Looking Forward

I know it’s only April, but the second half of 2016 is going to get crazy. I’m having wrist and elbow surgery in the next few weeks. That’s going to be super exciting…but in 6 months, it will be like nothing had ever happened. At least, that’s what the surgeon says. The first couple of months will apparently be rough – like can’t pick up a glass of water or lift over a pound. That, my friends, will put something of a hitch in my creative giddyup. Yes, I can (and may) dust off the tambour frame and do some left-handed embroidery like I did last summer. I’m on a scribal and hand-sewing roll over here. You must forgive my pouting and foot stomping. In my head, I will be teaching myself to do calligraphy with my toes and never getting to be a Laurel because my hand won’t work right ever again. And then I’ll never be employed, and we will go bankrupt and lose the house, and rats will bite our faces in our cardboard alley house, all because I needed 15 minutes of wrist and elbow surgery. Kevin tells me I worry too much and looks at me like I’m crazy when I tell him these things. BUT ONLY ONE OF US IS GOOD AT PREPARING FOR EVERY TERRIBLE EVENTUALITY, AND  IT IS DEFINITELY NOT HIM. Apparently, they didn’t cover that in his PhD program.

I’ve decided to spend my non-arting time building relationships with people in my kingdom, instead of being so achievement-oriented. And do research, since I figured out how to impersonate my husband in the library system and get things through ILL. (I know, I’m such a badass.) So, before there is a rogue laser surgery accident that cuts off my arm like Luke Skywalker, I am only doing the art I want to do for fun. (Plus, a couple of scrolls for the kingdom, because I feel guilty only doing what I want to do for my own enjoyment….maybe I should go back to therapy.) For example, I have tortured myself and figured out how to warp my fancy, more period loom, and it only took six months off my life. Now I can weave with uneven tension and raggedy edges! So proud. SO PROUD.

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Then, there’s job stuff. Pulling up roots in Austin and moving to Savannah wasn’t easy. August will mark the end of our second year here, and the second was definitely better than the first in many ways. In other ways, it’s been brutal – like when it comes to finding work for me. Coddled in my special Austin-y bubble, I had no idea a decade in internet marketing wouldn’t just let me work anywhere. I’ve wrestled with what to do instead. Hundreds of job applications, random part-time/temporary gigs, a lot of volunteer work, and a lot of expensive testing later, I’ve come to a few conclusions. I like helping professions the most. I would hate being a school teacher. Marketing work is something I’m damn good at but carves away at my soul. Perhaps I should have listened to my lifelong love of medical things and science and mostly-nonexistent squick factor a long time ago, because it turns out that it’s pretty easy to turn your existing bachelors into a BSRN if you had really good grades. I could have been earning a lot more money doing something I’m certain I’d really like.

Because it’s always better to figure out something late than to never figure it out, I’m heading back to school to be a nurse. I have a couple of semesters of prerequisites to do first. Let us all pray to our preferred deity that I get A’s, because I’m probably going to die of anxious flailing if I screw this up and have to figure out what I want to be when I grow up one more damn time. My type-A self is already not dealing well with the uncertainty. Like, I don’t know if I’ll qualify to get into nursing school, and I spent an hour this morning worrying over whether or not I should pursue a nurse practitioner program or a physician’s assistant one once I have enough years of clinical experience to go to grad school. I come by this flavor of crazy honestly and am not alone. My BFF/Laurel is currently back in nursing school to renew her license, and she’s taking an optional final because she has a 99.3 in a class and wants the hundred. I would take the 99.3, so I’m obviously way less high strung. Super chill over here…yup.

Weaving is hard, and I am not good at it

Weaving looks easy on videos. Just pass the shuttle back and forth, raise and lower the warp to create a shed between each pass, and magically fabric appears. Truthfully, the actual practice of doing the weaving isn’t hard for me. It’s relaxing.

Warping the loom is a different story. I have two looms: one with a bunch of horizontal pegs mounted to a perpendicular board (like an inkle loom), and a hybrid loom that I had custom made a couple of years ago, where the warp threads are wound around opposing cylinders that can be locked in place. Both looms are pretty portable. The first is easier to warp, since the threads stay under tension as you wind them around the pegs. Unfortunately, I’m limited to the length proscribed by the number of pegs. It’s long enough to trim out a neckline and two sleeves, but that’s about it. The hybrid loom lets you have a warp as long as you want, which is great. But to wind that up, you have to be able to keep a large number of threads from getting twisted and tangled in the process. This part is harder than it might sound…

loom 1Yesterday, I spent almost all day trying to warp the loom with a simple design. I carefully worked with the string going through the cards in small groups. I made sure there were no twists or tangles. I wrapped the long ends of the thread up carefully, to keep them from tangling. All the way across the loom, bit by bit, I tied my cards up and attached them to the loom. I began turning the handle to wind up the warp at one end, and tangles start appearing at the other. Awesome.

The more I try to smooth it out and figure out what’s going on, the more tangled things get. Threads that were cut with precision to equal length are suddenly several inches off for no apparent reason. What. The. Heck. It’s like I’m only capable of making this work badly. Every thing I do that *should* help makes it worse. So I decided to cut my losses and cut off this crazy mess at the bottom, and just re-tie the little thread groups. So I lose a foot or so of weaving. So what?

SO THAT WAS A BAD DECISION. I turned the little wheel back the other way, to find a good even spot to start cutting the warp. And somehow, that was like back-combing the straight even part. The tablets slide back, and it poofs up into a rat’s nest just like hair. And then the cards started flipping and dropping in random clumps while I’m trying to do that. And then, all of a sudden, we had this salvageable mess. I shoved it under the coffee table to sit in time out for a while, until I can determine if it’s actually a loss or not. I’m pretty sure I would pay for two new things of crochet cotton if it means not having to comb out this mess of snarled thread and try to re-thread the cards with it.

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Narrow Oseberg Band

With Gulf coming up and our local championship tournament last weekend, I wanted to find a relatively quick project that would upgrade the look and authenticity of my costuming while advancing my skills in one of the areas where I don’t spend as much time as I’d like. Enter: tablet weaving an authentic Norse pattern! Something for me that wasn’t hard on my wrist? Check. A way to get back in the weaving saddle? Check that too. I started digging around in textile research and decided to go with something from the Oseberg ship burial. This particular find is chock full of weaving, both decorative and functional, as well as textiles, tapestries, imported silks, and some of the few examples of embroidery associated with the Viking world. You should most definitely check it out if you’re not familiar with it. My documentation is here, should you like to read a little bit about the burial.

Schmales OsebergbandI made a narrow band (12L 1 is the specific designation) that is part of a “cake” of textiles that are stuck together. It was 0.5 cm across and made of silk with a contrasting plant fiber (linen) that has rotted away, leaving only the silk. The band has a pattern that I’ve seen described as serpentine, and it rather reminds me of Greek key. I used the excellent chart and instructions from Shelagh Lewins to make my band. This is a particularly good resource, as she was able to visit the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo and have first-hand inspection access to a couple of the woven bands, through a professor. Her site also has an excellent array of Dark Ages patterns which are sorted by authenticity level and ease.

Tablet weaving is something I can sort of do. My weaving is pretty even, and I enjoy doing it. But. I don’t have a weaver’s brain. I can’t read patterns well or read what I’m doing to find mistakes and correct them very easily if something gets off. My husband – who is not crafty in the least – can look over and immediately see what’s wrong and why. I’m trying to embrace the idea of having a proofreader instead of being grumpy that I’m not good at something I’d like to be good at. I’ve been overly reliant on patterns that can be done on a modern tablet loom with pegs via the continuous warping method. It’s wonderfully convenient, but it restricts the weaving to patterns that aren’t authentic replications of the patterns used. I’m one of those who strives to be ever more authentic in my portrayal, and taking a couple of hours to flub my way through warping my loom isn’t too terrible – particularly since I learned ways to do it much more quickly next time. And next time I weave, it will be with authentic materials and not Aunt Lydia’s #10 crochet cotton. And I think it will be a missed hole band from Mammen or maybe Birka where the tablets aren’t all turned together…

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This pattern, while simple, taught me some skills I had not learned on other weaving projects, such as flipping the twist of the cards over a few turns so that you can keep turning them forward while reversing the twist instead of having to reverse the whole pattern. This is a fantastic trick! My loom is small, though, so I would up having to do this more frequently than I would like. My flips are roughly every 10″, which would be ok if they were really smooth and therefore less noticeable. This is my first time with that technique, so it took a while for them to improve. The spots where the flips take place are better, but not consistently so. See the difference in the early ones and late ones? I’m still not totally sure if I should flip cards then pass the shuttle of weft thread or pass and then flip. Either way, I still have some crazy floating threads over on the sides…

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Silk Embroidery Testing: Progress

The embroidery is going pretty well in that I’m enjoying doing it. It’s progressing quickly, which is also really nice after doing super fine projects that take hundreds of hours. The colors are gorgeous, and I like the subtle variegation.

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But.

I think I need a hands-on lesson on the Bayeaux stitch, or laid and couched work in general. It’s such a straightforward concept to lay all those long stitches in one direction and tack them down with rows of stitches in the opposite direction. Keeping things straight on curved seams is hard, though. I have a lot to learn.

There’s a mix of satin stitch and a sort of but not really Bayeaux stitch. With the way the shapes spiral, I couldn’t figure out how to do a truly consistent Bayeaux. I went with keeping a consistent direction across the widest parts of each third of the design and winging it as things narrowed and spiraled. This makes me think it’s not the right stitch for the job.

I don’t know a lot about how Bayeaux works in applications outside of the Bayeaux Embroidery itself – this may be exactly how to handle the shapes. I don’t know how to fix the weird intersections or angles you can see toward the top, where the arms come together to make a triangle. I could definitely use some instruction on how to refine what I’m doing. It’s a fun, quick fill stitch that I’d like to use more.

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I have learned that there’s not really a difference between outline and split stitch in how the final long, laid stitches look. However, since this thread has a twist, it doesn’t lend itself to split stitch. It’s splendid for outline stitch. I got this great book on the Bayeaux embroidery for Christmas, and it was explaining how the twist works for and against the different stitches used. And when the twist is going in the same direction as the curve, it makes for an incredibly smooth line in outline stitch.

This is the first chance I’ve had to play with that, and it was interesting to see the difference. My stitching isn’t perfect (and this is way blown up with a macro lens), but you can see how the different sides of the curve are smoother and more jagged. Something to keep in mind with winding knotwork…

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Silk Embroidery Testing

My friend, Baroness Jac from Gleann Abhann, is an incredible dyer who works with natural dye materials. She’s spectacularly knowledgeable and talented. We got to hang out at ArtSci Crown, and the lady has a giant bag overflowing with hanks of every color and hue you can imagine – all from the dye workshop in her backyard! We got to dump them out in the grass and play a little. I wish I had a picture – you’d swoon. She sent me home with some samples of silk dyed with indigo and madder to see how they work for embroidery. Most of her customers use the fibers for knitting, crochet, and weaving, but I had to go and ask about embroidery…

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The silk she gave me is similar to perle cotton or Vineyard silk twists for needlepoint. Which is to say, it’s not stranded. I’m using it in a few different ways. Right now, I’m working on deep peacock blue silk dupioni. It’s shot with olive-gold that gives a nice teal finish when it moves. I don’t generally embroider on dupioni – particularly with thread this heavy. I changed to a crewel needle so that there’s a nice, sharp point to help make it through the tight weave.

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I’m doing a circular motif on a band of this silk. This band will be applique’d onto a panel that hangs from the turtle brooches over a Norse apron dress. The panel can be worn with any dress, so it’s an ideal place to put more elaborate, complex, or luxurious embellishments. This is one of my favorites. It’s also an ideal place for little treasures. Since the panel is maybe a foot across, it’s perfect for prized bits of weaving, wire weaving motifs, silk scraps, and the like.

I’ve drawn my motif onto Solvy in white gel pen (super historically accurate). There isn’t a lot of wiggle room to keep the design centered on the band, so there are some anchoring stitches above and below to add stability until the design is partially sewn. They just get pulled out later. To begin, I go over the outline of the shape first in split or outline stitch or some combination. This way, when I lay my long stitches over it, I wind up with a clean, raised shape.

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Norse Applique Tutorial

This past weekend, we went to Castle Wars outside of Atlanta, and had our first big Meridian camping event. We had a wonderful time, met great people, and I got to teach a class about Norse applique. I’m so grateful to the people who came to take it – and I had a great time teaching! Download the tutorial on Norse Applique by Penelope de Bourbon.

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This is one of those things that’s stunning and everyone loves, but they think it’s much harder to do than it actually is. I’ve taught a few people to do it before the class, and I wanted to cover common challenges people have, like translating designs or finding good materials to work with. Because of that, I wound up with a 12 page tutorial that people can download. It covers the basic history, how to do it, design sourcing and translation into the applique medium, sourcing materials, easy dyeing methods, working with challenging fabrics like silk and linen, stitch choices, and more! This is a great thing to do because it makes a huge visual impact and can be done pretty mindlessly in front of the TV once your pieces are cut out.

I hope you all enjoy it. If there’s something you want to see added into it or have any questions, please let me know.

Koi Pillow – Details

This project is moving more quickly than anticipated. Insomnia and a new audio book made it easy to spend some time this weekend stitching away. I’m totally blocked on a monster work project and having panic attacks about it, so stitching was a good break from that mess.

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As you can see, my tension has issues. I’m doing my best to only use my left hand, with minor assists from the right – like when I’m coming up from beneath the piece and can’t quite get the needle in just the right place to butt up against the stitch from the next scale over. I’m doing better than I expected to be, but am glad that I didn’t choose an SCA project to work on for this.

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The tail is spectacular on this fish. I absolutely love it and am not sure how to do it justice. The koi fish, and the tail in particular, beg for the tiny stitches of an expert at silk shading. This is not that project. I’m limiting myself to stitches that I can actually pull off as a lefty, and I can’t do silk shading with my right hand. Stem outlines with little stitches along where the ribs of the fin are seem like a good solution.

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I kind of like the thin black lines between the small stitches. I’m thinking about going over them with skinny silk sewing thread in white or maybe black to emphasize the line better without adding much visual weight. Gold? What do you think? Maybe I’ll do some as an experiment at the end when my hand is a little more attuned to finer work.

Koi Pillow Project

I need projects and activities to improve the fine motor skills in my left hand while my right one heals. Simple stitching is a good activity for this, so I ordered a tambour frame that sits on a table and got to work. My few test stitches were perfectly good – split stitch, straight stitch, back stitch, stem. Not perfect, but good enough. I decided to do some embroidery for sofa pillows since I can’t find any that I like very much!

There’s this great koi fish in my tattoo coloring book, so I sketched him up on some Solvy. It’s my first try at working with Solvy after being told about it at Kingdom A&S last year. If you do much embroidery – particularly complex designs – it’s worth a try. The roll is 7 7/8″ wide and 9 yds long for about $8 with the 40% off coupon.

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You draw on it, stitch over it, then dip it in water, and the remaining Solvy just dissolves cleanly away. It’s an ideal solution for the complicated knotwork, Norse, and Celtic designs that my husband likes on his stuff. Pouncing them is a nightmare, as is painting them on in white gouache. This is super easy. You can get it in the frame with the fabric or baste it down. I haven’t dissolved it yet, but I watched videos online before buying it, and it’s pretty quick!

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Here’s my fish! His colors are sort of blown out in this shot, but it has a Thread Heaven box for scale. The box is almost a perfect 1″ cube. I’m working on some scrap linen I had intended to use for trim on a tunic. It’s a nice color, but an odd sort of yellow that turned out to not look very good with my skin tone or Kevin’s. I think will be a better choice on the dark, warm grey of my new sofa where we could use some fun color. There’s enough for a couple of nicely sized pillows.

King’s Gauntlets – the second one

I’m powering through the second one of these much faster than the first. I simply don’t have as much time to spend. And some of the choices I made took a very long time for an effect that wasn’t proportionally nice enough for the work required.

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My RSN Crewelwork book came in. While I’m working in silk right now (definitely not crewelwork!), some of the stitches and methods used for crewelwork’s curvy leaf motifs made perfect sense for the acanthus leaves on my project.

A combination of long and short with fish bone stitches has given a very nice effect that’s quick to do. I’m running about an hour per leaf instead of the 5-6 hours I ran on the first one where I tried to build dimension and shading with dimensional stitches. The gold work is moving MUCH faster than on the first one because I’ve stopped trying to make it behave and just accepted that it’s difficult.

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Three more events, and the reign is over, these Gauntlets get awarded, and I’m free to only do my personal projects and commissions! Ok, mostly commissions because I’ve gotten behind on those while doing all the calligraphy and random projects for the reign…