Some of you may recall that ages ago I started following 2 courses on embroidery – Pintangle’s Take a stitch Tuesday and Anne Brooke’s 52 tags. My aim was to increase the range of stitches I could use and also to get away from simply filling in someone else’s design. I have been lamentably lax about keeping up with either challenge but last week I decided to ‘have a go’ at doing some embroidery from scratch. And the result was…
I am under no illusions. This is not high art. It isn’t even particularly fine embroidery. But it was an achievement. I did it all myself from the first drawing to the finished piece. And I experimented. I used stranded cotton (mainly because I had a better range of colours in that) and tried mixing strands of different shades or colours.
I also mentioned previously experimenting with the way I knit and finding that it was easier if I controlled the yarn with my left hand. Well, quite by chance, I discovered how to do that flicky thing with the right hand so that I don’t have to let go of the right needle – or at least not so completely hands off. Months ago my neighbour, who did all my laundry for weeks when my machine broke down during lockdown, mentioned that she fancied having a row of Christmas stockings to hang over the fireplace and I offered to make some. Now that I can have yarn in either hand two colour knitting is so much easier! One colour on the left hand and one on the right! I used my usual sock pattern but in DK not 4 ply and motifs from various cross stitch pattern books I had on the shelves.
Some of you may remember that at the beginning of the year I embarked on two embroidery challenges / courses online – Sharon B’s Pintangle (http://www.pintangle.com) and Anne Brooke’s 52 Tags (http://www.annebrooke.co.uk). I have to confess that I am way behind on both having got, I think, about as far as February! However they are purely for my own pleasure and to learn more of the skills so I am doing them only when in the mood. Summer never is good time for me to do much crafting as the evenings are short and the garden demanding. Maybe over the winter I will feel like doing more.
However two things became glaringly obvious very quickly.
Firstly I had no idea there were so many embroidery stitches with so many variations on each – why did it never occur to me that if I could whip running stitch I could try the same thing on others? Or that blanket stitch could go both up and down in the same row? Doh!
Secondly that I had never used an embroidery hoop and could see no purpose to one. I did try once, years ago, and the fabric just slipped all over the place so I gave up. A link from one of the stitches in Pintangle explained that I needed to wrap the inner ring in tape to give grip and that a small hoop is easier to manage than a big one. I bought 2 small hoops and several meters of narrow cotton tape in Cardigan Market, did the wrapping as instructed and now it all made sense! I still find it a bit unnatural but I am getting there.
Those experiences set me thinking. Every woman in my family could do embroidery. I was told that my paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework but she died before I was born. Her daughter and niece had tablecloths they had embroidered, some of which I inherited. But I don’t remember actually seeing any of them doing it. I have no recollection of being taught to embroider. I made a mat with blanket stitch and cross stitch on Aida fabric at school and somewhere along the line I picked up stem stitch and satin stitch. Did I glean it from a book? Was I given a kit for Christmas? Did I start to make something and ask Mum to show me how to do the next bit? I will never know. I am just glad that I have started at the beginning, learning in a structured way to do it properly.
But that linked to another problem I was having – knitting. I had realised that whilst I could knit, did knit, made perfectly acceptable things when I knitted, it felt very clumsy and seemed to involve a lot of letting go and picking up movements. I was sure my Mum did it in a much smoother way but of course she died nearly 30 years ago so I can’t ask her. The embroidery revelations made me recognise that I similarly have no recollection of being taught to knit or of watching her closely to see how she did it. I identified the main problem as being that I was having to take my right hand off the needle to hook the yarn round it, then grasp the needle again to make the stitch. I knew Mum had a way of flicking her right index finger to make the same move. So I have been experimenting and have discovered that managing the yarn with my left hand in exactly the same way as I do when crocheting works for me. It also makes ribbing and any other pattern which involves switching from knit to purl and back a doddle. I have no idea if this is an orthodox technique but it works!
Of course in the process I went back to ‘stick your tongue out and hang onto the yarn as if there’s an overexcited St Bernard on the other end’ stage! Very salutary. I will have more patience with novices now!
By chance I had got a book from the Library on knitting blocks and decided to practice my new method by knitting some of those. I had a box of balls of Aran yarn which I had knitted into a jumper, worn a couple of times, decided I didn’t like, and unravelled so if I made a hash of it I wasn’t worried. The first block I tried was knitted in the round on 4 needles – big mistake! I have knitted loads of socks on three or four needles but there the work drops down and the needles are short. Here the fabric got wider and on the long needles contrived to keep stabbing me with at least one of the needles that was not being used at the time. So then I tried one which was mainly stocking stitch with a simple diamond of lace stitches. Better. Now I am doing what it describes as ‘diagonal pattern’. Fiendish! If I make a mistake (and there have been plenty) it is a devil to take back. I have pulled the whole thing off the needles and started again twice. It is only stubbornness which will get it finished! However I am getting the hang of the technique much better with so much practice.
I wonder what else I will discover I have only half learned?
A while ago I posted that I had decided to use the Take a Stitch Tuesday posts by Sharon at Pintangle to learn a wider range of embroidery stitches. Cathy commented that she was following Anne Brookes 52 tags series for a similar reason. So I investigated that and it seemed more about creatively using stitches rather than learning them so it seemed that doing both would be helpful
I duly went online and bought a pack of tags and once they arrived tried the first challenge even though I was now a few weeks behind! It was to be all white. I watched her video tutorial and set to work. By the end of the evening I had a tag but was simply frustrated!
As it is ages since I did much dressmaking I have very limited supplies of trimmings and my buttons are quite large. Everything felt out of proportion to the size of the tag. Meanwhile the small piece of fabric was very fiddly to handle. It probably didn’t help that I chose a scrap of an old loosely woven damask tablecloth as the base fabric. I liked the white on white design of the weave but it stretched and wobbled far too much. I was tempted to give up on the whole thing but remembered seeing on other blogs cards and postcards made with embroidery so decided to have a go with a larger ‘tag’.
I also found the video unhelpful – once I had seen what Anne had done I found it hard to get that out of my head and invent my own design. So I watched just the first few seconds of the next few and wrote down the theme as my starting point. That probably means I have gone totally off piste but the whole idea was that this is for me so I am modifying it to suit myself.
Week 2 was a heart. I cut an A4 sheet of card (I have nearly a ream of the stuff so can afford to muck about) into 4 ‘postcards’ and had a lovely evening playing. I found a ball of narrow ribbon which someone gave me and tried using that for embroidery. I used stitches I had learned on the Pintangle challenge so combining the 2 ‘courses’. It came out with a slightly ‘vintage’ feel which wasn’t intentional!
Week 3 was sewing ruffles – not inspiring for me! So I didn’t do it! On to week 4 which was to play with fly stitch.
Luckily at that point a friend who has been clearing out her Mother’s house (Mum has chosen to go into a home after a fall) brought me a bag of embroidery and tapestry threads she had found in a drawer so I had more choice.
The last few weeks have been particularly busy and these challenges are supposed to be fun so I am trying very hard to shut out the ‘ought’ voice and do them only when I have time and energy rather than allowing myself to be driven to do one of each every week. This probably means it will take me well over a year to complete them and I will almost certainly continue to ignore any that do not appeal. However I think the tags one will certainly help free me up to be more creative.
All I need to do now is find a use for the other 99 luggage tags!
Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The links below are to the amazingly creative contributors who make interesting things out of scraps that most people would throw away.
Embroidery? Well, yes, I learned to do it as a child. I had no choice. My Paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework. Her daughter, Aunty Megan, embroidered tablecloths and tray cloths and such like. On my Mother’s side of the family it was more utility sewing. Her Eldest sister, Nan taught crafts at a Teacher Training College but was more into weaving and bookbinding than sewing. However the next eldest, Buff, had trained as a Tailoress and by the time I was a child was teaching dressmaking at evening classes and looking after their father who was bedridden (by choice – but that is another story) and Peggy, the third daughter, who also still lived at home, made soft toys for the Sale of Work at the Church. So yes. I learned to sew and do embroidery.
There were three types of embroidery in my world. The one everyone did most of was to buy a pre-printed cloth, with or without the threads supplied as a kit, and follow the instructions. Painting by numbers with stranded cotton. A slight variant, mainly used for hankies, was to use iron on transfers to provide the outlines. The only creativity involved was choosing whether the flowers would be pink, blue or yellow.
The second was drawn thread work. Mum had done that at least once but the cloth was so precious it was never used. The third was cross stitch using either painted canvas (Does anyone else remember getting a Penelope kit for Christmas?) or working from a chart on Aida fabric. Painting by numbers again.
Mum had a set of books of traditional embroidery designs from various parts of Europe complete with traceable patterns but I never remember her using them. I have them still and I have never used them either!
I inherited more than enough embroidered cloths to have no incentive to make any more. And although I admired the skill that had gone into them and understood how many hours of work they represented I was never all that keen on them. I have, from time to time embroidered small items but again it has been ‘trace a pattern and colour it in’
In my teens I had an idea to create a picture with embroidery but it stayed as an idea and never got made. I just did not have the confidence to have a go and had a sneaky suspicion that asking for help would just cause problems. Then life got busy!
Over the last few years I have become aware that creating things from a pattern or kit is not the same as ‘being creative’. Not that there is anything wrong with following a pattern – the skill required can be considerable and the effect lovely. But I am ready to spread my wings and move up to ‘being creative’. I am exploring several ways to do that and one of them is to resurrect that idea of making pictures out of fabric and threads using techniques that come under the general heading of ’embroidery’. I want to have a go! Now I have cleared some wall space and am really enjoying having John’s pictures (and some of mine) up I want to create more but in different ways.
I started sketching some ideas but realised that my stitching skills are rusty and my repertoire of stitches limited. Then I came across the site Pintangle (www.pintangle.com) and Sharon’s Take a Stitch Tuesday series. So I went back to the beginning and am re-learning stitches I have known for years and lots of ways to elaborate them plus some which I have never tried before. Each ‘lesson’ I do on a square of fabric then glue it to a piece of file paper so I can write on what each stitch is called. Her instructions and pictures are wonderfully clear and her stitch dictionary is a revelation to me! From time to time she also posts about a stitch which is not part of the ‘course’ and I try those as well.
As with the boro bag and mat (read about them here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2021/02/15/scrap-happy-february-2/) I have learned that my straight lines are not very straight and my stitches not always as even as I would like! I have bought some of those pens which have ink that disappears with water and some fine Aida to practice with. I also now know that whilst I have stranded cotton in a range of colours and one hank of perle I need to buy some more interesting threads! Meanwhile I am learning, stretching myself and enjoying the different effects I can create. I can already see some possibilities for elements of the designs I have in mind. Watch this space – but please don’t hold your breath – these have been incubating for 55 years and don’t look like hatching just yet!