ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ and looking forward to another great show.

However, it has meant an awful lot of preparation work which has actually been ongoing for several months around my day job and as a result, very little stitching has happened this week, apart from this paisley print on silk which I’m going to add stitch to for a retirement card.

It’s always good to have something on hand which you don’t have to think too hard about. I chose a variegated thread in shades of brown, gold and pink and started to embellish. Back stitch around the outside, pistil stitch for the petals and open chain stitch or ladder stitch for the fronds.

I could really do with those extra eight hours a day I’ve been wishing for right about now!

I’ve had the itch to get properly back into making upcycled jewellery for a while, but just not had the spare time around other commitments. But I now have an incentive with the news I can now share that 20-21, our local visual arts centre, wants to stock my jewellery! I was initially very pleased and excited but now I’m looking at my work with a hypercritical eye and am concerned that it isn’t going to be up to scratch compared with the rest of the artists in there. Still, they asked me, so that must mean that it has some merit. And it’s an excuse to make some more.

I was deconstructing what was left of a very big, blingy necklace which had lost a lot of the big ‘gems’ and although most of the pieces were very large, I liked the look of two of the smallest sections, both of which had lost their ‘gems’ but had the diamanté surrounds intact.

I decided to create some tiny ribbon embroidery motifs on silk carrier rod to go in the spaces; a single flower at the top and perhaps something like a spray at the bottom. I was thinking a ribbon rose for the top, but then I was inspired by our front lawn, which we are leaving to grow as part of No-Mow-May and which is full of daisies, dandelions and violets. So daisies in the top…

…and a little spring meadow in the bottom.

I did wonder if the diamanté border was a bit too powerful for the gentler flower embroidery, but with the addition of some reclaimed chain and earhooks, I really like the overall effect.

Next, a pendant project. I’ve had this large rather uninspiring pendant for a while, wondering what to put in the centre. It was always going to be a piece of embroidery, but I wasn’t sure what.

My inspiration came from this wonderful piece of hand dyed Japanese silk crepe in stunning autumn colours. The photo just doesn’t do it justice

It suggested autumn leaves. And being Japanese fabric, it had to be maple leaves. I used five separate herringbone stitch sections, as I did for the stars on the Brantwood wallpaper motif. Thumb just to show how tiny it is.

Three more leaves later, a nice little cascade.

I gathered it up round an oval of pelmet vilene to fit into the pendant.

Amazing what a difference it makes – from old-fashioned and tired to a wearable piece of textile art.

I’ve not had much time for stitching this week, as I’ve been suddenly dropped into a very exciting opportunity (of which more later) but I have managed some extensions to the turquoisework palace.

There was a particular pattern in my blackwork patterns book which I wanted to use on the palace. It is a repeat, but over a larger area, so I constructed the block to enclose the section I wanted to highlight – the first time on this embroidery that I’ve fitted the building element to the blackwork and not the other way round.

Next something to give more height and more interest than just a plain block, but also to gradually bring the levels down. Something like a flying buttress.

I don’t love them – they look more like handles at the moment – but I want some negative space in the design (which is hardly that as I’m literally making it up as I go along!). After I’d finished the side panels I rather regretted not putting in a pillar between them and the bottom of the towers to separate the patterned areas, but I am definitely not undoing all that stitching! But what happens if I put a little side turret on the buttresses?

I like my little mushroom turrets! They draw the eye away from the ‘handles’ and give a nice downward curve to the line of the building. All ready for Monday’s In The Stitch Zone now.

So, onto my unexpected project. Last week, someone I work with, gave me the tip off that Ryedale Auctioneers were having a huge online sale of theatre costumes and fancy dress from a costume hire company which were closing down. Something like 14,000 items of clothing, props and accessories in about 1300 lots. As the costume convenor of Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club I couldn’t pass that up!

So after literally hours of poring over the online listings, making a long list, planning our top bids and bidding strategies, asking our committee for permission to spend up to £2900 (!!) reducing the long list as people bid and our top bids were passed, bidding and rebidding and finally waiting, biting our nails as the lots came out, we spent about £1600 and are now the proud owners of about 290 individual items of costume, mainly 18th century and medieval dresses, fantasy cloaks and tunics, men’s Regency and early Victorian coats, dames costumes, panto villain costumes and army red dress tunics.

What we have is absolutely amazing. We did a dash in four cars yesterday to collect it. Goodness knows where we’ll put it all and it’s going to be a long time getting ti all processed and put away, but just wow…

If you’re interested, the sale can be viewed here.

We’re having a bit of a break at In The Stitch Zone, my weekly embroidery class, due to two back to back Bank Holidays but when we return, we will be creating our own blackwork palace. A lot of the activities I plan for In The Stitch Zone are about exploring embroidery techniques and although the majority of my ‘students’ are experienced embroiderers, I want to ensure that all sessions are equally accessible to beginners. I felt that some of the contemporary blackwork, where the density of the patterns and varying thicknesses of threads create a realistic picture, was certainly beyond my capabilities to teach and also would make the class less accessible to anyone who was less experienced or didn’t consider themselves to be ‘artistic’. So instead we’re going for a good old sampler of stitches and techniques. But how could I put a more interesting spin on it?

My solution came from an image I saw on Instagram of a fantasy palace, embellished with lots of different blackwork patterns. I realised that this would work as a type of sampler. We could create our own palaces by building up relatively simple shapes to be filled with a variety of patterns, either stitching them symmetrically from a central point or letting them evolve more organically. I had a lovely piece of pale eau de nil aida I wanted to use for my sample which of course was crying out for a selection of turquoise threads rather than the harshness of black…that’s my excuse anyway!

I decided to stitch my sample symmetrically, making it up as I went along and starting with a pair of double doors in the middle.

I really wasn’t sure about the weight of the filling stitch I’d used at this point, but I couldn’t face taking it out, so I decided to add some more to the design to see if I could balance it a bit more before I made a final decision. I think adding a simple pattern to the arch meant the doors didn’t stand out as much and the flanking rectangular panels draw the eye away. So far, so good; the doors are staying!

Next to add some height. I liked the tops to the columns, but I wasn’t sure how they might interfere with a pattern, so I filled the space with some Gothic arched arcades. They are small enough and have enough of a pattern in their own right that I’m not planning to add any further stitching. Keeping an area plain also makes the overall design less busy.

Then to create some real height with a pair of dome-topped towers. Channelling my inner Brighton Pavilion!

I tried to put a larger arch over the top of the doors, following the same curve, but just couldn’t get my head round how to scale it up and as I was stitching this section in a committee meeting, I didn’t have access to graph paper to work it out, so I went for some simple crenellations instead.

At this point I was torn between continuing with the outlines or filling in some more of the sections, but playing with the pretty patterns won and although it’s good to be able to see how the basic shapes are building up into an interesting design, it’s equally valuable to be able to compare the different weights and effects of the patterns.

Now the sections above and below the arcades are filled, leaving them bare looks much more effective. I really am enjoying this project and I hope it goes down as well with the class.

It was our monthly SEATA (Scunthorpe Embroidery and Textile Association) meeting on Saturday and we had an all day workshop with Eve Marshall on wet felting, specifically creating flower/garden pictures. Unusually, we all worked through the stages of the process together, rather than having a demonstration and then going off to work at our own rate and it worked extremely well. There were only 16 of us and the (huge) room was warm, bright and almost silent, as we got our heads down and cracked on, which made it extremely calming and mindful experience.

First we made two prefelts, one in shades of pink and the other blues and purples. I forgot to photograph the purple one (I used all of it in my piece), but this is the pink which is so much nicer in real life. It has a much wider and more subtle variety of colours and the light coloured diamond in the middle is a piece of silk hankie, which has a wonderful shimmer.

Then we were given a large piece of green prefelt for our background and some scraps of coloured prefelt to add to the pieces we’d just made before setting about creating our flower piece. I went for alliums. I’ve always loved alliums and some of my earliest work on this blog (go to the side bar and scroll back to May and June 2011) is based on them. After a lot of snipping, I had this laid out on my prefelt.

I did remove the white strips later and then wasn’t sure if that was a good idea, but they were very thin and I was concerned that if they moved during the felting process they would spoil the design. Then I added some more distant flowers, covering some lilac prefelt circles with a handful of the tiny offcuts from my petals with some fleece over the top.

After lunch we had to carefully take all our bits off, which for me was a nightmare, so we could build up the background layers. I used more clumps of my petal offcuts to make some alliums in the further distance.

Ready for the prefelt flowers.

I did my best to replace the central allium as I had had it originally, but I ended up with a whole floret’s worth of six petals left, which I had to fill in somewhere. We also had a little pack of odds and ends of silk and other fibres to add extra texture and colour.

Eve had recommended that we put some fleece over the prefelt areas to encourage it to ‘stick’ together and as I had so many tiny pieces I was concerned about getting the right balance between holding them in place and obscuring the design. Luckily Eve saw what I’d done just before we were due to start the main felting process and dived in to remove that lilac cloud.

Instead, she showed me how to use the tiniest of swirls.

I was so pleased with my design that I really didn’t want to start felting! Soapy water next and given the amount of wet about, this is my last process image.

And the finished piece. I’m mostly pleased. Some of the distance alliums aren’t really visible and the stems have vanished, but I was always intending to stitch into it anyway and hopefully a little judicious embroidery will just redefine some of the fuzzy areas.

It’s also huge for me – at least 30cm square – and I’m thinking that if the embroidery works, I might actually frame it.

In between other things, I’m slowly moving on with the samples from the SpringBoard Project we did at In The Stitch Zone in the autumn. I’ve made up six of the samples into book pages with softly frayed edges. From left to right: Fray, Ruche and Wrap.

And the other sides are, from left to right: Layer, Fold and Knot.

My plan was to put them into this vintage binder.

But the spring on the spine is so strong that it squeezed the page edges tight and didn’t allow any ease for the bulkiness of the embroidery. The three completed pages so far made the covers fan right out and it looked wrong. Never mind; I’m sure it will come in for something at some point and I have a range of options for how to bind the pages as they are.

One of the unfinished samples is for the prompt Cut. I used a piece of batik fabric I made in a workshop with a pattern of leaves and started to cut out areas of the negative space with the idea of filling the gaps with abstract needle weaving. I worked the first hole on a hoop, but them realised that the size of the fabric piece was going to make it difficult to add further holes, so I stitched it onto a piece of pale green silk to stabilise it. This made working the second hole easier, and I think the warp threads are tauter, although as the batik fabric is only attached to the silk at the edges, it does make starting and finishing off threads a bit tricky.

I like the way it’s coming together and am wondering how much more I can manage to cut away and still keep the integrity of the fabric.

Lastly, I’ve added some stitching and beading to the sample print I took from my traditional lino block that I created for our SEATA workshop in March with Hannah Turlington.

I decided to crop it as the floral pattern encroaching into the block didn’t really work for me, but some back stitching and beading later, I had a birthday card.

There’s nothing like doodling with stitch on an oddment of printing.

I have been stitching, but it’s under wraps for the moment, so I thought I would share what has finally happened to some of the job lot of odd chess pieces I bought at the beginning of the year.

I learned a number of important lessons in a short space of time.

I’ve learned that box wood is incredibly hard, cheap modern metal eyelets are soft and that if you drill the hole properly in the first place instead of drilling the start of it and hoping that the eyelet screw thread will just do the rest for you, it saves hours of work trying to drill out the broken eyelet stumps and then eventually giving up in a temper and and throwing the whole ruined piece (the unusual white pawn with the disc-like layers in the centre of the picture above) in the bin along with three broken eyelets and a broken drill bit.

The partial modern set you can see towards the back of the first photo was more user friendly. It’s made from a much less dense wood and I polished and drilled several of the pawns to turn them into earrings. I made some simple ones with just the pawns:

And then some longer ones with added beads.

This pair, with vintage Japanese lustreware beads, is available here in my Etsy Shop.

And I finished off my morning’s work by turning a vintage black knight (with a softwood head which made adding the hanging loop easy) and a boxwood base into a necklace by adding some sections of chain and a couple of vintage beads.

I’ve recently started stocking my work at a lovely local community café where people often go to play chess, so it was the perfect place to put the chess piece jewellery. I hope they find some takers.

I mentioned last week that I was thinking of adding needle lace to another of the cocoons. I’d already given it a blanket stitched edging and so it was easy enough to add a second layer of larger blanket stitches in every other one of the base stitches and then turn them into simple scallops by packing more blanket stitches into each large loop.

Having successfully used steam to ease one of the previous cocoons back into shape, I wanted to know whether I could steam the cocoons flat to make a flatter flower. I cut another cocoon into strips, like basic petals, leaving a small area at the top of the cocoon uncut, grabbed it between a pair of barbecue tongs to hold it flat and keep my hands away from the heat, and boiled the kettle. I literally only used the amount of steam that comes out of the spout at the end of a normal boil which was perfect. It was hot and wet enough to soften the cocoon and allow it to relax into a different shape, but not enough to actually wet the cocoon. I was able to handle it as soon as I took it away from the kettle and it held its shape perfectly.

Then I cut the petals to shape and stitched the top of another cocoon that I already had cut on top to form the centre of the flower. A scattering of seed beads gives a bit of sparkle to the centre and I held down the petals with whipped back stitch.

You might possibly recognise the background fabric…

You should never throw offcuts away and the scraps I’d kept from that project worked really well as a contrast background to the orange of the cocoon. I’m happy that I’ve explored plenty of different things to do with silk cocoons so they can be packed away while I move onto other stitching.

I’ve also managed to finish my encrusted initial, which was another of the projects we stitched at In The Stitch Zone this Winter/Spring session. I did one a few years ago as a sample for a workshop I was going to teach at a local sewing shop which never came to pass and have always liked the way the tightly packed flowers and leaves create the outline of the letter.

This time I went for a different vibe, with a background of my own rust dyed cotton and a variegated rusty red-brown thread for the flowers.

I let the variegations in the thread change the colour of the flowers and French knots this time rather than using different coloured threads.

Finished off with lots of lazy daisy stitch leaves and French knot centres for the flowers.

Lots of new things to prepare for the Spring/Summer Session at In The Stitch Zone – all will be revealed soon!

I love all things silk. I love the types and textures of silk fabric, from silk matka that looks like hessian yet feels like velvet, to slubby dupion and crisp swishy silk taffeta. Silk thread is my favourite to stitch with, especially Gloriana stranded silk which sits almost weightlessly in the hand, and I embroider tiny images on silk carrier rods for my upcycled jewellery. So it will come as no surprise to learn that I have a thing for silk cocoons too, but I tend not to use them as frequently and when I do, it’s mostly as stylised flowers for upcycled pendants and earrings.

Time to have a bit of a play and create some samples for the silk cocoons workshop I taught at Stitch Zone last week. I was specifically looking at ways of adding stitching to the cocoons, attaching beaded ‘stamens’ without using a headpin and creating tassels. I started by making a couple of tassels, the first with a scrap of metallic rick rack braid stitched round the edge and the silk cocoon cut to echo the shape.

I used a whole skein of stranded cotton for the tassel and nearly lost the will to live separating all the individual strands out, but it does make the tassel look fuller and fluffier. It’s extremely difficult to stitch the folded over tassel through the top of the cocoon and then work the needle back round it to secure it and make the buttonhole stitched loop, so I will confess that there are some strategically placed dabs of super glue to hold the threads securely where I simply couldn’t fasten them off neatly enough.

For the second attempt I decided to use beading wire to tie the middle of the tassel threads and then bring it through the top of the cocoon and twist it to make a loop. I used beaded blanket stitch to decorate the edge this time.

And a bead cap just to strengthen the top of the cocoon. They are relatively robust but I’ve found from experience that repeated movement of a headpin or bail will start to wear the silk and enlarge the hole. Bead caps are a good way of preventing this.

The ‘strawberry’ started out as an attempt to use up the green cocoon which had been badly bashed. I cut some of the damaged areas away and found that steaming it gently over the kettle helped me to ease the rest back into shape.

I created some beaded ‘stamens’ for this one from odds and ends of seed and bugle beads. I threaded the bead sequences on Nymo thread. I go down as far as the end bead, which I use as a ‘stop bead’ and then take the thread back through all the beads a second time before tying the thread at the top and making another ‘stamen’.

Once I’d threaded the stamen cluster through the top of the cocoon I added another bead cap to stop any wear. Then I stitched on a jump ring to act as a bail and again, resorted to a dab of super glue to secure the end of the thread.

I find that each time I make one I think of another variation – I’m hoping to add a needle lace edging to my next one. As we have another week working on this, watch this space for further variants!

Into lino printing! At SEATA (Scunthorpe Embroidery and Textile Association) today, we enjoyed a half day workshop from Hannah Turlington looking at lino printing on fabric. I was pretty sure I had a set of lino cutting tools somewhere and the evening before the workshop I actually managed to lay my hands on them and a bonus in the form of some oddments of traditional hessian-backed lino.

I’ve only ever done lino prints once before and that was in 3rd year (Y9 in new money) Art at High School, so I was curious to see what I could do with the tools before I got as far as the workshop. I had some small offcuts so I decided to do a bit of doodling on one of them, just playing with curving lines. I dimly remembered it being quite hard to do, but either the tools were very sharp or I’ve got a lot more strength in my hands than I had at 13, as I was surprised and pleased to find that it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I also found it strangely calming, almost mindful – I love the way the blade feels in my hand as it glides through the lino and the bits curl away from the line I’m carving. I was quite sorry when I had to stop because there was literally nothing more I could cut away! I do like the little wavy abstract block I created.

I have a bit of a thing for medieval tiles, particularly the ones that have a partial design that you can tesselate to make larger patterns, so I was keen to do something along those lines in the workshop. I used a medieval design from a book as the basis of my design and made sure I measured carefully and used straight lines and templates as much as I could to try and make sure everything would line up. Nothing like going in at the deep end! Hannah provided us with some modern soft cut lino for our blocks, which was very much easier to carve than the traditional stuff.

I was quite concerned that I might not have left enough of the fine lines on my design and so it was with trepidation that I did a test print on an oddment of fabric that Hannah had provided. The line widths were fine, but I was disappointed that my circle was well out of true.

Since I already had the printing stuff out, I decided to make a trial print of the block I’d carved the previous night and was delighted to find that it printed beautifully.

This cheered me up enough to return to the medieval tile pattern and try and print a set of four more accurately to see if I could get the circle to line up any better, which I did to an extent as the circle is not even on both sides. This is printed on a piece of silk taffeta, which is crisp and gives a lovely finish to the print.

Then I wondered what would happen if I rotated the block and put the quatrefoils centre stage. I much prefer this one because as I was able to measure the straight lines, they all match much better than the quarter circles which were done a bit best guess as I didn’t have a compass.

Lastly we were given canvas tote bags to decorate. I wasn’t confident to print with the medieval tile block by eye, and I didn’t have time to measure up the bag to make sure they would be straight, so I decided to go back to my wavy abstract block and print it as a top and bottom border. I had to cheat the pattern in a few places to make sure it fitted, but I really like it.

Definitely something I would like to do more of. Not just as a basis for stitching, but because I really enjoyed the process. However, first I really do need to work out how to get those extra eight hours squeezed into a day…

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