Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Outlining the Tail

At last its all outlined.  Although I like the Bohin Quilt Marker for getting a design onto things, the very quality that allows me to remove it when I'm done makes the lines less than durable when I'm working.  I have to go over them from time to time as they rub off until I get everything lined in.  So now the design is all there.

Now I can begin the fun of embellishing things.  Of course, this will include using small shisha mirrors for the eyes in the tail feathers and one for the center of the heart.  I found a new way of setting a mirror using gold thread that I am eager to try. 

I am still waiting for the rest of the metallic thread to arrive.  I am going to put a gold band around the outside like I did the inside and just have some general fun with the copper and beetle green.  Having the mirrors and feathers to work on will help me be patient, I hope. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Playing with Gold

Since the gold on the inner band turned out so well I thought I would try a little something in the wings.  Getting it started is a little tricksy simply because  the thread is fairly stiff.  It has a springy sort of body rather than being silky and flexible like regular embroidery thread.  On the larger wind I started with pinning it using light weight quilting pins, but that just didn't hold it into the right shape.  For the smaller wing I tried a different approach.  I drew the spiral pattern with the Bohin white quilt marker.  then I started in the center and worked outward toward the outer arms.  It worked beautifully and the curves came out much more smoothly.  Yes, I'm very pleased. 

Having gotten the essence of the wing design sketched out, I think I'll start setting the mirrors for the tail today - or perhaps I'll outline the tail feathers and gt that area brought into the rhythm of the design as a whole. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Beginning the Gold

When we were at Gulf Wars in March, a friend stopped by our booth to show the results of a class she'd just taken in couching gold thread.  I think the technique is called Or Nué.  Or Nué is a couching technique, where colored thread is used to couch gold passing threads. And its shiny - I mean really shiny.  So I was determined to give it a try.  After all, this is my year to expand my boundaries and try things I've never tried before - at least in terms of artistic technique.  She told me exactly what kind of thread to buy - Kreinik #7 Japan Gold.  So I ordered it online.  It also comes in a variety of colors besides gold and silver, including copper and parrot green.  It took a while to get here, in fact I am still back ordered on some of it.  But the main part arrived last Thursday.  (Sadly I'm still waiting for the copper and parrot green). It comes in 5 m spools and 10 m skeins.  Its really important to gently wind the thread onto a spool if you buy the skein so that it does not bind or kink.  And the results were so very gratifying.

Using a plain, no frills couching technique you lay a double strand and couch it down.  Then you lay another double strand beside that one and couch it so that the couching stitch is halfway between the ones you used on the first pass.  Very simple.  And so important to be very gentle with the thread.  It can kink or unravel before you stitch it so its important to use the minimum amount of tension.  And the results are so fine. I admit my first attempt here staggers a bit and the circle isn't perfectly round.  I'm sure I'll get better with practice. 

It makes a good contrast with the gold spiralling that I did with a tambour hook using DMC Light Effects Precious Metals E3852 (5284) Dark Gold.  Since I have never used the Japan Gold before, I didn't have a good idea of how much 10 meters would cover, so I only ordered 1 skein.  It wasn't enough to make the outer ring as well, but it will make a good start while I order more.

I am also thinking that eventually I will want to invest the time and money to do the Royal School of Needlework lessons.  Ages ago a friend gave me the book but I put it aside in favor of other projects.  Maybe in keeping with pushing my envelope I should revisit it.  It has a section on goldwork.   

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thinking of Designs

Even as the smaller Peacock Roundel develops, the large Victorian mirror piece is playing around the edges of my mind.  After working up and discarding a few designs, its doing me a lot of good to be at a distance from it and working on something akin to it but not connected.  This is giving me some perspective and some space for my subconscious to fiddle with details.  I took the cardboard backing out of the frame to use as a template. There were a lot of directions I could go, but it wasn't until a friend commented on one of my Pinterest pins that I made a leap about what to do with that odd sort of squashy top arch.  It was then I made the connection between the late Victorian time period and Art Nouveau.  Suddenly the arch made sense.  Now I have gone haring off after Alfonse Mucha and Gisbert Combaz.  Most people know Mucha's graceful, sinuous women and flowers - very distinctive.  And there's that arch again.

And the clear simple composition and mass dynamics of Gisbert Combaz fit exactly with this technique and the visual impact I want it to have. 

Mix it up with a little of Bilibin's Firebird,
an Art Deco book cover 
and colors from Medieval Persian mosaics,

and perhaps a Palekh box or two

I think I have a plan in sight......

Ordering Thread

When I began wanting to learn tambour, I tried a variety of threads and 3 different hook sizes.  I bought button hole twist and top stitch thread and small crochet thread and various other kinds of odd bits.  Vintage Coats & Clark silk button hole twist worked very nicely, but its vintage and hard to get because they don't make it anymore. *sigh* When I did the small Peacock Rangoli piece, I had picked up that variegated turquoise thread at JoAnn's Fabrics.  It was nice, but they only carry a few colors in it.  To get the right colors I had to cut the color spectrum apart and only use a piece here and a piece there.  It worked well for that small piece but it would be a major pain for anything larger.  It was that variegated turquoise that I picked up and used for the stem of the lotus sampler - just because it was pretty and I wanted to see how it would do.  Using that with a size 120 hook was the perfect combination.  Maybe that was the secret that made it so easy.  Maybe the 90 hook I was using was too small for the thread and it kept splitting the strand.  So I dug out the ball and got the specifics of what brand and size it was and searched it to see what other colors it comes in.  I totally hit the jackpot. 

The thread is Lizbeth brand #20 tatting thread, sold online only by Handy Hands Tatting Supply  .  Its not a question of what size; they carry all standard sizes 3, 10, 20, 40, and 80.  Its not a problem of what color they carry; they carry well over 100 colors in all the sizes with shades of colors available.  Its not a question of quality, 100% Egyptian cotton, pre-shrunk, dye fast, fire polished, tightly twisted.  I was in thread heaven.  One of the things I like best about embroidery is going to the store and seeing row after row of all those delicious colors.  I have boxes and boxes of DMC floss on my studio shelves that I pull out like an painter's palette.  What I wasn't really sure about was what all the colors would look like in real lighting.  the only way to tell was to dive in and get the assortment I needed.  strictly speaking their prices are more than reasonable, but getting that initial selection of any new fiber can get pricey.  So I broke the piggy bank and splurged. 

The next nice thing to say about them is their excellent delivery time.  The order went in on Thursday and by Monday it was all here.  And they certainly did not disappoint.  Full spectrum, deep rich colors that harmonize beautifully with each other.  It was like a captured rainbow.  Yes.  This is definitely going to be a pleasure.  Even our cat, Godiva seems to approve.

I can guarantee that, as time and projects go on, I will be ordering more of their colors.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Piecing the Applique

Once I got the basics set on the piece, it is helping me keep my eye straight on the design.  It was now time to put the applique pieces on the peacock's body to give it the background color to stand out from the background and the frame.  I appliqued the colored areas using dupioni silk.  I love the idea of really rocking the colors, and that worked out so well on the Lotus Paisley Box Lid that its something I wanted to repeat.  I found a lot of inspiration for this in the Tenmakers of Cairo video where they demonstrate their technique for applique - brilliant .  I enjoy doing needle turn applique and those tiny pins make it so much easier than regular ones. 
Once the applique was in, I finished the border as far as I could and I could really see where it was going. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A New Design

Things always seem to start simple, but, at least in my Universe, it doesn't take them long to become extravagant.  Phillip calls this sort of thing my "Cistine Chapels".  Okay, I admit it; he's right on the mark.  A friend gave me a broken Victorian mirror a couple of years ago.  When it hit the floor the thick bevelled glass mirror was hopelessly smashed and the joints in the frame had popped.  He's in the business of restoring furniture and got it with a whole truck load of rather nice things.  He said that fixing it wouldn't pay him for the time and energy involved to redo it.  So he gave it to me.  It is 52 in x 30 in and arched across the top.  The frame itself is 6 inches wide and 3 inches deep with a built in gilded inner frame - solid walnut.  Really beautiful fixed up.  and no, I don't want to go to the struggle of finding another piece of bevelled glass mirror that would cost a fortune.  So of course it has to have a suitable grandiose thing to go in it.  Its another one of those things with Great Potential.  So it has sat in the barn for the last couple of years waiting for it's Great Eureka moment.   

And then there was this tambour embroidery and the need to do something truly splendid with it.  That's when my gaze fell upon the poor abandoned broken frame and I began devising a Plan.  (And I'm using a lot of Capital Letters here because plans of this scope just can't be properly described in lower case. )  And, yes, I have a whole head full of really epic ideas that all include things I really don't know how to do or do well enough.  Then I began on the design. I am still in my Peacock Phase - all those sinuous curves and gorgeous colors.  At Gulf Wars, a friend  showed me a piece of gold couching work she'd done in a class she took.  It was really lovely and I thought to write down exactly the kind of thread she used - Kreinik #7 Japan Gold.  It was such a great addition to the rest of the idea.   It was as though I had too many ideas all wrangling with each other and each of them had something that was good.  It became a struggle, a hassle, a Problem to get this design put together.  And each one demanded to be finished before it would get out of my head and I could start on the next one.  I'm glad I have a big roll of butcher paper and a large design wall.  It was becoming a monster. That was last week.

Friday night I said to myself "Screw all that!".  Forget the Struggle; forget the Agenda.  Just do something that feels good.  I dug out a large-ish hoop (14").  Padded the inner ring with some heavy twill tape and just started sketching on the back of some of the rejected designs.  Doing something small and entertaining to practice those techniques I don't really know how to do, BEFORE I get all tangled up in the big project.   And, once again, it just sort of danced out of my fingers. 

Saturday morning I found a piece of dark blue linen that was just big enough.  I cut a piece of heavy cardboard to fit inside the back of the hoop behind the fabric.  I pricked out the design and pounced it onto the fabric.  Then I connected the dots with a Bohin white pencil.  Seeign it on the frame gave me some better ideas about where to go with the flower  so I adjusted it some .
Then I just started - simple as that.  The lesson here is to discover what my heart wants my fingers to do - to learn to get out of my own way - to stop thinking and efforting and struggling and all those other "ings" To just let it be and do that.  To trust my own inner process and my sense of beauty and joy. 

There will be more to it as I go along.  Designs very often have a way of evolving with the work.  And I will need some more colors and gold thread.  But for now what I see makes my heart happy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When Things Come Together

Silk damask with embroidered ducks, Central Asia, 7th–8th century Textiles from the regions along the Silk Road play an important role in the newly furnished permanent exhibition. This red silk was woven in China and embroidered in Central Asia with stylised duck motifs that may be traced back to Persian prototypes, thus documenting the exchange of goods and motifs between east and west. ©Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg (photo: Christoph von Viràg)

We've just gotten back from our big Spring show.  Every year we merchant at a regional SCA event called Gulf Wars.  For those who don't know, the Society for Creative Anachronism is an international group that fancifully recreates the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  We set up in a big canvas tent and sell our jewelry and Phillip's carvings.  There are two big arts and crafts exhibits too.  One for people who are really serious and have competed all year - very serious with academic documentation and all.  the other is for the general populace and is more on the order of a nice show-and-tell.  Having done a little digging into the history of tambour I thought I'd put my box in and see who liked it. 

I threw together a notebook of really ancient examples  like this one from Central Asia in the 7th century And a few from Egypt in the 9th and 12th centuries - just to show that this sort of thing has been around for ages. 
Add caption

By the 9th century CE it can be found in Egypt, in pieces thought to be imported from Persia or made in Egypt for import to the Persian market.
Base fabric:  linen
Embroidery:  wool & cotton
Stitch – chain stitch
Tissus d'Egypte, Temoins du Monde Arabe VIIIe-XVe siecles, Collection Bouvier, Musée d'art et d'histoire Fribourg, Genève and Institut du monde arabe, Paris. 1993.
 Fig. 175-177 pp. 277-280

Egypt - 12th Century CE

Base fabric:  linen
Embroidery:  wool & cotton
Stitch – chain stitch with woven stitch backgrounding
Tissus d'Egypte, Temoins du Monde Arabe VIIIe-XVe siecles, Collection Bouvier, Musée d'art et d'histoire Fribourg, Genève and Institut du monde arabe, Paris. 1993.
Fig. 178  p. 281
It was fun and satisfied by academic instinct to justify what I was doing.  And people seemed to like it - a lot.  Since Phillip had made those gorgeous ivory hook handles, I thought it would be nice to sit and do a sort of show and tell to demonstrate what they were for.  I was amazed at the number of people who wanted me to teach them.  So, having a spare hook and frame, I did.  It was delightful.  I bought some rather stiff silk gauze from Carolina Calico and set up my own project so I would have something to work along with them.  Failing any serious ideas as to design, I got out a small wooden hoop (4 inches) and drew a curvy line on the fabric.  It looked sort of like a flower stem so I added a flower on the top.  I had some pretty variegated turquoise thread I just liked a lot.  I made a start just casually.

Then, between one breath and the next, for no real reason at all, my brain and my hands decided "We've got this."  Suddenly it was effortless.  All the struggle and tangles and snags of the box lid project were no longer an issue.  Maybe it was because it wasn't a big deal.  I wasn't all that worried about the outcome, just keeping busy, just playing with the thread.  Maybe my brain had figured it out in my sleep when my conscious self wasn't looking.  Whatever the reason, it fairly danced out of my fingers and in about a day, I had the flower done. A nice show-and-tell for Phillip's fancy handles and a new toy for me.  It was so effortless and so gratifying I decided I just wasn't done yet.  So the next day I added the gold border.  Even though it was cheesy fussy gold thread I'd gotten at the craft store and it was a pain to deal with, it was still such fun.  And now there must be more - more designs with curvy lines - more sparkly gold  - more wonderful colors. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Lotus Paisley Box is Done

The Lotus Paisley panel seemed like it took forever.  Try as I might I never seemed to get any real traction on it so it was always a struggle and a chore.  Some projects are like that.  I love the idea and the colors and all that, but when it came to the actual doing of it...  well... Phillip even made a lovely screw-tensioned stretcher frame just the right size to hold in my lap.  I worked it all in silk - even the background appliques so the colors would really glow.   The gold highlights are my first foray into working with gold thread. 

But once it was finished I was able to put it away for a while and when I came  back to it I was really pleased with the results. 

 And I'm still working with that box idea from last year.  The Regency box is proving to be so very damaged it may have gone too far to save.  So while I work on with that one miniscule area at a time, I put some energy into the nicer one from the second hand shop.  I even made a tray to set into it to hold all my scattered oddments.  Once the needlework for the top was done I did a woodburned line drawing of lotuses around the sides of the little tray. The Turkish Iznik tile on the lid of the small pocket conceals a really powerful magnet and acts as a working pin cushion.  I love the way it all turned out and I'm thinking that I will get a lot of use from it.

And, hopefully, my next tambour project will be a little easier.