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Several years ago when I was doing my silversmithing course, I had an idea about creating a piece where I ‘mended’ a piece of denim with a ‘patch’ of impressed brass. I impressed some brass with a piece of fabric to give it a woven texture, but got no further. Some time later I was revisiting my sketch book from the course and cut out a ‘patch’ which I then drilled all round the edge to take the stitches. Once polished, it stalled yet again.

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However, last week I found the perfect piece of denim  – an off cut from a pair of jeans – and with a square of apple wood from my Dad’s shed, the project was back on again.

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I cut a section of the denim with one of the iconic seams running through it and frayed the edges. Next I chose some bright red perle thread to stitch the ‘patch’ on. It took less time to stitch the patch down than it had to drill just one of the holes with my bow drill!

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Mounted onto the apple wood square…

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… and made into an unusual brooch which I’ve listed here.

Some more progress on the bluework too. From this:

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To this:

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I’ve finished the eyelets at the bottom and completed the leaves and stems on the floral fragment on the right. The leaves and stems are in split stitch, a favourite of mine for filling areas.

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I found an image on the internet of a flower where the petals had been created from long blanket stitches and then the top loops of the blanket stitches had been blanket stitched into to give a frilly sort of raised edge, so I thought I’d have a go at that for my next section.

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It’s an interesting method, but slightly untidy for my liking! I think I’m going to seed stitch the background so they don’t stand out quite as much.

And in other news, I have just got the silk fabric to add to my linen and wool and I should soon be able to start investigating how to get ‘crocus coloured’ fabric for the start of my Dorian Gray project.

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My 2018 Project

No stitching to see yet, but I thought the background might be interesting.

Last year I decided that I really ought to read Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. It confirmed my opinion that Wilde’s prose can often be turgid and overly sentimental, which is so much at odds with the brilliance of his plays and the fun of the opening part of ‘The Canterville Ghost’ (that becomes mushily sentimental at the end too). But what really caught my eye was a long descriptive part of the novel where Gray, revelling in his youth and ability to do anything, it seems and get away with it, becomes a collector. Among the areas he becomes obsessed with, is textiles.

“Then he turned his attention to embroideries and to the tapestries that performed the office of frescoes in the chill rooms of the northern nations of Europe. As he investigated the subject—and he always had an extraordinary faculty of becoming absolutely absorbed for the moment in whatever he took up—he was almost saddened by the reflection of the ruin that time brought on beautiful and wonderful things. He, at any rate, had escaped that. Summer followed summer, and the yellow jonquils bloomed and died many times, and nights of horror repeated the story of their shame, but he was unchanged. No winter marred his face or stained his flowerlike bloom. How different it was with material things!” 

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

The decay of the textiles is a useful contrast to his own lack of decay, but Wilde then goes on to detail the most sumptuous list of embroideries and fabrics and I just wanted to see them.

Where was the great crocus-coloured robe, on which the gods fought against the giants, that had been worked by brown girls for the pleasure of Athena?

Where the huge velarium that Nero had stretched across the Colosseum at Rome, that Titan sail of purple on which was represented the starry sky, and Apollo driving a chariot drawn by white, gilt-reined steeds?

He longed to see the curious table-napkins wrought for the Priest of the Sun, on which were displayed all the dainties and viands that could be wanted for a feast;

The mortuary cloth of King Chilperic, with its three hundred golden bees;

The fantastic robes that excited the indignation of the Bishop of Pontus and were figured with “lions, panthers, bears, dogs, forests, rocks, hunters—all, in fact, that a painter can copy from nature”;

The coat that Charles of Orleans once wore, on the sleeves of which were embroidered the verses of a song beginning “Madame, je suis tout joyeux,” the musical accompaniment of the words being wrought in gold thread, and each note, of square shape in those days, formed with four pearls.

The room that was prepared at the palace at Rheims for the use of Queen Joan of Burgundy and was decorated with “thirteen hundred and twenty-one parrots, made in broidery, and blazoned with the king’s arms, and five hundred and sixty-one butterflies, whose wings were similarly ornamented with the arms of the queen, the whole worked in gold.”

Catherine de Medici had a mourning-bed of black velvet powdered with crescents and suns. Its curtains were of damask, with leafy wreaths and garlands, figured upon a gold and silver ground, and fringed along the edges with broideries of pearls, and it stood in a room hung with rows of the queen’s devices in cut black velvet upon cloth of silver.

The state bed of Sobieski, King of Poland, was made of Smyrna gold brocade embroidered in turquoises with verses from the Koran. Its supports were of silver gilt, beautifully chased, and profusely set with enamelled and jewelled medallions. It had been taken from the Turkish camp before Vienna, and the standard of Mohammed had stood beneath the tremulous gilt of its canopy.

For a whole year, he sought to accumulate the most exquisite specimens that he could find of textile and embroidered work, getting the dainty Delhi muslins, finely wrought with gold-thread palmates and stitched over with iridescent beetles’ wings;

The Dacca gauzes, that from their transparency are known in the East as “woven air,” and “running water,” and “evening dew”;

Strange figured cloths from Java;

Elaborate yellow Chinese hangings;

Books bound in tawny satins or fair blue silks and wrought with fleurs-de-lis, birds and images;

Veils of lacis worked in Hungary point;

Sicilian brocades and stiff Spanish velvets;

Georgian work, with its gilt coins,

And Japanese foukousas, with their green-toned golds and their marvellously plumaged birds.

He possessed a gorgeous cope of crimson silk and gold-thread damask, figured with a repeating pattern of golden pomegranates set in six-petalled formal blossoms, beyond which on either side was the pineapple device wrought in seed-pearls. The orphreys were divided into panels representing scenes from the life of the Virgin, and the coronation of the Virgin was figured in coloured silks upon the hood. This was Italian work of the fifteenth century.

Another cope was of green velvet, embroidered with heart-shaped groups of acanthus-leaves, from which spread long-stemmed white blossoms, the details of which were picked out with silver thread and coloured crystals. The morse bore a seraph’s head in gold-thread raised work. The orphreys were woven in a diaper of red and gold silk, and were starred with medallions of many saints and martyrs, among whom was St. Sebastian.

He had chasubles, also, of amber-coloured silk, and blue silk and gold brocade, and yellow silk damask and cloth of gold, figured with representations of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, and embroidered with lions and peacocks and other emblems;

Dalmatics of white satin and pink silk damask, decorated with tulips and dolphins and fleurs-de-lis;

Altar frontals of crimson velvet and blue linen and many corporals, chalice-veils, and sudaria. 

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

What if…there was a book containing the research on these beautiful things?

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Gray’s catalogue, showcasing the remaining, fragile scraps of the textiles described?

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A mixture of his own words…

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…and my research and stitching? I’m starting at the top of the list with “the great crocus-coloured robe, on which the gods fought against the giants.” I’m researching ancient dyeing and fabrics, have ordered quantities of saffron, dyer’s safflower and turmeric to dye some samples and am looking at gods and giants on Greek vases. It will be a long, slow project but I’m already very excited.

 

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Upcycling again. First of all, bringing vintage and modern ribbons and laces, old plastic bracelets and broken brooches together to create my version of a bracelet I saw in a shop window some years ago.

This is Blue Skies. I wrapped the bracelet in some fantastic shibori dyed ribbon for a start. Then I gathered up a length of vintage lace and vintage satin ribbon which I layered to make a rosette. Lastly I finished it off with a centrepiece of a broken vintage brooch.

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This one: Edelweiss, is made the same way but in a burgundy and cream colourway to match the vintage carved bone edelweiss brooch in the centre.

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Lastly, Green Gingham.  Another niggling idea out of my system!

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I rescued this lovely wooden veneered modern card index from being chucked out about 10 years ago and ever since then have been trying to think of something useful I could do with it. The arrival of another box of impossible to resist jewellery from eBay finally made my mind up and its fate as yet another jewellery box was confirmed. I took out the odd cards, metal pin and wooden dividers to get to this:

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Then I cut some very thick card to make a solid base for each drawer.

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And used the lovely heavy weight dark blue velvet on the left of the picture to cover the card bases. I’m afraid I didn’t lace it, I glued it. (Hangs head in shame.)

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But my measuring was spot on – they fitted with the perfect amount of snuggness.

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And are already a bit fuller than I hoped.

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My name is Alex and I have a serious jewellery habit!

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Our upcoming show at Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club is an adaptation of Pinocchio in September and I said I would help with the costumes. My first task was to turn a floppy black felt hat which was styled like a classic musketeer’s hat into one for a carabinieri. The director provided me with a picture from the internet and I made a start.

First I had to unstitch all the ostrich feather plumes and steam the hat to get it back to a neutral shape. It had a nasty hole near the crown but I managed to mend that by needle-felting some black fleece into and around the hole. Then I could stitch both the back and the front of the brim to the crown and make start on the rosette.

The rosette on the front was created from lengths of red, white and blue grosgrain ribbon which I stitched onto individual card circles and then layered together.

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Yes, I know the colour of the inner ring is wrong – in my defence, it wasn’t a close up shot and it looked like blue to me! And having finished it before I realised my mistake, I was not taking something which is only a stage costume for a minor character to bits, so it will have to stay (and annoy me for not having checked my facts before I started…).

The flaming grenade in the middle is made from a picture of one of the cap badges which I stuck onto card and then added layers of gesso to give the impression of something more 3D before finishing it off with silver sharpie. Behind it I used an oddment of silver braid which was a brilliant last minute find at the point where I thought I was going to have to layer several other ribbons and braids together and use the silver sharpie again to get something similar.

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I was able to cut up and lash together two of the original ostrich feathers to make the plume, which is nowhere near as fluffy as the real thing, but again, will be close enough on stage.

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The director was delighted and the guy who will be playing the role was even more pleased that it was a good fit!

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Not sure I’m cut out for making stage costumes. I think I’m too much of a stickler for nailing the sort of detail that you just don’t see on stage. I’m pleased enough with it though, and very pleased that I managed to do it all from stuff I already had!

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The holiday journal is finished and just waiting for me to add some extra papers, pockets etc. to the inside.

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Doing blanket stitch so close together took longer than I bargained but I like the effect.

Then I moved onto another one of my samples for my upcoming Embroiderers’ Guild workshop later in the year. Grey on grey felt embroidered in pale blues.

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Fly stitched edge, straight stitches in a radiating pattern and french knots:

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Feather stitch edging with a chain stitch spiral:

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And I’ve turned what I think might have been a vintage money clip into an upcycled sea glass pendant. First of all I sawed off the long bit of the clip following the lines of the design at the bottom.

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Then I pierced and cut out the middle section with a very fine saw, again following the edges of the design, and leaving three tabs to attach the sea glass to.

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A lot of fiddly filing happened next, to really shape the central section and tidy up the tabs before I could set it with a lovely piece of deep turquoise sea glass.

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I love using the piercing saw and the fiddlier the design, the better. I really need to get back to making some more of my original jewellery…

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I love spiky allium heads. After having done some ‘long shots’ on a couple of the sections in my bluework bowl, I decided that I wanted the next section to be a closer view and I chose an allium head for that.

First, the main stem in herringbone stitch and the stems which carry the flower heads radiating from a central point.

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Then a solid couple of hours stitching through a committee meeting got the six petalled individual florets in lazy daisy stitch added.

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I used the same variegated silk to outline the stem in split stitch and then built up adjoining rows of split stitch to form the leaf.

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As all the other sections are in Victorian china style blue and white, I wanted to introduce other shades of blue, but I’m not entirely convinced now…

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Our Scunthorpe Embroiderers’ Guild meeting for February was an all day Indian embroidery and fabrics talk and workshop led by Julie.

The Young Embroiderers started off at 9:30 with a kantha stitching around animal shapes project. My little one loves sea animals of any kind, so she chose to do a turtle. Liz, the leader of the group suggested a spiral pattern in the quarters of the shell which is looking very effective.

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Julie had borrowed one of the Guild folios as a base for the display and she and other members added to it with items of their own, making a very colourful and tempting taster for the talk and workshop to come!

Samples from the folio:

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And our own additions:

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So to begin the day, we had a talk given by Julie based on her visit to a recent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London giving a good overview of different types of fabrics, stitching and how the finished embroidery was used. I particularly liked the short videos that she had interspersed through the presentation which brought some of the elements to life.

After lunch we had the choice of two projects. Either a shisha mirror centred flower – these are Julie’s lovely sample pieces…

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…or something more like the Young Embroiderers were doing, an animal or similar surrounded by kantha stitching. I outlined my fish in chain stitch using a heavy variegated slate blue cotton thread.

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Then for the background I chose some variegated stranded cotton in pale blue, pink and yellow to tone in with the background fabric.

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It was good (but surprisingly difficult!) to deliberately work larger running stitches. When I usually do kantha style work my stitches tend to be tiny –  these are about 2mm long.

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And it takes ages! But the above piece is only about and inch by an inch and a half so I deliberately stitched larger on this one to match the size of the design and it was good to get some quicker results!

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It was interesting to notice how calm and quiet the atmosphere in the room was as we all sat stitching our pieces. There is something very mindful about running stitch…

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